By Gabriel L. Marx

Donald Trump is once again at the center of a legal dispute. The Forty-Fifth President of the United States has been no stranger to legal controversies during and before his presidency,[1] but the latest update in Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump[2] has President Trump petitioning for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court after more than three years of litigation.[3]  

The case began in July 2017 when the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (“Knight Institute”) filed a lawsuit against President Trump in federal court alleging that he violated the First Amendment by blocking Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump account after they criticized his policies and presidency.[4] The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that Donald Trump, as President, exercised sufficient control over the Twitter account such that the @realDonald Trump account was “susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court’s [First Amendment] forum doctrines, and is properly characterized as a designated public forum.”[5] The District Court then held that President Trump’s blocking of these Twitter users was discrimination based on the users’ viewpoints and impermissible under the First Amendment.[6] In July 2019, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed the district court’s decision[7] and subsequently denied rehearing, sitting en banc, in March of this year.[8] Despite his lack of success so far, the administration has continued his fight against the Knight Institute as Acting Solicitor General Jefferey Wall submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court at the end of August.[9]

The petition includes both legal and policy-based arguments about the importance of the case.[10] In terms of legal arguments, Solicitor General Wall argues that the Second Circuit wrongly concluded that (1) President Trump’s blocking of the Twitter users was a state action susceptible to the First Amendment rather than an act of a private citizen; (2) the @realDonaldTrump account was a designated public forum; and (3) the governmental-speech doctrine, which would exempt President Trump’s account from a First Amendment challenge, did not apply to President Trump’s actions.[11] Putting the legal arguments aside, Solicitor General Wall also argues, “the court of appeals’ decision . . . has important legal and practical implications that reach beyond the circumstances of this case.”[12] That is, public officials are “increasingly likely to maintain social media accounts to communicate their views, both personal and official,”[13] so if the Second Circuit’s decision were allowed to stand, it would significantly hinder the ability of these public officials to choose who they want to interact with on their own accounts: a choice afforded to every other social media user.[14] According to the petition, this choice—or lack thereof—takes on an even greater significance when the public official in question in the President of the United States.[15]

In response, the Knight Institute filed its brief in opposition on Sept. 21.[16] The Knight Institute first argues that there is no reason for the Court to hear the case because amongst the various lower courts that have dealt with this issue, all agree that public officials blocking critics from their social media accounts violates the First Amendment.[17] It additionally argues that the second circuit properly concluded that blocking users from the @realDonaldTrump account was state action, was not government speech, and that the account itself is a public forum.[18] The Knight Institute also counters Solicitor General Wall’s policy-based arguments, asserting that the impact of the Second Circuit’s decision has not and will not hinder the President’s or other public officials’ use of social media to communicate to the general public.[19] Finally, the Knight Institute maintains that the only cases where the Court has granted certiorari solely due to presidential implications, and absent a circuit split, are those that deal with “fundamental issues of executive power” (such as separation-of-power concerns), unlike the case at hand, which only deals with whether President Trump can block Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump account.[20]

Given the procedural history, the above arguments, and the fact that the Court usually only hears cases that have “national significance, might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal circuit courts, and/or could have precedential value,”[21] it seems unlikely that the Court will grant certiorari. Looking at the procedural history, the two lower courts were in agreement that President Trump violated the First Amendment (with one panel holding that unanimously).[22] Therefore, the Court has little incentive to rehear a case that has already been decided so clearly, unless, as Solicitor General Wall argues, the court of appeals erred in its conclusions. The petition for rehearing was denied by the Second Circuit en banc, [23] however, so the decision has already been affirmed in some sense. Along similar lines, there is no conflict among federal circuit or district courts on the issue of public officials blocking users from their social media accounts, as the Knight Institute points out.[24] On the other hand, there has been an influx of cases dealing with this issue as of late,[25] so the Court might want to decide the issue once and for all to deter future litigation. Nevertheless, given, again, that so many lower courts are all in agreement on the issue, the Court probably will not wish to devote time and resources on a well-settled area of the law simply to deter future litigation—particularly as the issue does not reach an issue of traditional significance in executive authority, such as a separation-of-powers issue. As a final matter, neither the Court’s current make-up of Justices nor the projected addition of Amy Coney Barrett should have much effect on the decision-making process in light of the above factors weighing so heavily against granting certiorari.

While it is unlikely that the Court will grant President Trump’s petition, if it does grant certiorari, the case would be interesting to watch unfold at the nation’s highest court. If heard, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University could set the precedent for the ever-prevalent issue of freedom of speech in social media, so it is certainly worth keeping an eye out for the Court’s decision on the petition for writ of certiorari in the coming weeks.


[1] See Peter Baker, Trump Is Fighting So Many Legal Battles, It’s Hard to Keep Track, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/us/politics/donald-trump-lawsuits-investigations.html.

[2] 302 F. Supp. 3d 541 (S.D.N.Y. 2018), aff’d, 928 F.3d 226 (2d Cir. 2019).

[3] See Tucker Higgins, White House Asks Supreme Court to Let Trump Block Critics on Twitter, CNBC (Aug. 20, 2020, 12:00 PM), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/20/white-house-asks-supreme-court-to-let-trump-block-critics-on-twitter.html.

[4] See Knight Institute v. Trump, Knight First Amendment Inst. at Colum. Univ., https://knightcolumbia.org/cases/knight-institute-v-trump (last visited Oct. 8, 2020).

[5] Knight Inst., 302 F. Supp. 3d at 580.

[6] Id.

[7] See Knight First Amendment Inst. at Colum. Univ. v. Trump, 928 F.3d 226 (2d Cir. 2019);Knight First Amendment Inst. at Colum. Univ., supra note 4.

[8] See Knight First Amendment Inst. at Colum. Univ. v. Trump, 953 F.3d 216 (2d Cir. 2020) (en banc); Knight First Amendment Inst. at Colum. Univ., supra note 4.

[9] See Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Knight First Amendment Inst. at Colum. Univ. v. Trump, No. 20-197 (Aug. 20, 2020), https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/20/20-197/150726/20200820102824291_Knight%20First%20Amendment%20Inst.pdf.

[10] See id.

[11] Id. at 11–27.

[12] See id. at 27.

[13] See id. at 27–28.

[14] Id. at 28–29.

[15] See id. at 29.

[16] See Brief in Opposition, Knight Inst., No. 20-197 (Sept. 21, 2020), https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/20/20-197/154505/20200921141934655_20-197%20BIO.pdf.

[17] See id. at 11–15.

[18] See id. at 15–28.

[19] See id. at 29.

[20] See id. at 30.

[21] Supreme Court Procedures,U.S. Cts., https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/supreme-1 (last visited Oct. 8, 2020).

[22] See supra notes 5–8 and accompanying text.

[23] See supra note 8 and accompanying text.

[24] See supra note 17 and accompanying text.

[25] See Petition for Writ of Certiorari, supra note 9, at 28 n.2 (noting six recent cases from around the country concerning public officials’ blocking social media users on their personal accounts).

Flowers and candles at the steps of the Supreme Court building in remembrance of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo by Gayatri Malhotra.

By Jacqueline K. Winters

On Sept. 26, less than two months before the election, President Donald Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court.[1]  Considering Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans to swiftly move forward with the confirmation process and begin hearings on Oct. 12, it is likely that the Senate will confirm Barrett, a conservative and former clerk of Antonin Scalia’s,[2] before the November election.[3] Meanwhile, President Trump is employing rhetoric about voter fraud and a rigged election[4]—likely positioning himself to bring an Electoral College battle in front of the Court.[5] If history is precedent, a 6–3 conservative versus liberal Supreme Court composition would undoubtedly lend itself to a more favorable outcome for President Trump. The American public should anticipate that the confluence of these circumstances could result in Bush v. Gore[6]2.0—but this time, the battle may extend well beyond hanging chads.

There are a number of scenarios that could lead to the Supreme Court determining the fate of this election. One example, presented by Edward Foley of Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, would take place in the swing state of Pennsylvania.[7] If Trump is in the lead on election night, but Biden-friendly mail-in ballots flood in during the days following the election, a volatile partisan dispute could erupt.[8] In this scenario, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf could sign Pennsylvania’s certificate of ascertainment and list Democratic electors as the official Electoral College slate, while the Republican-led legislature appoints a different set of electors—a scenario that would result in legal challenges, possibly making its way up to the Supreme Court.[9] However, the Electoral Count Act of 1887[10] delegates the power to Congress to consider both sets of electors. Vice President Mike Pence could oversee the count in Congress, determining that Pennsylvania’s votes should be removed because the electoral slates conflict, causing Democrats to seek an injunction to stop this discount of Pennsylvania’s votes.[11] This is merely one illustration of partisan-fueled chaos that could ensue if there is a small margin between President Trump and Vice President Joe Biden on election night—a scenario ominously reminiscent of the 2000 election, but in an even more sharply divided political climate.[12] 

On Dec. 12, 2000, The United States Supreme Court announced in a 5–4 decision that the Supreme Court of Florida had violated the United States Constitution when it ordered a ballot recount in certain Florida districts.[13] In this historic decision, which resulted in George W. Bush assuming the presidency, the Court contended that the ballot recount violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because Florida counties were shifting vote-counting standards.[14] The Court’s decision reversed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision and stayed the manual recount of 42,000 “undervotes”—ballots on which automatic machine recounts had failed to detect a vote and which had not yet been manually recounted.[15] The decision was premised on the notion that the recount procedures—based on the clear intent standard, which required “‘a clear indication of the intent of the voter’”[16]—“did not satisfy [the] minimum requirement for non-arbitrary treatment of voters necessary, under the Equal Protection Clause, to secure [the] fundamental right to vote for President.”[17]

Since the 2000 decision, a holding the Court explicitly stated was “limited to the present circumstances,”[18] the precedential value of Bush v. Gore has been decidedly weak.[19] In Stewart v. Blackwell,[20] pertaining to Ohio’s use of punch card ballots and central-count optical scan systems, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio’s relied upon Justice Souter’s dissent in Bush v. Gore to determine that different counties within the same state using different systems does not amount to a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.[21] The Sixth Circuit disagreed, reversing and remanding the district court’s decision.[22] In 2008’s Lemons v. Bradbury,[23] a plaintiff argued in front of the Ninth Circuit that county election officials lacking uniform statewide rules for verifying referendum signatures violated the rule set forth in Bush v. Gore.[24] The Ninth Circuit disagreed, stating that Oregon’s verification process did not violate voters’ constitutional rights.[25] 

In large part, lower court decisions that have relied on Bush v. Gore have generally been overturned or limited,[26] and until 2013, when Justice Clarence Thomas cited the case in a footnote of a dissenting opinion in an Arizona voter-registration case,[27] the Supreme Court had not cited the case for any proposition. Recently, however, President Trump and his campaign have invoked the case in legal battles in Nevada[28] and New Jersey,[29] undoubtedly in preparation for mounting a Bush v. Gore-inspired argument in front of the Supreme Court in November.

President Trump’s continued efforts to challenge the legitimacy of mail-in voting—despite the FBI’s findings that there is no evidence of any foreign plot to counterfeit or forge mail ballots[30]—are likely representative of his willingness to be fiercely litigious in November.  With a more-likely-than-not conservative Court and murky-at-best precedent, the November election will prove an uphill battle for Democrats. The precedential value of Bush v. Gore will be in the spotlight for the first time since 2000, and the Supreme Court will possibly provide clarity on this debated issue—potentially changing the course of American presidential elections for generations to come.


[1] Peter Baker & Nicholas Fandos, Trump Announces Barrett as Supreme Court Nominee, Describing Her as Heir to Scalia, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/us/politics/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court.html.  

[2] Id.

[3] Deirdre Walsh, What Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Means for the 2020 Election, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Sept. 27, 2020, 7:00 AM), https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/917303199/what-amy-coney-barretts-supreme-court-nomination-means-for-the-2020-election.  

[4] Miles Parks, Ignoring FBI and Fellow Republicans, Trump Continues Assault on Mail-In Voting, Nat’l Pub. Radio  (Aug. 28, 2020, 12:46 PM), https://www.npr.org/2020/08/28/906676695/ignoring-fbi-and-fellow-republicans-trump-continues-assault-on-mail-in-voting.

[5] Jeet Heer, Trump Wants Another ‘Bush v. Gore, The Nation (Sept. 23, 2020), https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/trump-court-election-vacancy/.

[6] 531 U.S. 98 (2000).

[7] Geoffrey Skelley, What If Trump Loses and Won’t Leave?, FiveThirtyEight (Sept. 14, 2020, 9:15 AM), https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-if-trump-loses-and-wont-leave/.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.; see Electoral Count Act, ch. 90, 24 Stat. 373 (1887) (codified as amended at 3 U.S.C. §§ 5–7, 15–18).

[11]  Skelley, supra note 7.

[12] Dean Bonner, Voter Registration Is Up Sharply, as Is Partisanship, Pub. Pol’y Inst. of Cal. (Aug. 27, 2020), https://www.ppic.org/blog/voter-registration-is-up-sharply-as-is-partisanship/

[13] Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 103 (2000).

[14] Id. at 106.

[15] Id. at 100.

[16] Id. at 131.

[17] Id. at 98.

[18] Id. at 109.

[19] Chad Flanders, Please Don’t Cite This Case!: The Precedential Value of Bush v. Gore, 116 Yale L.J. Pocket Part 141, 144 (2006), https://www.yalelawjournal.org/forum/please-dona8217t-cite-this-case-the-precedential-value-of-bush-v-gore.

[20] Stewart v. Blackwell, 356 F. Supp. 2d 791 (N.D. Ohio 2004), rev’d in part, vacated in part, 444 F.3d 843 (6th Cir. 2006), vacated as moot, 473 F.3d 692 (6th Cir. 2007).

[21] Id. at 808.

[22] Stewart v. Blackwell, 444 F.3d 843, 880 (6th Cir. 2006), vacated as moot, 473 F.3d 692 (6th Cir. 2007).

[23] 538 F.3d 1098 (2008).

[24] Id. at 1105.

[25] Id. at 1107.

[26] Richard L. Hasen, The 2012 Voting Wars, Judicial Backstops, and the Resurrection of Bush v. Gore, 81 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1865, 1867 (2013).

[27] Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc., 570 U.S. 1, 35 n.2 (2013) (Thomas, J., dissenting); see Joan Biskupic, Trump Revives Bush v. Gore in His Crusade Against Mail-In Voting, CNN Pol. (Aug. 24, 2020), https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/24/politics/supreme-court-bush-gore-trump-lawsuits/index.html.  

[28] United States District Court Judge James Mahan dismissed the Trump campaign’s case in Nevada, stating that a law that calls for mail-in ballots to be sent automatically to all active Nevada voters in light of the coronavirus pandemic did not demonstrate any constitutional harms. See Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Cegavske, No. 20-CV-1445, 2020 WL 5626974, at *7 (D. Nev. Sept. 18, 2020); see also Michelle L. Price, Judge Dismisses Trump Challenge to Nevada Mail Voting Law; Associated Press (Sept. 21, 2020), https://apnews.com/article/nevada-lawsuits-elections-voting-fraud-and-irregularities-campaigns-17adaf09734fd720b1a1477451f2540c; Biskupic, supra note 27.

[29] See Complaint for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief at 155, Donald Trump for President, Inc. v. Murphy, No. 20-CV-10753, (D.N.J. Aug. 18, 2020), ECF No. 1; see also Biskupic, supra note 27.

[30] Parks, supra note 4.

By Zeliang Mike Liu

On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court issued a landmark 6-3 decision stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) prohibits an employer from firing an individual for being homosexual or transgender.[1] The question came to the court through three different cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, in which a child welfare advocate was fired for participating in a gay recreational softball league after ten years working for a Georgia county; Altitude Express v. Zarda, in which a skydiving assistant was fired after he told a female customer that he was gay, and the customer’s boyfriend complained that he inappropriately touched her; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, in which a funeral home employee was fired when she informed the funeral home that she decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery.[2] Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”[3]

Though the court’s focus in Bostock was the issue of employers discharging employees based on sexual orientation and transgender status, the court arguably provided a broad ruling with impacts to multiple areas of the law. As Justice Samuel Alito stated in his dissent, the Court’s ruling is “virtually certain to have far-reaching consequences” and will inevitably affect other federal laws, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), and the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).[4] The implication of Bostock is not only protection of LGBTQ+ rights in employment, but an essential tool to address discrimination against LGBTQ+ community members not just in education, healthcare, and housing.

Employment

Workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ community members is well documented. Between 8–17 percent of LGBTQ+ workers and 13–47 percent of transgender workers have been denied employment opportunities or unfairly discharged because of sexual orientation or transgender status.[5] Nearly 30 percent of LGBTQ+ workers of color reported that they have experienced employment discrimination for sexual orientation.[6]

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual’s sex.[7] The statute extends beyond discharging and applies when employers “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges or employment.”[8]Under Title VII, “compensation” includes not only wages but also benefits such as overtime pay, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, and bonuses.[9]

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock directly affects employment practice with regard to an employee’s sexual orientation or transgender status. In its reasoning, the Court stressed that “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex.”[10]Thus, although the individual cases before the Court focused on the wrongful termination of LGBTQ+ workers, the Court nevertheless determined that under Title VII protects against broader discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status.[11]

Although the Court specifically stated that its decision in Bostock does not “address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind” when addressing employers’ concern of whether sex-segregated spaces violate Title VII,[12]the Court’s decision does extend to equal access to existing sex-segregated facilities, meaning that an employer cannot deny an LGBTQ+ worker from access to the existing sex-segregated facilities.[13]

Education

Title IX prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in any education program or activity that receives federal funding.[14]Although the statue does not define the scope of discrimination “on the basis of sex,” courts have often looked at cases that define the scope of sex discrimination under Title VII to interpret the meaning of discrimination “on the basis of sex” under Title IX because of the similarities between Title VII and Title IX’s language.[15]The Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeal, have all previously held that Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by extending decisions that stated Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock.[16]

Therefore, Bostock’s holding that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status provides further assistance for courts to extend Title IX’s protections for LGBTQ+ students.

Housing

The FHA prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.[17]Similar to Title IX, courts often look to Title VII when determining the scope of prohibited sex discrimination under FHA.[18]Thus, courts are also likely to extend Bostock to FHA and offer greater protection on LGBTQ+ rights under the FHA.

The Trump administration issued a proposal in July 2020 to limit the 2016 Equal Access Rule and allow housing programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to deny shelter access based on transgender status.[19]In light of the Bostock decision, Reps. Jennifer Wexton and Maxine Waters submitted a letter to Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of HUD, to revise the proposal in accordance with Supreme Court’s holding in Bostock.[20]However, Dr. Carson stated in response that “[t]he Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock has no impact on the Department’s proposed rule.”[21] HUD’s apparent refusal to take Bostock highlights a next step in the path forward for LGBTQ+ rights.

Healthcare

Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities.[22] The nondiscrimination language in Section 1557 was built on other federal civil rights laws including Title VII, Title IX, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.[23] Thus, since the Supreme Court held in Bostock that Title VII forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status, such holding likely carries significant weight in application to ACA.

In 2016, the Obama administration promulgated a rule stating that Section 1557 of ACA prohibits discrimination in health activities and activities on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[24] Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed a rule to exclude ACA’s protection on sexual orientation and gender identity, and four days after the Bostock decision, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its final rule.[25] However, on August 17, 2020, one day before the rule was planned to go into effect, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction, which barred the rule from going into effect, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock.[26]The recognition of the interplay between Title VII and the ACA provided further assurance on Bostock’s positive impact on ACA.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock is a great victory for LGBTQ+ community that’s worth celebrating. Although the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is not over, Bostock nevertheless demonstrates that the LGBTQ+ community has advanced powerful arguments that even the Supreme Court’s most ardent textualist supports. Similar text in other federal statutes provides a path forward for future solidification of LGBTQ+ rights.


[1] See Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., 140 S. Ct. 1731, 1737 (2020).

[2] Id. at 1737–38.

[3] Id. at 1741.

[4] Id. at 1778 (Alito, J., dissenting).

[5] Ctr. Am. Progress et al., A Broken Bargain: Unchecked Discrimination Against LGBT Workers 1 (2014), https://www.lgbtmap.org/file/unchecked-discrimination-against-lgbt-workers.pdf.

[6] Nat’l Pub. Radio Et Al., Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of LGBTQ Americans 11 (2017), https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/94/2017/11/NPR-RWJF-HSPH-Discrimination-LGBTQ-Final-Report.pdf.

[7] 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).

[8] Id.

[9] U.S. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n, EEOC-NVTA-0000-12, Facts about Equal Pay and Compensation Discrimination (1997), https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/facts-about-equal-pay-and-compensation-discrimination.

[10] Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., 140 S. Ct. 1731, 1747 (2020).

[11] See id.

[12] Id. at 1753.

[13] The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has established that a transgender employee’s right to use woman bathroom is protected by Title VII. Lusardi v. McHugh, E.E.O.C. Doc. No. 0120133395, 2015 WL 1607756, at *7 (Apr. 1, 2015).

[14] 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).

[15] See, e.g., Whitaker ex rel. Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified Sch. Dist. No. 1 Bd. of Educ., 858 F.3d 1034, 1047 (7th Cir. 2017); Smith v. Metro. Sch. Dist. Perry Twp., 128 F.3d 1014, 1022–23 (7th Cir. 1997).

[16] See Whitaker, 858 F.3d at 1047–49; Dodds v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., 845 F.3d 217, 221 (6th Cir. 2016) (noting that Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on sexual non-confirming behaviors is applicable in the context of Title IX); Grimm v. Gloucester Cnty. Sch. Bd., 400 F. Supp. 3d 444, 451-52 (E.D. Va. 2019), aff’d, No. 19-1952, 2020 WL 5034430 (4th Cir. Aug. 26, 2020), as amended (Aug. 28, 2020).

[17] 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a).

[18] See, e.g., Smith v. Avanti, 249 F. Supp. 3d 1194, 1200 (D. Colo. 2017) (“The Tenth Circuit looks to Title VII discrimination cases for guidance in addressing discrimination issues under the FHA.”).

[19] Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs, 85 Fed. Reg. 44,811, 44,811 (proposed July 24, 2020) (to be codified at 24 C.F.R. pt. 5, 576), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-07-24/pdf/2020-14718.pdf.

[20] See Press Release, U.S. House Comm. Fin. Serv., Walters and Wexton Call on HUD to Reconsider Revisions to Equal Access Rule (July 6, 2020), https://financialservices.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=406742.

[21] Letter from Ben Carson, Sec’y, U.S. Dep’t Hous. & Urban Dev., to Maxine Waters, Rep., 43rd Cong. Dist., and Jennifer Wexton, Rep., 10th Cong. Dist. (July 13, 2020), https://wexton.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hud_response_to_waters-wexton_6.29.20_letter.pdf.

[22] See 42 U.S.C.§ 18116.

[23] Id.

[24] See Maya Rhodan, Obamacare Rule Bans Discrimination Against Transgender Patients, Time (May. 13, 2016), https://time.com/4329609/transgender-discrimination-obamacare-healthcare/; see also 45 C.F.R. § 92.207, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CFR-2016-title45-vol1/pdf/CFR-2016-title45-vol1-sec92-207.pdf.

[25] See Dan Diamond, Trump Team Moves to Scrap Protections for LGBTQ Patients, Politico (Apr. 24, 2020), https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/24/trump-team-moves-to-scrap-protections-for-lgbtq-patients-206398; see also Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities, Delegation of Authority, 85 Fed. Reg. 37,160 (June. 19, 2020) (to be codified at 42 C.F.R. pt. 438, 440, 406 and 45 C.F.R. pt. 86, 92, 147, 155, 156).

[26] Walker v. Azar, No. 20CV2834FBSMG, 2020 WL 4749859, at *10 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2020).

By Jon McLamb

The United States Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a case with significant ramifications on First Amendment religious freedom.  This time, however, a decision will come in direct conflict with local and state anti-discrimination laws that prevent businesses from discriminating on the basis of an person’s sexual orientation.

The case, Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington, involves a private florist in Washington who refused to make a flower arrangement for a same-sex couple’s wedding.[1]  The business owner cited her religious beliefs against same-sex marriage as her reason for the refusal.[2]  The florist argued that she was entitled to refuse because providing services to a same-sex marriage ceremony would offend her religious beliefs so, therefore, she was protected under the First Amendment right to religious freedom.[3]  The couple and the state believed that the florist had violated both local and state anti-discrimination laws by denying the couple’s request.[4]  As a result of this conflict, the state filed a lawsuit on the couples’ behalf seeking injunctive and other relief.[5]

The case first reached the United States Supreme Court in June 2018.[6]  In that instance, the Court remanded the case back to the Washington state courts to address the case in light of its decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was decided that same month.[7]  In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Court held that a business owner’s religious freedom was violated when the business owner received penalties for refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.[8]  The Court reasoned that the business owner deserved a neutral decisionmaker under the First Amendment that would give full and fair consideration to his religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.[9]

The Washington State Supreme Court subsequently re-decided the case on remand from the United States Supreme Court.[10]  Applying the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the florist.[11]  The Washington Supreme Court reasoned that there is no exception to the public accommodation statutory requirement for religious beliefs, and the florist was therefore required to accommodate the same-sex couple’s request for a flower arrangement.[12]  The Court found that the Masterpiece Cakeshop framework required a neutral analysis that involved looking into both the religious freedom of the First Amendment and the anti-discrimination statutes currently enacted in the State of Washington.[13]

Following the decision of the Washington Supreme Court, the florist petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.[14]  In the petition, the florist argued that her First Amendment right to freedom of religion would be infringed if Washington penalized her following her beliefs and not serving the couple.[15]  In arguing this point, the florist contended that the holding of the Washington Supreme Court is in direct conflict with the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop because her refusal to serve the couple is protected expressive freedom protected under that case and other United States Supreme Court precedent.[16]

Both the State of Washington and the couple filed responses to the florist’s petition for writ of certiorari. The State of Washington argued that the florist’s contention that she was “participating in the wedding ceremony” if she served the couple a flower arrangement is highly misleading, because simply providing a service to the couple is not the same as participating in the ceremony.[17]  Additionally, Washington argued that its supreme court’s decision does not violate United States Supreme Court precedent, but actually follows the current law by neutrally addressing both the religious freedom of the florist and the right to be free from discrimination of the couple.[18]  Further, Washington contended that there is not a violation of United States Supreme Court precedent just because the Washington Supreme Court disagreed that the florist had a protected right that outweighs the right of the couple in this instance.[19]

The couple’s brief in response to the florist’s petition for writ of certiorari addressed the same arguments as Washington’s brief in opposition.[20]  Like Washington, the couple opined that the Washington Supreme Court’s decision did not conflict with United States Supreme Court case law and did not force the florist to participate in their wedding ceremony.[21]  The one major difference, however, is that the same-sex couple focused on their right to equal access that protected them against discrimination as opposed to the state’s brief, which focused on the florist’s lack of protected right to religious freedom.[22]

Several different interest groups filed amicus briefs in support of the petition for writ of certiorari.  These groups include mostly conservative, religious, and constitutional scholars.  In essence, their arguments addressed the right of the florist to refuse service to a same-sex couple under the First Amendment’s right to freedom of religion.

Because many interest groups have voiced their concerns about the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, the United States Supreme Court is likely to grant certiorari.  The Supreme Court may also grant certiorari to resolve the direct conflict between two protected interests: the right to religious freedom and the right of same-sex couples to be free from discrimination on account of sexual orientation.  The likelihood of granting certiorari is also higher because the Supreme Court heard this case at an earlier date but did not resolve the dispute. 

This case presents an opportunity for the United States Supreme Court to address issues not reached in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Many in the legal profession believe that the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision rendered a narrow holding that protected only the religious rights of the individual business owner in that circumstance. Therefore, the Court may take this opportunity to expand that holding to protect all business owners with similar religious beliefs.  On the flip side, the Court could use this opportunity to distinguish the cases and limit the Masterpiece Cakeshop’s holding, giving a win to members of the LGBT community who continue to fight for their Constitutional rights, even after the landmark decision of Obergefell v. Hodges.[23]  The Court will likely make a decision whether to grant certiorari in the next few weeks, and the disposition of the case will have significant impact on American citizens, one way or another.


[1] See 187 Wash.2d 804 (2017).

[2] See id. at 816–17.

[3] See id. at 818.

[4] See id. at 818–19.

[5] Id.

[6] 138 S.Ct. 2671 (2018).

[7] 138 S.Ct. 1719 (2018).

[8] Id. at 1724.

[9] Id. at 1732.

[10] State v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., 193 Wash.2d 469 (2019).

[11] Id. at 507–08.

[12] Id. at 508.

[13] Id.

[14] Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Arlene’s Flowers (2019).

[15] Id. at i.

[16] Id. at 26.

[17] State’s Brief in Opposition, Arlene’s Flowers, at11–14 (2019).

[18] Id. at 25–35.

[19] Id. at 26–27.

[20] See generally Brief of Respondents, Arlene’s Flowers (2019).

[21] Id.

[22] Compare Brief of Respondents, Arlene’s Flowers (2019) (addressing whether florist can deny same-sex couple’s equal access to flower arrangement services) with State’s Brief in Opposition, Arlene’s Flowers (2019) (addressing whether freedom of religion allowed florist to deny public accommodation to same-sex couple).

[23] 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015).

By Olivia Rojas

On November 5, 2018, the United States Department of Justice filed a petition for writ of certiorari before judgment from the Supreme Court of the United States asking the court to review three cases from different circuits relating to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (“DACA”).[1] These cases, DHS v. Regents of the University of California, Trump v. NAACP, and McAleenan v. Vidal (collectively “Consolidated Cases”), directly addressed the validity of the Trump Administration’s attempt to halt DACA, and in June of 2019, the Court granted certiorari.[2]

On November 12, 2019, the Court heard oral arguments regarding the future of DACA. In reviewing the Consolidated Cases, the Court is asked to analyze two questions (1) whether the “phasing out” of the DACA program is eligible for judicial review in the first place and (2) whether the termination of the DACA program is legal.[3]

In June of 2012, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano submitted plans for an administrative program which would allow a select group of undocumented individuals who were born outside of the United States but immigrated as juveniles, to apply for deferred action.[4]  These individuals have since been referred to as Dreamers.[5] Deferred action refers to the ability of a federal immigration judge or an agent with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to postpone the deportation of an individual as an act of discretion.[6] While deferred action does not adjudicate an individual as a “lawful” citizen, it awards that individual the status of “lawfully present” during the deferral period.[7] Under Napolitano’s plan, individuals were able to apply for a deferral with the potential for work authorization and the option to renew if a request was granted.[8] Unable to gain enough support for the program in Congress, then-President Barack Obama adopted the DACA plan by executive memorandum.[9] Since its establishment, nearly 800,000 people have deferred their pending deportations.[10]

Under the initial plan for DACA, people could apply for deferred action if: (1) they came to the United States before their 16th birthday; (2) they were 31 years old or younger; (3) they uninterruptedly resided in the United States since June 15, 2007; and (4) they were currently in school, graduated school, had a certificate of completion from a high school, had a General Educational Development (“GED”) Certificate, or were an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Coast Guard or Armed Forces.[11] Persons convicted of a felony, a “significant misdemeanor,” or three or more other misdemeanors were ineligible.[12] Additionally, if an applicant had “lawful status” on June 15, 2012, they were also ineligible.[13]

Following the inauguration of President Trump, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, expressing his concern over the broad reach of the program. Essentially, Sessions argued that the program lacked the necessary statutory authority, had no end date, and lacked support from Congress. Sessions argued it was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority.”[14] Subsequently, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kjersten Nielsen issued a memorandum which sought to rescind DACA and set forth a method for “phasing out” the program in its entirety.[15] The Administration planned to stop accepting new applications and began to only process renewals for those DACA recipients whose status expired before March 5, 2018.[16] 

The Arguments

Can the Court even review this matter?

In a brief submitted to the Court, the government contested that its termination of DACA is not judicially reviewable.[17] While lower courts ruled that the termination was “arbitrary and capricious,” the Administration argued that the Court could not review this standard if the termination was a form of permissible discretion under the Administrative Procedure Act.[18] The Administrative Procedure Act identifies the processes in which federal agencies may develop and enforce regulations.[19] As such, the government argued that it possesses the discretion to terminate DACA.  

The challengers in the Consolidated Cases argue, however, that this issue is a perfect example of what the Court can review, and one that has been reviewed in the past.[20] Further, the challengers maintain that even if their first argument failed, the Court has the power to review the matter because the Administration argued its reasoning for termination was the illegality of DACA as a whole.[21]

In oral argument, the Administration again argued that its termination of DACA was not reviewable because it was a discretionary decision, even though it also argued the DACA program was illegal. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned this argument: if the Administration reasoned that it terminated DACA because the program was illegal, it would not be a matter of discretion, but a legal one, and therefore clearly within the purview of the Court.[22] Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were less skeptical of this argument: where was the line between reviewable and non-reviewable decisions?[23]

Is the termination of DACA legal?

Relying on the Fifth Circuit’s decision to strike the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (“DAPA”) and an expanded DACA program, the Administration, in its brief, reasoned that the implementation of DACA in the first place was “highly questionable” [24] and “an ongoing violation of federal immigration law.”[25] The challengers, on the other hand, argued that if terminating DACA was of incredible importance, the Administration would not have waited seven months before attempting to terminate the program.[26] Further, they argued that anticipation of potential litigation is not sufficient enough to justify the termination of DACA and doing so would undermine nearly every agency decision to date.[27] Finally, the challengers highlighted the public policy implications for terminating the program, including the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who are actively working and studying in the United States.[28]

In oral argument, the parties conceded to the fact that the Administration had the authority to terminate DACA.[29] As a result, the Court was asked to review the method in which the Administration terminated DACA, rather than if it could terminate DACA.[30] The argument appeared to break down along traditional conservative-liberal lines, although commentators noted that many justices appeared “torn” and it was unclear how the case would ultimately be decided.[31]

The holding in these Consolidated Cases is expected to be released in June 2020.[32] While the future of DACA remains unclear until then, various district court injunctions prevent the complete cessation of the DACA program prior to a decision.[33] While the Administration does not foreshadow a mass deportation should DACA be eliminated,[34] the loss of the program would immediately strip recipients and potential applicants of their rights to work, attend school, and even drive.[35]


[1]Amy Howe, Argument Preview: Justices to Review Dispute over Termination of DACA, SCOTUSBlog (Nov. 5, 2019, 5:02 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/11/argument-preview-justices-to-review-dispute-over-termination-of-daca/.

[2] Id.

[3] Deferred Action Basics, Nat’l Immigr. F. (Apr. 15, 2016), https://immigrationforum.org/article/deferred-action-basics/; Amy Howe, Symposium: Justices to Review Dispute Over Termination of DACA, SCOTUSBlog (Sept. 10, 2019, 3:06 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/09/symposium-justices-to-review-dispute-over-termination-of-daca/

[4] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Homeland Security, https://www.dhs.gov/deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca (last updated Sept. 23, 2019).

[5] What is DACA and Who Are the DREAMers, Anti-Defamation League, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/table-talk/what-is-daca-and-who-are-the-dreamers (last updated Oct. 17, 2019).

[6]Deferred Action Basics, supra note 3.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), supra note 4.

[10] Caitlin Dickerson, What Is DACA? And How Did It End Up in the Supreme Court?, N.Y. Times (Nov. 12, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/12/us/daca-supreme-court.html.

[11] What Are the Eligibility Requirements for DACA?, CitizenPath, https://citizenpath.com/faq/daca-eligibility-requirements/.

[12] Id.

[13] Lori Robertson, The Facts on DACA, FactCheck (Jan. 22, 2018), https://www.factcheck.org/2018/01/the-facts-on-daca/.

[14] Id.

[15] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), supra note 4.

[16] Dara Lind, March 5 Is Supposed to Be the DACA “deadline.” Here’s What That Means for Immigrants, Vox, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/16/17015818/daca-deadline-trump-dreamers-march-5 (last updated Mar. 5, 2018, 10:31 AM).

[17] Lomi Kriel, Trump’s Decision to End DACA Faces Supreme Court Scrutiny, Houston Chron. (Nov. 11, 2019), https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Trump-s-decision-to-end-DACA-faces-Supreme-14827072.php.

[18] Howe, supra note 3; 5 U.S.C § 551 (2012).

[19] 5 U.S.C. § 551.

[20] Howe, supra note 3.

[21] Id.

[22] Amy Howe, Argument Analysis: Justices Torn, Hard to Read in Challenge to Decision to End DACA, SCOTUSBlog (Nov. 12, 2019, 2:07 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/11/argument-analysis-justices-torn-hard-to-read-in-challenge-to-decision-to-end-daca/.

[23] Id.

[24] Howe, supra note 3.

[25] Id.

[26] Howe, supra note 1.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Howe, supra note 22.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Supreme Court Grants Cert in Three DACA Cases, Nat’l Immigr. L. Ctr. (June 28, 2019), https://www.nilc.org/issues/daca/alert-supreme-court-grants-cert-in-three-daca-cases/.

[33] Lind, supra note 16.

[34] Hector Barreto, Here’s Why Trump is Right to End DACA, CNBC (Sept. 6, 2017), https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/06/on-daca-trump-did-the-right-thing-commentary.html.

[35] Yanet Limon-Amado, Losing DACA Would, on Top of Everything Else, Double My College Tuition, Wash. Post (Nov. 12, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/11/12/losing-daca-would-top-everything-else-double-my-college-tuition/.

By James Sprague

The Supreme Court of the United States has the opportunity to shape the future of civil rights litigation in Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media & Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc. Although 42 U.S.C. § 1981 bars racial discrimination in contracting, circuits disagree on the causation standard necessary to sustain a claim.[1] The Seventh Circuit, for instance, requires racial animus to be a but-for cause of the defendant’s refusal to transact.[2] By contrast, the Ninth Circuit merely requires racial animus to be a motivating factor in the defendant’s refusal, similar to the causation framework available under Title VII discrimination cases.[3]

Due to the difficulty of showing but-for causation in discrimination cases before discovery, the Supreme Court could significantly limit the availability of § 1981 relief if it requires pleadings under the statute to show but-for cause.[4] On the other hand, a relaxed causation standard could expose defendants to predatorial plaintiffs lacking bona fide claims, thereby subjecting blameless defendants to frivolous lawsuits, burdensome discovery, and unnecessary expenses and settlements.[5]

The Backdrop of the Case

ESN is a wholly African American-owned media company that owns and operates numerous television channels and their content.[6] After more than a decade of negotiations, Comcast refused to carry any of ESN’s networks.[7] Alleging racial discrimination in contracting, ESN filed suit in the Central District of California pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[8] The district court dismissed ESN’s case three times, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that ESN’s allegations supported the inference that “discriminatory intent played at least some role in Comcast’s refusal to contract.”[9] A brief recitation of ESN’s allegations follows.

  • Comcast executives required ESN to achieve support “in the field” from Comcast’s regional offices and management. After achieving such support, Comcast told ESN that field support did not matter.[10]
  • Comcast corporate representatives told ESN to obtain Division support, but the Divisions told ESN that they deferred to corporate.[11]
  • Comcast executives told ESN that Comcast would carry ESN’s channels if Comcast’s principle competitors, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-verse, and DirecTV, carried ESN’s channels. Comcast still refused to contract with ESN after Comcast’s principle competitors started carrying ESN’s channels.[12]
  • Comcast consistently cited a lack of carrying capacity when declining to carry ESN’s shows but has launched over 80 channels since 2010, including lesser-known, white-owned channels.[13]
  • Comcast cited a lack of demand for ESN’s productions, but over 50 multichannel video programming distributors broadcast ESN’s channels to an 80-million-person subscriber base, and one of ESN’s channels has won an Emmy Award.[14]
  • Comcast broadcasts all of the channels carried by its principle competitors except ESN’s channels.[15]
  • To affect its merger with NBC Universal, Comcast entered into a memorandum of understanding with civil rights groups requiring Comcast to launch four African American-owned networks. Rather than choose ESN’s channels, Comcast launched new, untested networks that “are predominately white-owned with African American figureheads.”[16]

On March 8th, 2019, Comcast petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, arguing that Comcast’s actions were consistent with legitimate business reasons, “namely[] lack of demand for ESN programming and the bandwidth costs for carrying ESN’s channels,” and were unmotivated by race.[17] Because ESN failed to allege facts inconsistent with legitimate reasons, Comcast asserted, ESN did not plausibly show any discriminatory intent animating Comcast’s refusal to contract, thereby failing the pleading standards mandated by Ashcroft v. Iqbal.[18] The Court granted Comcast’s petition on June 10th, 2019.[19] The narrow issue to be considered before the Court is “whether a claim for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 fails in the absence of but-for causation.”[20]

The Chief Legal Arguments

Petitioner Comcast

First, Comcast asserts that the plain language of § 1981 confirms but-for causation as an element of the claim.[21] Section 1981 guarantees “[a]ll persons . . . the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.”[22] Accordingly, if a defendant would have refused to contract with a white person under the same circumstances, the § 1981 plaintiff has not been denied the same right to contract as white citizens.[23] As such, according to Comcast, the defendant must refuse to contract because of the plaintiff’s race; that is; “but for” the plaintiff’s race, the defendant would have assented to the contract.[24] Because § 1981 requires but-for causation, then, plaintiffs must plausibly establish such causation through the factual allegations in their pleadings.[25]

Furthermore, Comcast argues that but-for cause is the default causation rule when in, terpreting federal statutes, quoting the Supreme Court in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar: “Causation in fact . . . is a standard requirement or any tort claim . . . this standard requires the plaintiff to show ‘that the harm would not have occurred’ in the absence of—that is, but for—the defendant’s conduct.”[26] Thus, without language expressly indicating Congress’s intent to the contrary, courts must presume a but-for causation requirement when interpreting statutes.[27] Because § 1981 has no such language, any pleadings arising under the statute fail, absent plausible allegations of but-for cause.

Finally, Comcast argues that Congress first authorized the motivating factor standard in the Civil Rights Act of 1991, over a century after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (which it later recodified as 42 U.S.C. § 1981).[28] Even then, Congress only authorized the motivating factor standard with respect to specific claims under Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[29] Because Congress could have authorized the motivating factor standard in § 1981 when it amended the other civil rights statutes, its decision otherwise, according to Comcast, implies Congress’s unwillingness to authorize the approach endorsed by the Ninth Circuit.[30]

Respondent ESN

First, ESN argues that the Court’s previous holdings, and therefore stare decisis, favor a motivating factor and burden-shifting approach under § 1981, and do not require but-for causation.[31] In Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, the Court expressly held that Title VII’s burden-shifting framework applies to claims arising under § 1981.[32] This standard, rather than requiring plaintiffs to plead but-for causation, requires plaintiffs to allege facts “creating an inference of racial discrimination,” after which the burden shifts to the defendant to show that its motivations were legitimate and non-discriminatory.[33]

This approach, according to ESN, is essential because showing but-for cause in § 1981 pleadings often, in the words of Justice O’Connor, “demands the impossible.”[34] As such, many potentially meritorious claims would be unable to survive a motion to dismiss under pleading standards requiring but-for causation.[35] This is especially true in civil rights cases “where the defendant is typically the only party with access to evidence of the defendant’s motives.”[36] By contrast, a motivating factor requirement would allow such cases to at least proceed to discovery.[37]

Furthermore, ESN asserts that §1981’s plain language supports plausible allegations showing motivating factor rather than but-for cause.[38] Section 1981 guarantees that all American citizens have the “same” right to contract as white Americans.[39] Because statutory terms, when undefined within the statute, carry their ordinary meaning, “same” means “identical.”[40] As such, African Americans and other racial minorities do not receive identical treatment if race is a motivating factor in the defendant’s refusal to contract.[41] Additionally, ESN points out that the Supreme Court has endorsed the motivating factor and burden-shifting framework instead of but-for cause in other statutes that use the word “same.”[42] Finally, ESN argues that a motivating factor framework aligns with the comprehensive remedial purpose of § 1981.[43]

Conclusion

In deciding this case, the Supreme Court will have to consider the accessibility of discovery for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Numerous amicus briefs support ESN, including briefs submitted by the NAACP and teams of law professors.[44] The United States filed an amicus brief in support of Comcast.[45] The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 13th, 2019.[46]


[1] 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2012).

[2] Bachman v. St. Monica’s Congregation, 902 F.2d 1259, 1262–63 (7th Cir. 1990) (“To be actionable, racial prejudice must be a but-for cause, or in other words a necessary condition, of the refusal to transact . . . otherwise there is no harm from the prejudice—the harm would have occurred anyway.”).

[3] Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media v. Charter Commc’ns, Inc., 915 F.3d 617, 626 (9th Cir. 2019) (“Even if racial animus was not the but-for cause of a defendant’s refusal to contract, a plaintiff can still prevail if she demonstrates that discriminatory intent was a factor in that decision.”).

[4] Brief for Respondent at 17, Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media (Sep. 23, 2019) (No. 18-1171), https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-1171/116717/20190923163651003_38584%20pdf%20Chemerinsky.pdf; see Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 264 (1989) (O’Connor, J., concurring) (recognizing that the but-for test, at times, “demands the impossible”).

[5] Brief for Petitioner at 44, Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media (Aug. 8, 2019) (No. 18-1171), https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-1171/111674/20190808133518678_Comcast-NAAAOM%20Opening%20Merits%20Brief%20TO%20FILE.pdf.

[6] Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media v. Comcast Corp., 743 F. App’x 106, 106 (9th Cir. 2018).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 107.

[10] Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 51.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at 52.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Petition for a Writ of Certiorari at 8, Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media (Mar. 8, 2019), https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-1171/91371/20190308153623647_Comcast%20-%20NAAAOM%20Petition%20TO%20PRINTER.pdf.

[18] Id.; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 687 (2009).

[19] Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media, SCOTUSblog, https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/comcast-corp-v-national-association-of-african-american-owned-media/ (last visited Nov. 3, 2019).

[20] Id.

[21] Brief for Petitioner, supra note 5, at 20.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Comcast articulates this argument by citing the reasoning of the Third Circuit: “[If] the same decision would have been made regardless of the plaintiff’s race, then the plaintiff has, in effect, enjoyed ‘the same right’ as similarly situated persons.” Brown v. J. Kaz, Inc., 581 F.3d 175, 182 n.5 (3d Cir. 2009).

[25] Brief for Petitioner, supra note 5, at 19.

[26] 570 U.S. 338, 346–47 (2013).

[27] Brief for Petitioner, supra note 5, at 22.

[28] Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (by overriding President Johnson’s veto) in an attempt to void the Black Codes of the South. Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 426 (1968). Congress would later recodify this Act as 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369, 372 (2004).

[29] Brief for Petitioner, supra note 5, at 28.

[30] Id.; See Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 174–75 (2009); “When Congress amends one statutory provision but not another, it is presumed to have acted intentionally . . . [and the] negative implications raised by disparate provisions are strongest . . . when the language raising the implication [in this case, the language authorizing a motivating factor standard] was inserted.”).

[31] Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 18.

[32] 491 U.S. 164, 186-87 (1989).

[33] Id.

[34] Price,490 U.S. at 264 (O’Connor, J., concurring).

[35] Id.; Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 11.

[36] Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 11.

[37] Price, 490 U.S. at 264.

[38] Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 28.

[39] 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2012).

[40] Sebelius v. Cloer, 569 U.S. 369, 376 (2013); Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (Noah Porter ed., 1864) (defining “same” as “identical”).

[41] Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 28.

[42] Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338, 1345, 1353–54 (2015).

[43] Brief for Respondent, supra note 4, at 44.

[44] SCOTUSblog, supra note 19.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

By Elliott Riches

On September 11, the Trump Administration received a major victory in the Supreme Court.[1] No, the Court hadn’t granted certiorari or heard oral argument; this win came in what the legal community refers to as the “shadow docket.”[2] Most law students or legal practitioners will likely be familiar with the Supreme Court’s primary method for deciding cases: petition for certiorari, certiorari granted, oral argument, months of waiting, and finally a written opinion.[3] The Court has operated this way for years. The Trump Administration, though, has found a new, quicker way to resolve issues in its favor. It uses extraordinary measures such as a petition for certiorari before judgment or application for a stay pending appeal before the case even makes its way through the appellate process.[4]

The Supreme Court Rules do provide for this sort of relief. Supreme Court Rule 11 provides that litigants may seek relief in the Supreme Court before a lower court has issued its ruling.[5] The Court also allows for the issuance of a stay pending appeal.[6] But the Court’s own rules specify that “[e]xcept in the most extraordinary circumstances, an application for a stay will not be entertained unless the relief requested was first sought in the appropriate court or courts below or from a judge or judges thereof.”[7] In order to receive this sort of stay, the applicant must carry an “especially heavy” burden.[8] To meet this burden, it “must demonstrate (1) ‘a reasonable probability’ that [the] Court will grant certiorari, (2) ‘a fair prospect’ that the Court will then reverse the decision below, and (3) ‘a likelihood that irreparable harm [will] result from the denial of a stay.’”[9] The Trump Administration has filed at least twenty applications for a stay before judgment, not to mention other forms of extraordinary relief including petitions for certiorari before judgment and applications for writs of mandamus.[10] In contrast, Presidents Barack Obama & George W. Bush sought this sort of extraordinary relief a combined total of only eight times.[11]

That takes us to the administration’s most recent victory. On July 16, 2019, the United States, through the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, promulgated a rule that would deny asylum to all Central Americans who passed through Mexico unless they first were denied asylum in either Mexico or another country.[12] The day they issued the rule, several organizations that represent immigrants seeking asylum sued the administration seeking both a temporary restraining order and a nationwide preliminary injunction.[13] The district court granted the preliminary injunction finding that the rule was “likely inconsistent with the existing asylum laws,” might violate the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rules, and was likely invalid as arbitrary and capricious.[14] In response, the administration appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and also sought a stay in that court pending the disposition of the appeal.[15] The Ninth Circuit instead narrowed the scope of the injunction to only apply within that Circuit, but allowed the District Court to examine additional factors to expand the injunction, which the District Court subsequently did.[16] Unsatisfied with the result in both the District Court and the Court of Appeals, the government sought a stay pending appeal in the Supreme Court.[17]

The Supreme Court chose to grant the stay without any explanation, simply writing, “The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted.”[18] The Court did not elaborate on its reasoning but instead merely issued procedural rules regarding the stay.[19] Two justices noted their dissent from the ruling; Justice Sotomayor was joined by Justice Ginsburg in her written dissent.[20] Among other reasons, Justice Sotomayor noted the frequency with which the Trump Administration had sought this sort of extraordinary relief in the Supreme Court.[21] She writes, “The Government has treated this exceptional mechanism as a new normal.”[22] Justice Sotomayor went on to comment that, in contrast to historical precedent, the Trump Administration now seeks extraordinary relief “reflexively.”[23] She urged her fellow Justices to exercise “restraint” in allowing the administration to take “shortcuts,” a plea that apparently fell on mostly deaf ears.[24]

The Court would have been wise to heed Justice Sotomayor’s plea and deny extraordinary relief. This is not an issue of whether the policy is right or wrong; it is an issue of process. For years, extraordinary relief has only been asked for, let only granted, in truly extraordinary circumstances. The current administration’s consistent asking for relief weakens the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court. As Justice Gorsuch wrote, “This Court often speaks most wisely when it speaks last.”[25] By granting this sort of relief the Court is not allowing the appellate process to play out. Instead, it is choosing to circumvent the Courts of Appeal and make decisions about a case well before they have the kind of developed record and analysis traditionally seen in Supreme Court cases.

One potential argument those who support the administration’s drastic measures may make is that extraordinary relief is necessary against the trend of nationwide injunctions.[26] Justice Thomas discussed the issue of nationwide injunctions in the travel ban case writing that “they appear inconsistent with longstanding limits on equitable relief” and that if the trend continues, the Court “must address their legality.”[27] However, Thomas was not joined by any other justices in his lengthy concurrence on this issue. Therefore, until the Court does address the issue of nationwide injunctions, neither the Court nor litigants should attempt to prevent these injunctions using the shadow docket.

This is obviously not the first time, nor will it likely be the last time, that the Trump Administration seeks extraordinary relief in the Supreme Court. While the process for obtaining an opinion from the Supreme Court can sometimes take months or even years, extraordinary relief can be obtained in very short order.[28] Extraordinary relief is therefore a much more efficient solution for the Trump Administration’s desire to implement its administrative agenda, as opposed to waiting for the traditional Court process to unfold. Given the frequency with which the Trump Administration has filed for extraordinary relief, it is only an issue of when, not if, they next request it. Meanwhile, courtwatchers and the American people are left to wonder: how many more times will the Court give the administration what it wants?


[1] Barr v. E. Bay Sanctuary Covenant, No. 19A230, 2019 WL 4292781 (U.S. Sept. 11, 2019) (mem.), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/19a230_k53l.pdf (granting request for a stay pending appeal of injunction of immigration rule).

[2] See William Baude, Foreword: The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, 9 N.Y.U. J.L. & Liberty 1, 1 (2015).

[3] See Sup. Ct. R. 12, 16, 24, 28, 41.

[4] See, e.g., Application for a Stay Pending Appeal, E. Bay Sanctuary Covenant, 2019 WL 4292781 (U.S. Sept. 11, 2019) (No. 19A230), https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19A230/113613/20190826132549423_East%20Bay%20II%20Stay%20FINAL.pdf.

[5] 28 U.S.C. § 2101(e) (2012); Sup. Ct. R. 11.

[6] Sup. Ct. R. 23.

[7] Id.

[8] Packwood v. Senate Select Comm. on Ethics, 510 U.S. 1319, 1320 (1994) (Rehnquist, J., in chambers).

[9] Maryland v. King, 567 U.S. 1301, 1302 (2012) (Roberts, C.J., in chambers) (quoting Conkridght v. Frommert, 566 U.S. 1401, 1402 (2009) (Ginsburg, J., in chambers)).

[10] Ian Millhiser, Justice Sotomayor Warns the Supreme Court is Doing “Extraordinary” Favors for Trump, Vox (Sept. 12, 2019, 11:20 AM), https://www.vox.com/2019/9/12/20862320/sotomayor-supreme-court-favors-trump; Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck), Twitter (July 12, 2019, 4:11 PM), https://twitter.com/steve_vladeck/status/1149773351784726528.

[11]Id.

[12] Asylum Eligibility and Procedural Modifications, 84 Fed. Reg. 33,829, 33,835, 33,840 (Jul. 16, 2019) (to be codified at 8 C.F.R. pts. 208, 1003, 1208).

[13] E. Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Barr, 385 F. Supp. 3d 922, 935 (N.D. Cal. 2019).

[14] Id. at 930.

[15] Barr v. E. Bay Sanctuary Covenant, No. 19A230, 2019 WL 4292781, at *2 (U.S. 2019) (mem.).

[16] Id.; E. Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Barr, No. 19-cv-04073-JST, 2019 WL 4265078, at *1 (N.D. Cal. 2019).

[17] Application for Stay Pending Appeal, supra note 4.

[18] E. Bay Sanctuary Covenant, 2019 WL 4292781, at *1 (U.S. 2019) (No. 19A230).

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id. at *3 (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Maslenjak v. U.S., 137 S. Ct. 1918, 1932 (2017) (Gorsuch, J., concurring).

[26] Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392, 2424–25 (2018) (Thomas, J., concurring) (“Injunctions that prohibit the Executive Branch from applying a law or policy against anyone—often called ‘universal’ or ‘nationwide’ injunctions—have become increasingly common.”)

[27] Id. at 2425.

[28] In the East Bay case, the application for stay was filed on August 26, 2019. See Application for Stay Pending Appeal, supra note 4. As mentioned above, the Court issued the stay on September 11, 2019.

image by skeeze from Pixabay

By Laura Jordan

A few years ago, the federal government dissected a certain four-letter word.[1] It was prodded to see if it would “shock . . . the sense of truth, decency, or propriety” of the American public.[2] It was weighed to determine if it would “giv[e] offense to the conscience or moral feelings.”[3] And it was placed under the microscope to judge its “disgraceful[ness]” and “offensive[ness].”[4] That four-letter word survived the scrutiny and is alive and kicking today.[5] In fact, it was the scrutiny measures themselves that ultimately received the knife, cut out as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court over the summer.[6]

The four-letter word under debate was not one of the typical variety tossed around in casual settings, but it was close enough.[7] Plaintiff Erik Brunetti was trying to trademark the name “FUCT” as the title of his clothing brand.[8] He claimed that the four letters were to be pronounced individually, as in “F-U-C-T.”[9] However, as Justice Kagan pointed out in the majority opinion, “[Y]ou might read it differently and, if so, you would hardly be alone.”[10] The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) certainly did, and they rejected Brunetti’s application.[11]

The PTO’s statutory authority to govern the trademark registration process is found in the Lanham Act, which is codified in 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051 et seq.[12] Under § 1051, the PTO is allowed to subject the proposed trademark to scrutiny under the “factors set forth in subsections (a) through (e)” within § 1052.[13] In particular, § 1052(a) allowed the PTO to scrutinize whether the proposed trademark “comprise[d] immoral . . . or scandalous matter.”[14] If so, the trademark could be rejected.[15] The PTO decided that FUCT fit squarely within the proscribed category, deploring it as “highly offensive,” “vulgar,” and sexually reprehensible.[16] Brunetti pushed back against the rejection and won in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The circuit court found that the PTO’s ban against “immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter” was not in line with the First Amendment.[17]

The Supreme Court then took the statutory phrase under consideration, turning to its 2017 decision in Matal v. Tam[18] for guidance.[19] In Matal, the Court examined whether the PTO could refuse registration to trademarks that “‘disparage’ any ‘person[], living or dead’” within § 1052(a).[20] Simon Tam, of the band “The Slants,” had fought a lengthy battle to trademark the band’s name in order “to ‘reclaim’ and ‘take ownership’ of stereotypes about people of Asian ethnicity.”[21] However, the PTO rejected the trademark, reasoning that “the fact that an applicant may be a member of that group or has good intentions underlying its use of a term does not obviate the fact that a substantial composite of the reference group would find the term objectionable.”[22] Ultimately, the Court decided that “if a trademark registration bar is viewpoint-based, it is unconstitutional” and that the PTO’s “disparagement bar was viewpoint-based.”[23]

With that holding in mind, the Court reasoned that “if the ‘immoral or scandalous’ bar similarly discriminates on the basis of viewpoint, it must also collide with our First Amendment doctrine.”[24] Looking to dictionary definitions of “immoral” and finding results such as “inconsistent with rectitude, purity, or good morals,” the majority found that this statutory language is entirely viewpoint-based.[25] It upholds “conventional moral standards” while rejecting as impure other ideas that may not be as mainstream.[26] The Court lightheartedly pointed out that a mark such as “ALWAYS BE CRUEL” would not survive this scrutiny.[27] In the past, the PTO has taken the traditional side of morally-contested arguments, rejecting drug-positive trademarks such as “YOU CAN’T SPELL HEALTHCARE WITHOUT THC” and “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” while registering “SAY NO TO DRUGS—REALITY IS THE BEST TRIP IN LIFE.”[28] Thus, the immoral-or-scandalous bar, as written, allowed the government to approve some viewpoints over others.[29]

In arguing that the immoral-or-scandalous bar is constitutionally sound, the Government attempted to narrow the phrase to only “marks that are ‘vulgar’—meaning ‘lewd,’ ‘sexually explicit or profane.’”[30] If it were so narrow, then it would be constitutionally sound.[31] But the majority rejected this reasoning and found that the phrase encompasses much more:

It covers the universe of immoral or scandalous—or (to use some PTO synonyms) offensive or disreputable—material. Whether or not lewd or profane. Whether the scandal and immorality comes from mode or instead from viewpoint. To cut the statute off where the Government urges is not to interpret the statute Congress enacted, but to fashion a new one.[32]

In striking down the statutory phrase, the majority therefore paved the way for the “FUCT” trademark.[33]

So, with this decision, can Americans now trademark whatever the FUCT they want to? Justice Sotomayor seemed to worry about that perhaps unintended consequence.[34] In her concurrence in part and dissent in part, she wrote,

The Court’s decision today will beget unfortunate results. With the Lanham Act’s scandalous-marks provision, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), struck down as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, the Government will have no statutory basis to refuse (and thus no choice but to begin) registering marks containing the most vulgar, profane, or obscene words and images imaginable.[35]

However, Justice Alito stood up in his concurrence for the sanctity of free speech, arguing that “[a]t a time when free speech is under attack, it is especially important for this Court to remain firm on the principle that the First Amendment does not tolerate viewpoint discrimination.”[36]

Whichever side you are on, now might be the best time to go get that trademark registered.


[1] See Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294, 2297 (2019).

[2] Id. at 2298.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 2302.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 2297.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] 15 U.S.C. § 1051(d)(1) (2012).

[14] § 1052(a).

[15] § 1051(d)(1).

[16] Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. at 2298.

[17] Id.

[18] See generally 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017).

[19] Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. at 2298.

[20] Id.

[21] Matal, 137 S. Ct. at 1754.

[22] Id.

[23] Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. at 2299.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id. at 2300.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 2301.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id. at 2301–02.

[33] Id.

[34] Id. at 2308 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

[35] Id.

[36] Id. at 2303–04 (Alito, J., concurring).

By Kenya Parrish & Sophia Pappalardo

The Honorable James Dickson Phillips Jr. was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina on September 23, 1922.[1] Judge Phillips graduated as the salutatorian of his high school in 1939 and went on to attend Davidson College.[2] At Davidson, Judge Phillips was the captain of the baseball team and achieved Phi Beta Kappa academic honors.[3] In addition to playing baseball, Judge Phillips was also a member of the Army ROTC program at Davidson, and after graduating in 1943, Judge Phillips enlisted in the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant.[4] Judge Phillips then fought and was injured in World War II and was later honored with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his military service.[5]

In 1945, Judge Phillips rode with his friend as he traveled to begin his studies at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and after meeting with the dean, Phillips was admitted on the spot to study at the law school as well.[6] Just as he did at Davidson, Judge Phillips excelled academically in law school, serving as Associate Editor of the North Carolina Law Review and earning Order of the Coif academic honors.[7] Judge Phillips’s first job after graduating from law school was serving as the assistant director of the UNC Institute of Government.[8] In 1949, Judge Phillips then returned to his hometown of Laurinburg to work in private practice with his longtime friend and law school classmate, Terry Sanford, who later served as Governor of North Carolina.[9]

After working as a trial lawyer, Judge Phillips returned to the UNC School of Law in 1959 as a visiting professor in civil procedure and related subjects.[10] Judge Phillips later became an associate professor, and in 1964, he became a tenured full professor and the eighth Dean of the UNC School of Law.[11] During his ten-year term as dean, the law school inaugurated the Holderness Moot Court program, sponsored of the school’s first clinical classes, carried out the largest fundraising effort in the school’s history, and had a North Carolina bar passage rate of 95.8% among its graduates.[12]

Judge Phillips was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Carter on July 20, 1978.[13] He assumed senior status in 1994.  Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, III described Judge Phillips as a “heroic man of courage, both on the military battlefield and in a courtroom.  He had a great feel for humanity, and a strong combination of intellect, integrity and humility.  He exemplified what is good about being a judge.”[14]

Many of the cases Judge Phillips addressed involved contentious topics that are still relevant today: minority voting rights, gerrymandering, and sex discrimination.[15] Notably, he wrote the opinion for Gingles v. Edminsten, where the court held that a North Carolina redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.[16] The decision was appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the judgment for all but one of the House Districts.[17]

Ten years later, Judge Phillips dissented from the Fourth Circuit panel’s majority decision in United States v. Virginia, a sex discrimination case.[18] The majority held that a state-sponsored all-male military program at the Virginia Military Institute did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause as long as the state also supported an all-female leadership program at the all-female Mary Baldwin College.[19] Judge Phillips wrote, “I would . . . declare the VMI men-only policy still in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and order that the violation be ended . . . .”[20] A year later, and consistent with Judge Phillips’s dissent, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Fourth Circuit’s decision.[21]

Judge Phillips sat on the Fourth Circuit until 1999.[22] After twenty-one years on the bench, he was succeeded by Judge James A. Wynn, who described Judge Phillips as “one who exuded grace and gentility coupled with great scholarship.  He was a role model.”[23] Others described him as a “colorful storyteller with a quick wit and sly sense of humor.”[24] At the age of ninety-four, the Honorable James Dickson Phillips Jr. passed away at his home on August 27, 2017.[25]

[1] John Charles Boger, J. Dickson Phillips Jr.: Preparation for Judicial Excellence, 92 N.C. L. Rev. 1789, 1789 (2014); Anne Blythe, He Earned a Purple Heart, Led UNC Law and Shaped Civil Rights as a Judge, News & Observer (Aug. 30, 2017, 5:59 PM), https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article170309727.html.

[2]  Boger, supra note 1 at 1790.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 1791.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id. at 1792.

[11] Id.; Martin H. Brinkley, Carolina Law Community Remembers Dean and Judge James Dickson Phillips Jr. ’48 (1922-2017), U.N.C. Sch. L.(Aug. 29, 2017), http://www.law.unc.edu/news/2017/08/29/remembering-dean-james-dickson-phillips-jr-48/.

[12] Boger, supra note 1 at 1793.

[13] Judge James Dickson Phillips, Jr., U. N.C. Sch. L., http://phillips.law.unc.edu/judicial-service/(last visited Oct. 1, 2018).

[14] Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Remembers Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr., U.S. Ct. of Appeals for the Fourth Cir. (August 31, 2017), https://perma.cc/LN44-Z97N.

[15] Blythe, supra note 1.

[16] Gingles v. Edminsten, 590 F. Supp. 345, 350 (E.D.N.C. 1984).

[17] See Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 80 (1986).

[18] U.S. v. Virginia, 44 F.3d 1229, 1242–51 (4th Cir. 1995).

[19] Id. at 1232.

[20] Id. at 1243.

[21] U.S. v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 515–18 (1996).

[22] Blythe, supra note 1.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

courtroom

By Daniel Stratton

Today, March 21, 2016, the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the civil case Jane Doe #1 v. Matt Blair, vacating the district court’s decision. The Fourth Circuit held that the lower court incorrectly determined that there was no federal diversity jurisdiction because the defendant corporation failed to allege its principal place of business. The Fourth Circuit overturned the decision because it was a procedural determination rather than a jurisdictional one.

The Case Bounces Between State and Federal Courts

On March 27, 2014, Ben and Kelly Houdersheldt filed a complaint in West Virginia state court as the next friends and guardians of Jane Doe #1, against Matt Blair and Res-Care, Inc. On July 14 of that same year, Res-Care removed the case to federal court, claiming subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity. Res-Care alleged that Jane Doe #1 was a resident of West Virginia and that Blair was a resident of Virginia. The company alleged that it was incorporated in Kentucky, but did not allege the state in which it had its principal place of business. The Houdersheldts, acting as next friends and guardians of Jane Doe #2, amended the complaint to include the second plaintiff. Jane Doe #2 and the Houdersheldts were residents of West Virginia.

On January 20, 2015, the district court sua sponte remanded the case back to state court, asserting that diversity subject matter jurisdiction had not been established. The court asserted that because neither party had asserted where Res-Care had its principal place of business, the court did not have jurisdiction based on diversity. Defendant Blair filed a motion to amend under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60. Res-Care joined the motion. In the motion, the defendants argued that no party had challenged the diversity jurisdiction and that the parties had determined that Res-Care’s principal place of business was Louisville, Kentucky. The plaintiffs did not oppose Blair and Res-Care’s motion, but the district court denied it. Res-Care and Blair appealed.

Procedural or Jurisdictional: The Threshold Question for Reviewing Removal Orders

Federal circuit courts are restricted in reviewing district court orders remanding removed cases to state court. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d), remand orders are generally “not reviewable on appeal or otherwise.” Supreme Court precedent, however, limits 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) to cases where (1) a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, or (2) there is a defect in removal (other than a lack of subject matter jurisdiction) that was raised by a motion filed by a party within thirty days after the notice of removal was filed.

Under this system, a court can remand a case sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction at any time. Such an order is not reviewable by a federal appellate court. However, if the remand is based on another defect, a motion must be timely filed. If no motion is filed, 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) does not bar a court’s review. Essentially, whether an appellate court has jurisdiction to review a district court’s remand order turns on whether the order was jurisdictional or procedural in nature.

How Have Other Circuits Tackled This Question?

In deciding how to resolve this case, the Fourth Circuit took notice of how other circuits have dealt with the the precise issue of “whether a failure to establish a party’s citizenship at the time of removal is a procedural or jurisdictional defect.” Three other circuits – the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits – had previously determined that this type of failure was “procedural, rather than jurisdictional.” Those circuits determined that a procedural defect was any defect that did not go to the question of whether the case could have been brought in federal court in the first place.

The Fourth Circuit, in the 2008 case Ellenberg v. Spartan Motors Chassis, reached a similar decision in regards to the amount in controversy component of diversity jurisdiction. In that case, the complaint did not state a dollar amount for damages claimed. The notice of removal to federal court there stated that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. Once the case was in federal court, the district court sua sponte considered whether the case should be remanded to state court. There, the district court found that the defendants’ allegations of diversity jurisdiction failed because they had failed to establish that the amount in controversy exceeded the required jurisdictional amount. Soon after, the defendants filed a motion with facts supporting their allegations regarding the amount in controversy, which the district court denied. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit determined that it was not barred from reviewing the lower court’s decision because the remand order was based on a procedural insufficiency rather than on finding a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Fourth Circuit Applies Ellenberg; Adopts Approach of the Other Circuits

Turning to the present case, the Fourth Circuit noted that the district court had proceeded in a manner similar to the district court in Ellenberg. Like that court, the court in the current case had “recited the well-established principles of subject matter jurisdiction” then determined that diversity jurisdiction had not been established. Then, after Blair attempted to correct this failure with his Rule 59(e) motion, the court here denied that motion, much as the court in Ellenberg.

The Fourth Circuit was not persuaded that in the present case the lower court had explicitly concluded that there was no subject matter jurisdiction, because such an order required an examination of the underlying substantive reasoning. This, the Fourth Circuit reasoned, was enough to show that the district court had not based its decision on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but instead on the procedural insufficiency of the removal notice. As a result, the court explained that the only way the this procedural deficiency could be raised would be by a party filing a timely motion, which did not occur here. Thus the Fourth Circuit adopted the approach used by the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits.

The Fourth Circuit Remands the Case Back to Federal District Court

Because the district court improperly remanded this case sua sponte, the Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case back for further proceedings. The Fourth Circuit also granted a motion made by Res-Case to amend its removal notice to correct its earlier deficiency.

By Andrew Kilpinen

In a split decision featuring three separate opinions, the 4th Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the district courts dismissal in Owens v. Baltimore City State’s Attorneys.

 Owens Challenges Statute of Limitations, Sovereign Immunity, Qualified Immunity, and Failure to State a Claim

The Court reviewed four issues de novo: (1) Is Owens’s claim time barred, (2) is the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office an entity capable of suit, (3) are Officers Pelligrini, Dunnigan, and Landsman protected by qualified immunity, and (4) does Owens’s complaint contain sufficient factual content to survive a motion to dismiss on the claim that the BCPD followed a custom, policy, or practice by which local officials violated Owens’s constitutional rights?

 Owens Was Convicted of Rape and Murder

The present controversy grew out of the investigation, trial, and conviction of James Owens for the rape and murder of Colleen Williar on August 2, 1987. The State’s key witness, James Thompson, changed his testimony five times during the investigation and trial. Central to Owens’s appeal was withholding of the multiple variations of Thompson’s testimony from defense counsel.

The jury convicted Owens of burglary and felony murder. In 2006, DNA evidence showed that Owens’s DNA did not match the blood and semen evidence at the crime scene. On June 4, 2007, Owens was granted a new trial. On October 15, 2008 the State’s Attorney entered a nolle prosequi, dropping the charges against him. Owens was subsequently from prison released after twenty years of incarceration.

 Statute of Limitations Began to Run After the Nolle Prosequi and Owens’s Claim is Therefore Not Time Barred

First, the Court held that Owens’s claim is not time barred because the statute of limitations began to run when the State issued the nolle prosequi, not when the State granted Owens’s a new trial. Since § 1983 does not provide a statute of limitations, the Court must look to the common-law tort most analogous to Owens’s claim. Here, the Court identified malicious prosecution as the common-law tort most analogous to Owens’s §1983 claims. Generally, the statute of limitation clock begins to run as soon as the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of his injury. However, sometimes, as is the case in malicious prosecutions, the common law provides a “distinctive rule” for determining the start date of the limitations period. Thus, the Court held that the statute of limitations began to run on Owens’s claim after the nolle prosequi, not at the start of the new trial.

 Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office Is Not an Entity Capable of Being Sued

Second, the Court held that the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office is not an entity capable of being sued because the office does not have a legal identity. To be suable, an office or agency must be granted a legal identity through statutory or constitutional authority. Owens argued that the Maryland General Assembly granted such legal identity when it named Title 15 of the Maryland Code of Criminal Procedure “Office of the State’s Attorney.” The Court rejected this argument stating that the title refers to a position held by an individual and not a suable office.

 Officers Are Not Protected by Qualified Immunity

The Court rejected the officer’s defense of qualified immunity. The Court had little difficulty concluding that Owens’s allegations state a plausible § 1983 claim because the information withheld by the officers would have supported his theory that Thompson committed the rape and murder; commenting that at the very least it would have discredited Thompson’s testimony. The Court cites the fact that the officers were seasoned veterans who called the ASA moments after receiving Thompson’s final story to support the conclusion that they withheld the four previous versions intentionally and maliciously. The Court points to precedent in Barbee, Sutton, and Boone in holding that the officers should have known that not disclosing material exculpatory evidence was a violation of Owens’s constitutional rights in 1988.

 Owens’s Complaint Survived Motion to Dismiss

Finally, the Court held that the factual allegations in Owens’s complaint, including reported and unreported cases of officers withholding information from the period of time before and during his trial, contained sufficient factual content to allege that the BCPD maintained a custom, policy, or practice allowing the withholding of material exculpatory evidence. The Court found the allegations that BCPD officers withheld information on multiple occasions could establish a “persistent and widespread” pattern of practice. The Court held that Owens’s complaint survived the BCPD’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

 4th Circuit Affirmed in Part and Vacated in Part

Owens will have yet another day in court to prove his § 1983 claims against the BCPD, and the individual officers, but not the State Attorney’s Office. The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

By Bradley Pollina

Introduction

The Supreme Court recently handed down its decision in Florida v. Jardines,[1] affirming by a 5-4 vote the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling[2] that the police’s use of a trained narcotics detection dog on the front porch of a home is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  This case is the first time the Court has applied the non-Katz-based search doctrine articulated in United States v. Jones.[3]  As will be more fully elaborated below, it is my claim that the Court purposely avoided using the word “trespass” so as not to reverse the Florida state courts, which had decided that the police were lawfully present on the defendant’s property at the time of the dog sniff, on an issue lying at the heart of state court competence—that is, application of the common law of trespass.

Recall that in Katz v. United States,[4] the Court overruled Olmstead v. United States.[5]  The Court in Olmstead held that wiretapping was not a Fourth Amendment search because there was no physical police invasion of property that would constitute a trespass—there was no “entry of the houses or offices of the defendants.”[6]  Justice Harlan authored a concurring opinion in Katz that was to become the dominant formulation of the test for a search under the Fourth Amendment[7]—if the individual has manifested a subjective expectation of privacy and society is prepared to accept that expectation as reasonable, then there is a right to privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment in those circumstances.[8]

Justice Scalia, writing for the Court in Jones, reasoned that the “persons, houses, papers and effects” portion of the Fourth Amendment would be rendered superfluous if the Fourth Amendment were not closely tied to property rights.[9]  According to Justice Scalia’s opinion, and much to the surprise of many observers, Katz’s reasonable expectation of privacy (“REOP”) standard “added to”—but did not “substitute[] for”—the common law trespassory test used by the Court for decades prior and embodied inOlmstead.[10]  As the Court put it, “for most of our history the Fourth Amendment was understood to embody a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas (‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’) it enumerates.  Katz did not repudiate that understanding.”[11]  As a result, information gained by the government’s trespassory activity would be the product of a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.[12]  Five members of the Court saw the police’s placement of a GPS device on the defendant’s car as a governmental trespass on private property, therefore constituting a Fourth Amendment search.[13]  Four others concurred in the judgment, but rejected the trespass rationale.[14]

I.  Dissecting Jardines: Rationalizing the Court’s Options

It is quite clear that in Jardines, Justice Scalia did not rely on the REOP strand of Jones.  But what is curious is that he did not use the word “trespass” once in his majority opinion.[15]  Instead, Justice Scalia conspicuously referred to that portion of theJones opinion as holding that “‘when the Government obtains information by physically intruding’ on persons, houses, papers or effects,” a search has occurred.[16]  Because, according to the majority, that occurred when the police brought a narcotics-sniffing dog to the defendant’s front door to search for drug activity, there was no reason to reach the question of whether the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy was violated.[17]

In my view, the “trespass” test articulated in Jones and the “physical intrusion” application in Jardines are identical in content.  Indeed, Justice Kagan’s concurring opinion understands the majority opinion to have found that the police conduct constituted a trespass.[18]  The dissent reached a similar conclusion (though it obviously did not agree that one had occurred).[19]  What is more difficult to discern is whether or not this branch of Fourth Amendment doctrine relies on common law trespass—as theJones majority articulated it—or on some notion of constitutional common law, under which the federal and state courts are to decide if the police committed a “physical intrusion” having constitutional significance.  But in my view, there is little reason to think it is the latter.  Aside from the understanding evidenced by the concurring and dissenting justices, the remainder of this Article offers another reason to think that the Jones test is alive and well as articulated in that opinion, and that there were other, more deeply-rooted reasons for the Court to avoid using the magic word “trespass” in Jardines, and instead rely on a notion of “physical intrusion” in.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in the lower courts, but for the sake of observation, I suspect that the majority in Jardines had a particular reason for not using the word “trespass” despite the strong expectation that it would do so based on the opinion in Jones.  My theory is that Justice Scalia did not want to intrude upon the Florida courts’ handling of the trespass issue.  As the dissent in the Florida Supreme Court decision points out, it was undisputed that the police were lawfully present at Jardines’ front door.[20]  There was no trespass under state law-that much was clear for the remainder of litigation in the Florida courts[21]-and the United States Supreme Court.[22]  Conversely, the Florida Supreme Court had found a search under the more traditional Katz/REOP test.[23]  It decidedly did not revisit the trespass issue, and let stand the Florida Court of Appeals’ ruling that the police were lawfully present at the defendant’s front door.[24]

Thus, in order for the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the finding of a “search,” I think it had three main options: 1) affirm that a search had occurred on the REOP rationale, 2) vacate on the REOP analysis and remand to the state courts for consideration in light of Jones and the trespass rationale (decided after the Florida Supreme Court decided Jardines), or 3) find a search based on the Jones trespass test and commit a blunder of judicial federalism.[25]

The first option would seem the easiest, and it is what I thought the Court was poised to do.  However, the majority turned out to be much more eager to apply the “new” Jones rationale (that Justice Scalia claimed was actually an old rationale) instead of traditional REOP doctrine from Katz.[26]  The second option would be unsatisfactory, since it would leave the ultimate disposition of an important Fourth Amendment issue (dog sniffs as searches) unresolved during more litigation in the state courts, and even then, the Florida courts’ resolution of the Fourth Amendment question would not necessarily be binding in other states.  Furthermore, if the Supreme Court reversed the state courts on the REOP rationale, the judgment entered on remand would probably be one finding “no search” since there is no reason to believe the issue of trespass would be decided any differently by the state courts the second time around.[27]  This option would accomplish little, save for virtually requiring the state courts to find that no search occurred and, perhaps more cynically, would only be useful if that is the result the justices wanted.

The third option would be something of an intrusion into the routine workings of the state courts, since it would involve the United States Supreme Court resolving a basic question of state tort law that was settled below in the state courts.[28]  Answering the question of whether a common law trespass occurred is an issue at the heart of state court decision making.  In other words, if the Supreme Court disagreed that the dog sniff violated a reasonable expectation of privacy, but nevertheless thought that a trespass—and therefore a search—had occurred, it essentially would be telling the Florida state courts that they had misapplied the common law of trespass.[29]

While not inconceivable,[30] this approach would not comport with a reasonable sense of federal non-interference with state court adjudication.  This is best understood as a question of jurisdictional discretion—while the Supreme Court could reverse a state court’s resolution of a state law issue, it might decline to do so based on respect for the state court.  Similarly, it could simply resolve the case on other grounds to avoid the problem.  Here, the Court could have simply affirmed on the REOP rationale and declined to apply the new Jones analysis.[31]

The way that the Court decided Jardines is substantively in line with the third option—it found that a search had occurred, but not on the traditional REOP framework.  And this is what precipitated the fourth “option.”  The Court resolved the search issue on the new Jones rationale without saying it was actually finding a “trespass.”

II.  Why the Court Didn’t Say “Trespass”

My claim is that Justice Scalia took this approach (“physical intrusion” instead of “trespass”) in the first instance, and gained the support of four other justices in conference, in order not to offend the Florida state courts by re-working (i.e., reversing) their resolution of the common law trespass issue.  I see no explanation in the majority opinion of how the Jones “trespass” test has changed in any way in Jardines, where it was described as a “physical intrusion” rationale.[32]  Nor is an explanation provided by the other justices writing separately in concurrence or dissent.[33]  Instead, I think Justice Scalia purposely minced his words in a way that allowed de facto application of the Jones trespass rationale without using the word “trespass.”  There is a strong background notion shared by many onlookers that, despite the Court’s technical ability to do so, it should not (and in this case would not) re-visit an issue so central to the daily work of a state court.[34]  The majority could, to some extent, blunt the resonance of such a move by carefully selecting its words.

To ground things a bit more in federal courts doctrine, consider the jurisdictional principles at play in the case.  There is no doubt that the Supreme Court possesses the jurisdiction to decide non-federal issues when they are antecedent to the resolution of an issue of federal statutory or constitutional right, as in these Fourth Amendment search cases.[35]  The issue of whether a common law trespass occurred must be determined in order to decide whether a “search” occurred within the meaning of the federal Constitution—indeed, the answer to the “search” question is entirely answered by the “trespass question.”  But I think that larger issues of federal-state judicial relations were at play in this case, and that was what was driving the unexpected outcome.  As Professor Shapiro has explained, “a court will often acknowledge that it has jurisdiction over the subject matter of a dispute yet, despite Marshall’s dictum, will refrain from exercising it.”[36]  In other jurisdictional settings (i.e., not on review of a state court judgment), the Court has developed a set of abstention doctrines designed to promote equity, comity, and federalism—Pullman,[37] Burford,[38] and Younger[39] to name a few of the most prominent examples.  Similarly, on direct review of state court judgments, the Court’s decision in a given case not to visit certain issues resolved in the state courts may also be driven by concerns for comity and federalism.  Leaving undisturbed a state court’s ruling on an issue in a case is a vote of confidence for the state courts; on the other hand, a reversal of a state court’s ruling on a run-of-the mill question may create friction between the federal and state judicial systems.  By not using the word “trespass” and appearing to retreat from the repeated use of that word inJones, Justice Scalia seems to have decided the case on an altered rationale.  But on closer examination, it appears that he may have been trying to avoid the affront to the state courts that would have occurred had he explicitly second-guessed a common law question at the core of their competence by saying that a trespass took place.  Calling the conduct at issue a “physical intrusion,” at the very least, avoided this in name.  How successful this attempt was at avoiding friction with the Florida state courts on a decidedly non-federal issue is another matter entirely.

Conclusion

In summary, the Court decided that the sanctity of the home was offended by the dog sniff in this case since the police entered this constitutionally protected area, but it did so in a roundabout way.  The result is that the state of the Jones “trespass” test is in flux and will spawn more litigation over whether there must be a finding of a common law trespass in order to rely upon that branch of Fourth Amendment search doctrine, or if instead, state and federal courts are to rely upon some notion of an unconstitutional “physical intrusion” whose relationship to common law trespass is unclear at this point in time.  Moreover, this case illustrates that the procedural posture of a case on certiorari from a state supreme court may affect the substantive content of the decision in the United States Supreme Court.  Here, there is strong reason to believe—in light of judicial federalism—that the finding in the Florida Court of Appeals that the officer and dog were lawfully present on the property tied the hands of the Supreme Court ever so slightly.  As a result, the Court’s holding finding a search was less than straightforward and tiptoed around the word “trespass” while, in effect, holding that is precisely what occurred.

 


         [1].   133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013).

         [2].   See Jardines v. Florida, 73 So. 3d 34 (Fla. 2011).  The Florida Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment draws a “firm line at the entrance of the house” and that the “sniff test” undertaken by the police and K9 partner was a search requiring probable cause and a warrant.  Id. at 55-56.  Since the dog sniff was conducted without a warrant, the search was held unreasonable and the evidence of drug activity was suppressed.  See id.

         [3].   132 S. Ct. 945 (2012).  The Court held that Fourth Amendment protections do not “rise or fall” with the Katzformulation, and that the Amendment is also concerned with government trespass.  Id. at 950.

         [4].   389 U.S. 347 (1967).

         [5].   277 U.S. 438 (1928).

         [6].   Id. at 464.

         [7].   See, e.g., Orin Kerr, The Fourth Amendment and New Technologies: Constitutional Myths and the Case for Caution, 102 Mich. L. Rev. 801, 820 (2004) (noting, in this pre-Jones article, that the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test which first appeared in Justice Harlan’s Katz concurrence).

         [8].   Katz, 389 U.S. at 361 (Harlan, J., concurring).

         [9].   Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 950.

       [10].   Id. at 952.

       [11].   Id. at 950 (citation omitted).

       [12].   A “search” requires probable cause and a warrant.  So the syllogism continues: if the government is trespassing, it quite obviously does not have a warrant, and is thus committing an unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

       [13].   James, 132 S. Ct. at 954.

       [14].   Id. at 957 (Alito, J., concurring).  Justice Alito’s analysis began: “I would analyze the question presented in this case by asking whether respondent’s reasonable expectations of privacy were violated by the long-term monitoring of the movements of the vehicle he drove.”  Id. at 958.

       [15].   Professor Kerr first identified this issue in an article in The Volokh Conspiracy.  See Orin Kerr, Supreme Court Hands Down Florida v. Jardines, Volokh Conspiracy (Mar. 26, 2013 10:38 AM), http://www.volokh.com/2013/03
/26/supreme-court-hands-down-florida-v-jardines/.

       [16].   Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409, 1414 (2013) (quoting Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 950-51 n.3 (emphasis added)).

       [17].   See id. at 1417.

       [18].   See id. at 1418 (Kagan, J., concurring).

       [19].   See id. at 1420 (Alito, J., dissenting).

       [20].   Jardines v. Florida, 73 So. 3d 34, 61 (Fla. 2011) (Polston, J., dissenting) (“[I]t is undisputed that one dog and two officers were lawfully and briefly present near the front door of Jardines’ residence when the dog sniff at issue in this case took place.”).

       [21].   State v. Jardines, 9 So. 3d 1, 4 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008) (“[T]he officer and the dog were lawfully present at the defendant’s front door . . .”).

       [22].   See supra text accompanying note 16.

       [23].   See Jardines, 73 So. 3d at 46.

       [24].   See supra note 21.

       [25].   At oral argument, Justice Alito explicitly asked counsel for the defendant why the Court should not accept as a statement of Florida law that no trespass occurred, indicating some uneasiness from the bench with re-deciding an issue of state tort law and causing friction between the federal and state courts in our system of dual sovereignty.  See Transcript of Oral Argument at 59, Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013) (No. 11-564), available athttp://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/11-564.pdf.

       [26].   See Jardines, 133 S. Ct. at 1417.

       [27].   That is, there is no reason to think the finding of “no trespass” would be re-visited in any way.

       [28].   See supra note 21.

       [29].   To be clear, since there is no federal law of trespass, a judgment from the Supreme Court holding that a search had occurred due to a governmental trespass would effectively reverse the Florida courts on their resolution of an issue of common law.

       [30].   See infra note 34.

       [31].   See generally David L. Shapiro, Jurisdiction and Discretion, 60. N.Y.U. L. Rev. 543 (1985) (outlining the various ways in which the Supreme Court could exercise discretion on review of state court cases and concluding the discretion is necessary to avoid undue interference with the states).

       [32].   See supra note 16.

       [33].   See supra text accompanying notes 18-19.

       [34].   In conversations with Judge Raymond Lohier of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge John Koeltl of the District Court for the Southern District of New York, and Professor Helen Herhskoff of NYU Law, all told me that they had strong doubts that the Court would decide the Jardines case on anything but the REOP rationale, since going beyond that issue, and onto the new Jones test, would require a disagreement with the Florida courts on whether a common law trespass had occurred.  They all echoed Justice Alito’s concern of failing to accept the state courts’ resolution as an authoritative statement of Florida law.  Discussion with Judge Raymond Lohier, 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge John Koeltl, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, in New York City., N.Y. (February 27, 2013) during New York University School of Law Constitutional Litigation Seminar, held at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 500 Pearl Street, New York, NY; Interview with Helen Hershkoff, Herbert M. and Svetlana Wachtell Professor of Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties, New York University School of Law, in New York City., N.Y. (March 4, 2013).

       [35].   The Supreme Court has certiorari jurisdiction to review state court judgments under 28 U.S.C. § 1257 (2012).  It has been relatively clear since Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816), that the Supreme Court, on review of a state court judgment, can review antecedent state law questions, which are those that must be decided in order to ultimately determine whether the state court properly decided an issue of federal law.  However, the Supreme Courts (and federal courts more generally) has adopted a set of abstention doctrines under which jurisdiction—and competence to address a certain issue—may be declined for reasons of equity, comity, or federalism.  The federal courts have not held fast to Justice Marshall’s admonition inCohens v. Virginia: “We have no more right to decline the exercise of jurisdiction which is given, than to usurp that which is not given.  The one or the other would be treason to the Constitution.”  Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264, 404 (1821).

       [36].   Shapiro, supra note 31 at 547.

       [37].   See generally, Railroad Comm’n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941).  Pullman abstention involves staying a federal court action, but retaining jurisdiction, so that the state courts have an opportunity to interpret the constitutionally-suspect statute in question and thereby, potentially avoid the need for a constitutional decision.

       [38].   See Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943).  Under Burford abstention, a federal court sitting in diversity may stay its hand where the state courts have greater expertise in a question of state policy, and the question is of substantial importance to a state administrative scheme.  The idea is that the federal court should hesitate before interfering in a state administrative scheme in which the state courts play a vital role.

       [39].   See generally, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).  Younger abstention is based on a rule of equity which forbids a court of equity from enjoining ongoing criminal proceedings, even where the individual being prosecuted is raising federal constitutional claims.  Also at play is a principle of comity, which holds that the state court will give the federal constitutional defenses in the criminal case a fair shake.