Justice Scalia Pardoned

February 15, 2016

by Jay Marshall Wolman

From time to time, I read the blog “A Public Defender” by the pseudonymous Gideon.  Today, in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death, he decided to post a dyslogy highlighting the concurrence in Herrera v. Collins.  Gideon summarizes it as follows:

In other words, in Scalia’s opinion, our Constitution would let stand the execution of an innocent man who has received all the due process our society deems adequate and there is nothing that Federal courts can or should do to stop such an execution.

An anonymous commenter also highlighted Justice Scalia’s dissent in In re: Davis:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.

Gideon and the anonymous commenter appear to paint Justice Scalia as having been indifferent to the lives of the actually innocent.  He was not:  as the majority in Herrera wrote, with which Justice Scalia concurred:

Claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas relief absent an independent constitutional violation occurring in the underlying state criminal proceeding. …This rule is grounded in the principle that federal habeas courts sit to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned in violation of the Constitution–not to correct errors of fact….This is not to say that our habeas jurisprudence casts a blind eye towards innocence. …[T]his body of our habeas jurisprudence makes clear that a claim of “actual innocence” is not itself a constitutional claim, but instead a gateway through which a habeas petitioner must pass to have his otherwise barred constitutional claim considered on the merits….Executive clemency has provided the “fail safe” in our criminal justice system. … It is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible. But history is replete with examples of wrongfully convicted persons who have been pardoned in the wake of after discovered evidence establishing their innocence….Our federal habeas cases have treated claims of “actual innocence,” not as an independent constitutional claim, but as a basis upon which a habeas petitioner may have an independent constitutional claim considered on the merits, even though his habeas petition would otherwise be regarded as successive or abusive. History shows that the traditional remedy for claims of innocence based on new evidence, discovered too late in the day to file a new trial motion, has been executive clemency.

The question for Justice Scalia (and the Court) was not whether we should execute those who may be actually innocent, but only whether the judiciary, through the Great Writ, could stop an execution in its tracks to adjudicate whether a person proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is actually innocent.  His opinion was one of law–that the writ of habeas corpus was not the proper vehicle.

What Gideon overlooks is the sentence that immediately followed the one he highlighted in bold print:

With any luck, we shall avoid ever having to face this embarrassing question again, since it is improbable that evidence of innocence as convincing as today’s opinion requires would fail to produce an executive pardon.

It must not be forgotten that the judiciary is not judge, jury, and executioner–the latter is reserved to the executive branch, the branch that possesses the powers of clemency and pardon, a branch that is accountable to the people and the political process.  If an innocent person is put to death, it is not the fault of the judiciary, but rather the executive who turned a blind eye to evidence of actual innocence and the polity who elected that executive.  And, it has been 23 years since Herrera–if Congress felt the Supreme Court unfairly foreclosed a judicial remedy in the case of actual innocence, why hasn’t there been a law creating a judicial pathway, such as an amendment to Fed.R.Crim.P. 33(b)(1) eliminating the deadline to seek a new trial?  When Lily Ledbetter was found to have brought her claim for unequal pay too late, Congress immediately responded.

Justice Scalia wrote what the law is, and those condemning him should show how he was wrong about the extent of the writ of habeas corpus, which by and large they do not. And, those condemning him should be condemning executives and legislatures that do not make it easy for someone to prove actual innocence.  If you care about innocents being executed, focus your energies on those pulling the trigger–the executives.  Convince them not to carry out the execution.  Campaign against those who would execute those you believe are actually innocent.  Blaming a judge for interpreting the bounds of existing law doesn’t make the convict any less dead.

 


Sen. Cruz is an Unnaturally Born Citizen

January 28, 2016

by Jay Marshall Wolman

Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripped.
-Macbeth, Act V, Scene 8
There’s been a lot of talk lately over whether Senator Cruz is eligible to the office of President.  The Constitution requires that the President be a “natural born” citizen.  Article II, Sec. 1, Cl. 5.  Folks have made a lot of originalist/textualist type arguments to help understand this clause.
I want to weigh in from a similar perspective, but one that I think can help frame the discussion.  Two former Solicitors General basically referred first to English statutes in effect at the time of the Revolution and then the Naturalization Act of 1790 to support their understanding that foreign born subjects of citizens are naturally born.  The problem, though, is that does not tell us what the term meant in 1787 under the common law.
If English statutes were imported, the Naturalization Act of 1790 would have been unnecessary.  Presumably, the Framers, the same folks who wrote the Constitution three years earlier, thought it necessary as those born abroad would not otherwise be citizens from birth. OK, so if Ted Cruz was born in Canada in 1788, he would not have been a citizen from birth.  Similarly, we can imagine a scenario where a xenophobic Congress never adopts any naturalization laws.  In that case, when Ted Cruz was born in 1970, there didn’t have to be laws on the books that would have made him a citizen, let alone from birth, and everyone would agree he would not be eligible to the office of President. [More realistically, immigration laws can contain sunset provisions, so we can imagine that citizenship to those born abroad could sunset the day before he was born and emergency legislation enacted the day after restoring the provision.  During that one sunsetted day, Mr. Cruz would not have been an American.]
The question then becomes, can Congress enact a law that makes someone Constitutionally eligible if they otherwise would not be?  Let’s look at the whole clause:
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.
Congress also has the power to “fix the standard of weights and measures”.  Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 4.  Can Congress redefine the word “year” (a measure of time) as something other than 365 (1/4) days to make it so, perhaps, you might not be eligible until the Earth goes around the sun 70 times rather than 35?  It can redefine the word for any purpose, except a Constitutional one.  That would require an Amendment as it would alter the meaning of the word “Year” from what it was in 1787.  So why is “natural born” any different?
If you believe Congress can pass a law that changes the meaning of the Constitution (without express authority to do so, such as the ability to add a state, thus altering the meaning of “within the United States”), then Sen. Cruz is eligible.  Otherwise, no.

Incitement

May 5, 2015

“If you protest, you’re just inciting the police to shoot you, so what do you expect?”

Pretty stupid, huh?

How about, “if you don’t want people to protest, then don’t treat them in a way that they feel like they need to protest.”

Same shit with drawing Mohammed.

If you don’t like people drawing Mohammed, perhaps you shouldn’t incite them to do so by reacting so negatively about it.

Drawing Mohammed is now not only permissible but (I think) absolutely goddamned necessary. It is necessary to defy those who would stifle debate with violence.

The winner of the "Draw Mohammed" contest.

The winner of the “Draw Mohammed” contest.

Do I like offending Muslims? No. Not at all.

I thought, for example, that “Piss Christ” was fucking stupid. I still think it is fucking stupid. The only thing that gives “Piss Christ” any value, to me, is the fact that it inspired calls for censorship.

But, nobody ever got killed over it. Christians moved on.

If anyone ever killed someone over “Piss Christ”, I’d be peeing on crucifixes like it was an Olympic sport.

Draw Mohammed. Spread pictures of Mohammed. They’ve now made it an imperative.


Gov. Dewey was Wrong: Obama 2016

August 6, 2014

During his 1944 campaign for President, N.Y. Governor Thomas Dewey argued that permitting Pres. Roosevelt to have a fourth term was a dangerous threat to freedom. Gov. Dewey lost in 1944 and, more famously, in 1948 against Pres. Truman. Dewey Beats Truman However, Gov. Dewey, with a Republican Congress, managed to get the 22nd Amendment introduced and, ultimately, ratified. This may have backfired.

President Franklin Roosevelt was the first person to win more than two terms. But, he was not the first President to seek a third term. His distant cousin, Theodore, sought a third term. As did others. Rather than threatening freedom and potentially enshrining a de facto monarch, permitting a sitting two-term President to seek a third term served a valuable function in our system of checks and balances.

Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama were termed “lame ducks” upon their second election. Prior to this point, no two-term President was a lame duck until he bowed out or the election was lost. Instead of a 2-8 month lame duck period, we now have a 4 year, two month period. But, is he truly a lame duck?

Presidents have done a great many things in their second terms. The Watergate coverup, Iran-Contra, the Lewinsky scandal: to the extent the President himself is alleged to have been involved in a cover-up, that cover-up occurred during the second term. Speaker Boehner has now turned to the courts because he believes Pres. Obama is not faithfully executing the laws. Ultimately, the Court, though, cannot force a President to act, even assuming Speaker Boehner is right and could win. And, even though Congress gets to decide what constitutes “Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors”, impeachment is really a 2nd degree political action–you vote for the people who vote on impeachment. Prior to the 22nd Amendment, second-term Presidents had a check on their power to act (or not act): the third-term campaign. Presidents no longer have to worry about facing the electorate for a third time and can act (or fail to act) with virtual impunity. Such may be a more dangerous threat to freedom than Gov. Dewey imagined.


This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps

April 23, 2014

This is a pretty familiar story line. A businessman wants to open a strip club. Some members of the local community decide that they do not want that kind of thing in their town. The resistance is usually faith-based (which is where the wheels really come off). I fail to understand how anyone can believe in a supreme being, who created all of heaven and earth, but would be upset at some boobies.

The City this time is Destin, Florida. As reported in their local paper, it seems that the driving force behind the attempt to keep the strip club out of town was “ a vocal group of citizens determined to keep an adult entertainment establishment away from a nearby neighborhood and church.” (source)

The strip club sued, under the theory that the city’s attempts to drive them out of town was a violation of their First Amendment rights. And, after spending $300,000 in attorneys’ fees, the city finally backed down – and paid the strip club owner $2.1 million for his First Amendment rights. There will be no strip club, so the zealots can be happy. But, the money to pay the settlement comes out of the City of Destin’s taxpayers’ pockets.

Dollars to cover the buyout will come from the city’s $5.2 million unassigned fund balance, putting a serious dent in reserves accumulated over the years to use in emergencies. (source)

So almost half of the city’s reserve fund gone. I wonder if the churches will give up some of their tax exempt status to help replenish the fund.

Congratulations to First Amendment Lawyer, Gary Edinger, who was lead counsel for the strip club in this case.


Knox. Knox. No Justice There.

January 31, 2014

By Tatiana von Tauber

What do you think of this Amanda Knox story?

I watched her interview here . It’s moving. I’ve been following the case for years and I empathize as sometimes facts lead to conclusions which create illusion, not truth and it is here we discover the depth of trust (and fault), in ourselves and our systems.

What is justice? Truly, at what level can another human being say “this person deserves x, y or z for punishment” and call it a day? Who is satisfied? What or whom does that “justice” affect and what is its effect? Will our community be better off with someone like Amanda in jail so we are safer or are we merely seeking justice built on what we believe a victim’s life is worth because it’s socially demanded we punish those who kill?

If Amanda Knox did aid in murder, has her emotional turmoil and years already spent in prison – in the battle for her freedom – not counted as “time served in prison” if prison is defined as a place of punishment? Has her particular suffering not counted as anything at all? For the Italian court to accuse Amanda Knox of guilt after innocence, and weigh a hefty 28 year term on her is so striking I feel violated and I’m just a spectator!

Let’s face it, society places value on murders. They happen all the time. Every day.  Why is the destruction of Knox’s life more important than the destruction of yesterday’s murderer? And what about tomorrow’s murderer? What is jail for? Is it a place to make another person suffer for their pain onto another or is it a holding cell to keep the rest of us safer? What factors determine when it’s both? Or is jail a place where we feel, as a society, a sense of accomplishment in that we are doing what we’re supposed to do to “bad people”? Is there hope to rehabilitate or only institutionalize?

I don’t know if Amanda is guilty or not. I do know that I find her to have suffered a good deal for the circumstances upon which she found herself. There’s a point where another human being should suffer for murder (Hitler comes to mind) and then there’s a point where another human being should be given reprieve when being played with like a pawn in a game and having clearly suffered through an aftermath of such accusation. How is 28 years more of prison time a case of justice served at this point in time?

Amanda Knox presents herself very authentically. Maybe she is faking it but to imprison her for another 28 years for a crime that’s been tainted is a crime onto itself. It is way too harsh and unreasonable. Consider that killing the enemy in war constitutes as justified murder – freedom fighting we call it – but Knox’s situation demands almost three more decades of her life? From an innocent verdict to “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”?  Should this be the perfect case of “let it go”?

Life gets complicated when you discover that human beings have varied value and thus death isn’t the most atrocious thing we can do onto another.  The freedom we are given should never, ever be taken lightly as that option for choice is always at risk of being taken from others. I commend Knox’s ability to stay so vigilant with her freedom at hand and it’s terrible to have freedom handed to you like a toy to jump for.

For Italy, home of the Vatican, to not be an example of forgiveness in the light of tainted investigations (and prior innocent verdict!) certainly seems in line with the church’s very own hypocritical philosophy. Italy should have risen above common human nature of reaction. Punishing Knox will do absolutely nothing to bring back the victim, show or teach a lesson that hasn’t already been shown or taught, nor will it contribute to Knox’s potential good, to which I believe Knox is capable of expressing given the opportunity.

By demanding to lock her up further, Italy has shown an example not of justice but “murder to the spirit”. Knox, if imprisoned, would be as lifeless as the victim in the sense that neither could flourish, live a life to better themselves or others and nor contribute to the world through the good that is within them because they weren’t given a chance. One loss of life is enough but when grounds are not certain, why not give benefit of the doubt and rise above human weakness? Sometimes bad things happen and while time is the best healer (and eye-opener), it’s best to move on quickly to weave those experiences into new creations. Give people a chance. Justice is a human construct and in the case of Knox, justice begs for reinterpretation.

Amanda Knox interview: (http://gma.yahoo.com/amanda-knox-39-couldn-39-t-believe-hearing-071851472–abc-news-topstories.html?vp=1)


Fourth Circuit Delivers First Amendment Ass-Kicking

June 28, 2013

This is not a Star Trek order.  There are no pithy jokes here.  There is, however, a shocking exposé of just how insidious the government can be in coercing silence when you speak out against outdated, incorrect, and even dangerous “conventional wisdom.”

Cooksey v. Futrell, et al., Case No. 12-2084, 2013 WL 3215240 at *1 (4th Cir. June 27, 2013).

Steve Cooksey ran a blog advocating a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.  This diet and its permutations are generally known as known as a “paleo,” “primal” or “caveman” diet, and is based on eliminating historically recent additions to the human diet, such as processed grains.  This more or less inverts the USDA’s food pyramid (or triangle, depending on what generation you are), putting meat at the base of the pyramid with rough, leafy greens, and treating carbohydrate-laden foods like bread as less important.  Like anything people feel strongly about, the ambassadors of the paleo diet can be abrasive and annoying.  But, it works.

Cooksey’s backstory is remarkable, but surprisingly common among health advocates.  A Type II (adult-onset) diabetic, Cooksey was rushed to a hospital on the verge of a coma in 2009.  His dietitians advised him to eat a diet high in carbohydrates.  Cooksey, however, investigated matters himself and arrived at a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates.  His blood sugar normalized and he was able to stop using insulin.  With a combination of diet and exercise (rather than, say, “fat acceptance”), Cooksey lost 78 pounds and felt better than ever before.

Paying it forward, Cooksey opened his blog, diabetes-warrior.net, in early 2010.  Cooksey used the blog to talk about his diet and lifestyle changes. He even included a disclaimer that he was not a licensed medical profession and had no medical qualifications – similar to how legal bloggers are quick to reminder readers that nothing they say online is legal advice.  The overarching theme of Cooksey’s blog was that high-carbohydrate diets caused more diabetes.  During the months of December 2011 and January 2012, Cooksey’s blog had 20,000 unique visitors.

Then Cooksey made the mistake all new red-pill types do: He explained his views to a weak and deliberately helpless public.  In July 2012, Cooksey attended a nutritional seminar for diabetics.  The seminar’s speaker advocated a high-carbohydrate diet for diabetics; Cooksey responded by advocating a low-carbohydrate diet instead.  An attendee at the seminar was so “””offended””” that he or she reported Cooksey to the North Carolina Board for Dietetics/Nutrition (the “Board”), claiming Cooksey’s advocacy was actually the unlicensed practice of dietetics.  Under North Carolina law governing dietetics, only licensed dietitians may provide nutrition care services, which have a broad definition that includes:

a. Assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups, and determining resources and constraints in the practice setting.
b. Establishing priorities, goals, and objectives that meet nutritional needs and are consistent with available resources and constraints.
c. Providing nutrition counseling in health and disease.
d. Developing, implementing, and managing nutrition care systems.
e. Evaluating, making changes in, and maintaining appropriate standards of quality in food and nutrition services.

Under North Carolina law, each and every act of unlicensed practice of dietetics is a separate misdemeanor.

The Board contacted Cooksey.  It told him that he would need to change his website.  It also told him that it was statutorily entitled to get an injunction against him.  Cooksey, fearing civil action, reluctantly complied with the Board’s initial demands to change his website, removing parts that might have been considered “advice” to visitors.

The Board told Cooksey it would review his website and tell him what he could and couldn’t say without a dietitian’s license.  After reviewing Cooksey’s site, the Board got back to him with pages and pages of comments.  The Board’s message was clear: Fix it – or else.  Again, Cooksey acquiesced – this time in fear of civil and even criminal penalties.  Despite not communicating with the Board, it nevertheless sent Cooksey a letter, noting that he had made the requested changes, and tacitly warning Cooksey that it would “continue to monitor the situation.”

After receiving this letter, Cooksey filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the Board’s actions chilling his First Amendment protected speech.  He also sought a declaratory judgment that North Carolina’s statutes were unconstitutional both facially and as-applied.  The Board moved to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of standing and lack of ripeness, and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.  The district court granted the motion, holding that “voluntarily removing parts of one’s website in response to an inquiry from a state licensing board is not a sufficient injury to invoke Article III standing.”  The court also found that Cooksey was not subject to actual or imminent enforcement of the Board’s draconian laws.

At first blush, it seems that the district court took an unusually charitable view toward the Board’s actions.  Many who read this blog would disagree with the outcome.  Cooksey disagreed.  And so, too, did the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit’s panel – which included former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sitting by designation – reviewed the dismissal de novo, or anew (conducting a new, independent analysis of the facts that were before the district court).  The Court of Appeals embarked on an analysis of justiciability with two old law school (and in one case, law practice) favorites, standing and ripeness.  The analysis is considerable, going on for many pages.  Some highlights are excerpted below:

On the question of standing:

In First Amendment cases, the injury-in-fact element is commonly satisfied by a sufficient showing of “self-censorship, which occurs when a claimant is chilled from exercising h[is] right to free expression.” Benham v. City of Charlotte, 635 F.3d 129, 135 (4th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

However, this anticipated cannot just be speculative or the fruit of conjecture.  The appeals court quickly outlined how Cooksey’s case allowed him to have standing, largely due to the Board’s aggression:

In the present case, we not only have evidence of specific and — unlike NCRL — unsolicited written and oral correspondence from the State Board explaining that Cooksey’s speech violates the Act, but we also have a plaintiff who stopped engaging in speech because of such correspondence, and an explicit warning from the State Board that it will continue to monitor the plaintiff’s speech in the future. See J.A. 18 (Compl. ¶ 63-64) (Burill told Cooksey “that he and his website were under investigation” and that the State Board “does have the statutory authority to seek an injunction to prevent the unlicensed practice of dietetics.”); id. at 39 (red-pen review) (“You should not be addressing diabetic’s specific questions. You are no longer just providing information when you do this, you are assessing and counseling, both of which require a license.”); id. at 66 (Burill email) (“[W]e would ask that you make any necessary changes to your site, and moreover, going forward, align your practices with the guidance provided.”); id. at 105 (Burill letter) (“[T]he Board reserves the right to continue to monitor this situation.”). Therefore, we have no trouble deciding that Cooksey’s speech was sufficiently chilled by the actions of the State Board to show a First Amendment injury-in-fact.

The Board’s aggression was also helpful to Cooksey in showing a credible threat of prosecution.  From there, his complaint easily satisfied the requirements of causation – that his injury was caused by the conduct he complained of – and redressibility, which requires a non-speculative likelihood that his injury would be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.

Unfortunately, the opinion gave some daylight to the Board’s position.  If the laws the Board enforces are professional regulations that do not abridge the First Amendment, such as certain limited limitations placed on attorney speech by state professional conduct rules, then Cooksey may ultimately not prevail.  However, because that is question of the case’s merits – how the facts and the law mesh in court – rather than one of standing, or Cooksey’s ability to bring his claim to Court in the first place, this potential defense cannot keep Cooksey out of court (for now).

As for ripeness:

Much like standing, ripeness requirements are also relaxed in First Amendment cases. See New Mexicans for Bill Richardson v. Gonzales, 64 F.3d 1495, 1500 (10th Cir. 1995) (“The primary reasons for relaxing the ripeness analysis in th[e] [First Amendment] context is the chilling effect that potentially unconstitutional burdens on free speech may occasion[.]”). Indeed, “First Amendment rights . . . are particularly apt to be found ripe for immediate protection, because of the fear of irretrievable loss. In a wide variety of settings, courts have found First Amendment claims ripe, often commenting directly on the special need to protect against any inhibiting chill.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Court then gave the Board a little more abuse for soiling its own bed.

In the same way, Cooksey’s claims present the question of whether the Act and actions of the State Board unconstitutionally infringe on Cooksey’s rights to maintain certain aspects of his website. No further action from the Board is needed: it has already, through its executive director, manifested its views that the Act applies to Cooksey’s website, and that he was required to change it in accordance with the red-pen review or face penalties.

In its conclusion, the court of appeals vacated the district court’s order dismissing Cooksey’s complaint and remanded the case for a proceeding on the merits.  The Board can always ask the Fourth Circuit to stay its mandate and grovel with thousands of others to be the 1% whose cert petition the Supreme Court grants.  If nothing else, it will buy them time.  Hopefully, this opinion will leave a mark on the Board and make abusive government entities everywhere think twice before making any “suggestions” to the lowly citizenry they benevolently manage.  Specifically for the Board, its bad dream just got another life, Freddy Krueger-style.

A closing thought: North Carolina does not have an Anti-SLAPP law – not even a mediocre one that could be made good, like Nevada’s (which, starting October 1, 2013, gets a nice octane boost).  While § 1983 claims allow prevailing non-governmental parties to seek their attorneys’ fees under § 1988(b), those fees are discretionary, while prevailing Anti-SLAPP fees are mandatory – and more expeditiously awarded.  While state law-based Anti-SLAPP laws do not always work as drafted in federal court, there is a serious question whether such a statute’s existence or use would have led to a different outcome without an appeal – or any litigation at all.