17 December 2017
Anyone interested in seeing how members of the Senate Judiciary Committee question people appointed by the President to fill lower federal court vacancies should check out this video. The five people being questioned are appointees from U.S. District Court Judge. As a trail judge, they will be responsible for ensuring that the parties are treated fairly and the trial operates according to well established procedural rules.
In class I have mentioned that while the qualifications to be a federal judge are not spelled out in the Constitution, the Senate usually takes its constitutional duty of "advice and consent" rather seriously. The Senator asking the questions in this video is a Republican. Thus, he is asking questions of people who were nominated by a Republican President to be a federal court judge. Recently, the Chair of the Senate Judicial Committee, also a Republican, expressed concern about some of President Trump's nominees for the federal judiciary
08 December 2017
Although jurors are warned at the start of a trial not to research cases on the internet, Lord Justice Singh (Sir Rabinder Singh QC) told the Criminal Bar Association conference last week that the 'quick and easy use' of smartphones has made it impossible to guarantee that there will never be problems.
Singh said: 'When I tried a murder case at Lewes in 2014, there was a submission of no case to answer on behalf of one of the two defendants at half time. I rejected that submission. Of course all of that happened, as it must, in the absence of the jury. Very shortly afterwards my ruling was circulated on social media by someone who had been in the public gallery. Thankfully it was possible to have this material removed quite quickly and no one suggested that any member of the jury had seen it.'In short, the Lord Justice is saying that information that the jury should not have seen was easily accessible to them, jeopardizing the proper process in the case. As an aside, the procedure "no case to answer" is similar to the American procedure of directed verdict.
07 December 2017
The American website Digg.com has more:
Modist Brewing Company, a microbrewer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just released a Double IPA called "Dilly Dilly," referencing a nonsense phrase coined and trademarked for a series of Bud Light ads. The Bud Light people stepped in with their warning — a decree from a King's messenger:
05 December 2017
At issue was "a shocking tirade" leveled at a store employee by a customer who "became infuriated when told that the customer service desk had closed and she could not collect a Western Union money order." The customer was subsequently arrested and charged with a breach of the peach, for which she was convicted by a jury. On appeal the state tried to convince the Connecticut Supreme Court that the customer's outburst amounted to so-called fighting words, which is one of the non-speech categories recognized by courts. As the Courant reports:
Writing for the majority in July, Justice Andrew McDonald said courts must consider the context of verbal confrontations before labeling speech as fighting words. He said the manager of a 65,000-square-foot grocery store should, through training or experience, be able to act with restraint in the face of verbal assaults, in much the same fashion as police officers.In short, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the conviction was invalid because even this tirade is protected speech! The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear an appeal of this decision, leaving in place the ruling that not even an in-your-face, profanity laden tirade qualifies as "fighting words." Yet more proof that the fight words exception has no practical application.
22 November 2017
reported for duty on Tuesday, he came to court expecting to serve. He checked in at the jury coordinator’s office, watched the orientation film about jury duty, then waited for the trial to start. . . . However, the defendant in what was expected to be a one- or two-day trial pleaded guilty to felony theft, and a jury wasn’t needed. Nuss (the Chief Justice) was one of 52 Shawnee County residents summoned for duty in that pool of prospective jurors.According to the Capital-Journal, this was actually the third time the Chief Justice has been called to jury duty, however, the first two did not result in him actually needing to serve.
21 November 2017
20 November 2017
The Los Angeles Times recently had a scathing editorial taking the President and Senate to task for seriously considering a 36 years old candidate who "has practiced law for only a few years and never tried a case." Read the rest to get a taste of how the qualifications of judicial nominee can be become quite contentious and why being cynical about the process is sometimes warranted.
17 November 2017
Can do they do that, you might ask? Students in my American Constitutional Law course should know the answer to this, but I'd be surprised if they do as we spend all of about five seconds talking about this topic. Early on I tell students that the Constitution gives both the Senate and House the power to make internal rules and punish their own. Punishment can include removal.
As a recent New York Times article correctly points out, while the Senate cannot refuse to accept this candidate should he be elected, it most surely can vote to remove him.
16 November 2017
UPDATE: last night, after speaking individually to each juror, the judge declare a mistrial because the jury could not reach a verdict.
14 November 2017
Louisiana and Oregon are not often thought of in the same vein. But on the issue of non-unanimous juries, they are kindred spirits.
In these two states, the prosecutor needs to persuade only 10 of 12 jurors for a felony conviction that does not involve the death penalty. All other states require unanimous jury decisions in felony cases — as does the federal system, including federal courts in Louisiana and Oregon.
These jury systems are largely unnoticed vestiges of white supremacy and oppression in our legal system. The Supreme Court now has the chance to accept a case that could end the use of non-unanimous juries in criminal cases. It should take this chance.The rest of the piece is worth a look.
31 October 2017
Eighty percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and only those who are actually incarcerated are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. Many people facing misdemeanor charges can, if convicted, be subjected to significant fines and fees, or face the loss of benefits (including housing) or deportation. Yet, they have no right to an attorney, and those who cannot afford a lawyer will go without one.The article goes on to cite statistics like: "In some states, as many as 80 to 90 percent of litigants are unrepresented, even though their opponent has a lawyer.
Unlike in the criminal context, there’s no federal constitutional right to counsel in civil cases. Civil cases can involve a range of critical issues, including housing, public benefits, child custody and domestic violence. And while some civil litigants may be entitled to counsel in certain jurisdictions, in most of these cases, people who cannot afford a lawyer will be forced to go it alone. Doing so may mean that they fail to make it through the process, have their case dismissed or lose what otherwise would have been a winning case.
Before working for the ACLU, I was employed for almost two years by the Legal Services Corporation, which represents low-income individuals in civil cases. We only had the resources to take a handful of the cases that came through our door, meaning that those we turned away had to maneuver through the court system on their own as a so-called pro-se litigant.
The United States prides itself on the idea that everyone has access to justice, and while in theory that is true because obtaining a lawyer is not technically required to access the courts, as this article points out, it is increasingly necessary in the face of courts who are hostile to so-called pro-se litigants.
As an aside, this is also an issue in England and Wales, and pointed out in this recent Guardian article.
26 October 2017
12 October 2017
10 October 2017
Legal watchers in the United States know exactly what "the first Monday in October" means. This is the day on which each new term of the U.S. Supreme Court begins. But why the first Monday in October? The Constitution Daily blog explains.
17 July 2017
29 June 2017
Currently, the Trump administration has requested that a federal district court based in Detroit consider an executive privilege claim related to memos prepared by Trump campaign adviser Rudy Giuliani about an alleged Muslim ban – written before Trump became President. The request is under consideration.
27 June 2017
26 May 2017
24 May 2017
The juror notice states that it is illegal for jurors 'to look for any information at all about your case on the internet or anywhere else during the trial or to have anyone else look for you'.
Jurors cannot look for any information about: any person involved in the case, including the judge and legal teams; the law and legal terms used in the case; the crime or crime scene; and court procedures.
"Analysis: A constitutional lesson for a new president." Denniston begins by quoting Chief Justice John Marshall:
"It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”
The quote is taken from the landmark Marbury v. Madison case, establishing the Court as the final interpreter of the Constitution, and it nicely sums up the constitutional role of the federal courts. The rest of the post is well worth a read, as it not only is aimed at giving the President a lessen concerning the role of the courts in the American system, it also serves as a lesson for students in my courses as well.
23 May 2017
A juror said he’d been told by "My Father in Heaven” that former Congresswoman Corrine Brown was not guilty in the federal case against her, according to a transcript released late Monday. “Did you say the words, ‘A higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges?’” U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan asked Juror 13, according to the transcript.“No,” the juror responded. “I said the Holy Spirit told me.”This conversation took place after the case was finished as the jury was about to deliberate. Fellow jurors who overhead the juror make a similar statement brought their concerns to the Judge's attention, which ultimately led to her removal form the case. It illustrates the power judges have to remove jurors in order to avoid potential irregularities in the trial.
22 May 2017
The real question before the Court involved the general rule that jury deliberations are confidential. But in this case a majority of the Supreme Court ruled that charges of racial bias might open the door to break this confidentiality rule. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said "A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed — including, in some instances, after the verdict has been entered — is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts."
21 May 2017
Good reminder in Die Zeit about how Presidents can shape the judicial branch. A few things to keep in mind. Presidents still need the consent of the Senate to do this, which is not always a given when the Senate is controlled by the opposition party. Also Trump is no different than his predecessors in wanting to shape the Judiciary. What's different is Trump doesn't really seem to care about this and instead is using it as an incentive to get conservatives to support him.
15 May 2017
Other than that, the closest Congress has come recently to sending a proposed amendment to the states was the Flag Desecration Amendment, which would have allowed for states to punish people who burned the American flag, overturning two Supreme Court decisions stating that individuals have a free speech right to do so. The measure passed the two-thirds threshold in the House but fell one vote short in the Senate.
The New Yorker piece notes, with alarm, that the Republican Party is close to having control of two-thirds of the state legislatures, which could result in a constitutional amendment being offered via the second method above, something that, to the best of my knowledge, has never happened before. The article notes that while a constitutional convention would most likely be called only to propose a so-called Balanced Budget Amendment, things could move in a different direction once the delegates met:
The original Constitutional Convention was intended only to recommend changes to the Articles of Confederation, not to do away with them, but the delegates literally took the law into their own hands and drafted a new document. It’s easy to imagine that an Article V convention would find it difficult to limit its agenda to the technicalities of budget finance. Abortion, the most divisive social issue of the past forty years, has insinuated itself into nearly every discussion of nominees for the Supreme Court. Could a gathering intoxicated by the possibility of imposing permanent change resist the urge to achieve by amendment what decades of lobbying, protesting, and the cultivation of sympathetic judicial candidates could not? Similarly, as the battle over immigration has intensified, conservatives have toyed with the idea of ending birthright citizenship, currently guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The allure of bypassing legislative stalemate on that issue might also prove tempting.In the age of Trump, it is easy to conjure up images of American democracy as we know it seeking to exist (as anyone who has heard me discuss the constitution know, I don't believe this is a possibility). This article lays out a scenario for the dismantling of sacred rights. I suppose if Trump can be elected President, anything is possible.
12 May 2017
Sollte Trump die verwegene Idee verfolgt haben, mit dem Rauswurf die Russland-Ermittlungen beenden zu können, so hat er nun das Gegenteil erreicht. Selbst wenn der Kongress keinen Sonderermittler durchsetzen kann - das entsprechende Gesetz ist 1999 ausgelaufen, ohne erneuert worden zu sein -, so ist der Appetit an den Ermittlungen jetzt erst so richtig geweckt. Trump mag die Aufklärung verzögern, aber er kann nicht verhindern, dass seine allemal schwache Gefolgschaft im Kongress weiter schwindet und die dünne Mehrheit der Republikaner im Senat bröckelt. Amerika ist eine starke Demokratie, die auch ein Trump nicht so einfach ins Wanken bringen kann.This is exactly right. If it becomes obvious that Trump is trying to impede a legitimate investigation, Congress will act, even if it is controlled by Republicans. The Republicans might want to support Trump, but they also don't want to lose their seats when they are up for re-election in 2018. They will if they are seen to be aiding a President who is trying to obstruct justice.
As an aside, students in my Constitutional law class are getting a real time lesson in how the President can be investigated. Take a look at the slides again from last week to have a fuller understanding of what Kornelius means in the quoted paragraph above.
11 May 2017
The effect of the FBI director’s dismissal on the constitutional order, if there is to be any, probably depends upon whether the Constitution’s system of checks and balances will work again to take the nation through the disturbance. It was the genius of the Founders, especially James Madison, that saw ultimate stability in the contending forces of the government’s centers of power. . . .Like I mentioned in class yesterday, the ability to stop an out-of-control President most surely exits in the Constitution. The question is whether there will be the political will do so.
Noah Feldman has a piece at Bloomberg that also concludes the President's actions have not created a constitutional crisis but they do violate long-standing political norms:
It’s not a constitutional crisis. Technically, President Donald Trump was within his constitutional rights Tuesday when he fired FBI Director James Comey. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is part of the executive branch, not an independent agency. But the firing did violate a powerful unwritten norm: that the director serves a 10-year, nonrenewable term and is fired only for good cause.It should be noted that supporters of the President claim that he had good reason to fire the Director. But should it come out that the real reason for the firing was to stop an investigation into members of the President's inner circle or even into the President himself, I can almost guarantee that the constitutional controls that we discussed in class will kick in.
10 May 2017
Under the Constitution, the FBI Director is an executive branch official and can be removed if needed. But only in one instance since 1908, after the FBI and its predecessor agency were formed, has a President removed an FBI Director from office. In July 1993, President Bill Clinton dismissed William Sessions as FBI Director after allegations were made that Sessions used government resources for personal travel and that leadership conflicts existed within the Bureau. Attorney General Janet Reno recommended the dismissal.
03 May 2017
The 2012 robbery of a Pay‐O‐Matic check‐cashing store in Queens, New York, which may have drawn inspiration from Ben Affleck's 2010 film, The Town, earned substantial attention from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday. Although judges on the circuit were at odds on whether clips from the movie should have been shown to jurors during the trial charging three men with the crime, the appeals court ultimately decides not to reverse their armed bank robbery convictions.The argument used by prosecutors was that the movie helped the defendants plan their heist. Lawyers for the defendants asked the judge to prohibit the movie from being shown, but the judged overruled their objection. This ruling on the movie amounted to grounds for appeal after the defendants were convicted. While this opened the door to an appeals hearing, it didn't, according the appeals court, amount to error that improperly prejudiced the jury.
In her dissent, Judge Analisa Torres wrote: that the "goal of commercial cinema is to thrill and entertain," and that movie-making is a "manipulative art." She further contended that there was a high risk that a juror "might conflate fiction and reality is obvious," and she noted that while the issue had never been addressed by her court "other courts have expressed deep distress about such evidence’s impact on the jury."
27 April 2017
The lines in the interview that really caught my attention are these:
"Absolutely, I have," Trump said of considering 9th Circuit breakup proposals during a far-ranging interview with the Washington Examiner at the White House. "There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous."From reading this, I cannot help but think the President believes that breaking up the Ninth Circuit means he gets to fire the judges. Of course he does not. Instead, what breaking up the Court would mean is a few new geographical (or regional) circuits would be formed, and current judges from those regions would simply remain on the new appeals court for their region. Furthermore, there is nothing in the process of breaking up the circuit that would prevent the dreaded forum shopping that results in "semi-automatic" rulings.
"Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit. And we have a big country. We have lots of other locations. But they immediately run to the 9th Circuit. Because they know that's like, semi-automatic," Trump said.
26 April 2017
20 April 2017
Just how is explained very nicely in the NY Mag piece:
In short, as head of the Executive Branch, President Trump is asking an executive branch agency to enforce existing rules more forcefully. He is not changing the law, he is simply asking that it be enforced differently!The order will direct the the departments of Labor, Justice, State, and Homeland Security to conduct reviews of the H-1B visa program and propose reforms. The Trump administration says current rules are going unenforced, and they want to see changes that ensure the visas are only going to “the most highly skilled workers.” According to the Washington Post, administration officials described various ways this could be accomplished: "The officials said reform could first come through administrative changes, such as raising the visa application fees, adjusting the wage scale to more accurately reflect prevailing salaries in the tech industry, and more vigorously enforcing violations. It could also change the lottery system to give foreigners with U.S. master’s degrees a leg up."
But as the article points out:
Signing an executive order lets Trump highlight his commitment to fulfilling his promise to protect American workers, but he can’t do a thorough overhaul of the program on his own. Changing certain fundamental elements, like how many visas are awarded each year, requires action from Congress.This illustrates very nicely the point I was trying to make in class: the President can change how a law is enforced, but he cannot change the law itself. Only the Legislative Branch can do that.
19 April 2017
18 April 2017
As the National Constitution Center (NCC) points out:
The Constitution, in Article II, Section 2, says that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for.”The Appointments Clause allows the President to make nominations for appointed positions like cabinet officers, but the Senate controls the process, including the rules that allow a nomination vote to get to the full Senate floor.Read the rest of the NCC post to learn more about this process.