July 17, 2013

Why the Proponents of California’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Are Unlikely to Succeed in Getting the California Supreme Court to Enforce Proposition 8

Part One in a Two-Part Series on What Should Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California after Hollingsworth v. Perry. Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

Last month's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the proponents of California's voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, lacked standing to represent the voters of the State even when the Attorney General and Governor declined to defend, combined with the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to lift the stay on trial judge Vaughn Walker's order blocking enforcement of the ban, effectively killed Proposition 8. But like a chicken with its head cut off, Proposition 8 is trying to act alive, even though it has no real chance of being revived. In the space below, Part One of a Two-Part series on the future of same-sex marriage in California, I analyze the latest developments in the struggle, especially the petition filed last week by the initiative's proponents in the California Supreme Court asking it to stop the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses. In Part Two of the series, scheduled to run August 2, 2013, I will sketch out what I think Californians should do to properly and finally lay Proposition 8 fully to rest.

A Quick Recap of the Action So Far

Let us begin by reviewing key aspects of the story to date: California voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008. In 2009, two same-sex couples (one from LA County and one from Alameda County) brought suit in federal court in San Francisco against, among others, the County Clerks in their respective counties, the Governor, the Attorney General and the State Registrar, alleging that Proposition 8 violated the federal Constitution. None of the named defendants defended on the merits-the Governor and Attorney General actually expressed agreement with the challengers-and federal trial court Judge Walker allowed the proponents (i.e., the measure's drafters/signature gatherers) to intervene to defend Proposition 8. In 2010, Judge Walker found that Proposition 8 violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and issued an order preventing all defendants, and any persons under their "control or supervision," from "applying or enforcing" Proposition 8. The proponents appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which promptly put a stay (hold) on Judge Walker's order, and then later (in 2012) affirmed Walker's ruling that Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution (but left the stay intact pending possible Supreme Court review.)

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the proponents never had "standing" in federal court to represent the voters, and thus that they had no business appealing Judge Walker's ruling to either the Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated (erased) the Ninth Circuit's constitutional ruling, but the high Court left intact Judge Walker's decision (since the two same-sex couples clearly had to have the ability to challenge Proposition 8 in the trial court.) After this, the Ninth Circuit quickly lifted its stay on Judge Walker's order, and Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris instructed all county clerks to ignore Proposition 8 and issue same-sex marriage licenses. According to numerous press accounts, Clerks throughout the state have been doing exactly that since early July.

Last Week's Request by the Proponents to the California Supreme Court

On July 11, the proponents asked the California Supreme Court to order all County Clerks to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Their papers argue that Judge Walker's ruling-now being implemented-cannot legally apply, and does not apply, to anyone other than the two same-sex couples who filed suit. And since these two couples already have their licenses (they were among the first to be married after the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay), Judge Walker's order has done all that it was intended to do, and all it permissibly could do. The proponents argue that since Judge Walker's order is no longer relevant to any of the defendants or to any other same-sex California couples who wish to marry, County Clerks who continue to issue same-sex marriage licenses are violating Proposition 8, and are also violating state law principles that prevents any executive agency from failing to enforce a state law on the ground that it is unconstitutional unless any court is ordering the agency to do so, or unless an appellate court somewhere has invalidated the state law. Because the Ninth Circuit ruling striking down Proposition 8 was erased, the latter exception does not apply. And, again, because (the proponents say) Judge Walker's order is now completely satisfied, the former exception does not apply either.

To summarize, the proponents' request is based on three key assertions: (1) Judge Walker's order should not, as a matter of federal remedies law, have any effect beyond two couples who sued; (2) Judge Walker's order does not apply to any defendant any longer; (3) if Judge Walker's order is understood as being limited in this way, Clerks who ignore Proposition 8 are violating state law.

The Big Reason Proponents Are Unlikely to Succeed: Their Petition Rests on Contested Issues of Federal, Rather than State, Law

I do not think the California Supreme Court is likely to accept the proponents' invitation to stop same-sex marriage licenses from being issued. On Monday of this week, the court indicated it would not stop the marriages right away, but the full briefing schedule indicates that the court will not make a final decision on the proponents' petition until August at the earliest. It is telling, though, that the court did not enter an order directing Clerks to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses right now; if the court thought there was ultimately any significant chance it would grant the relief the proponents seek (ordering the enforcement of Proposition 8), the California Justices probably would have granted an immediate injunction, to reduce the number of same-sex marriages whose validity the court might have to deal with after all is said and done.

Why would the California Supreme Court be inclined to stay out of this matter? For starters, the California Supreme Court's review here is discretionary, not mandatory, and I expect the Justices will look for plausible, prudential reasons to stay out of, rather than excuses to jump into, a situation in which the Proposition 8 likely no longer reflects the desires of the California electorate. (A recent LA Times poll suggested same-sex marriage rights are favored by California registered voters by a margin of around 56-38.) To be sure, the Proposition 8 proponents are arguing that more is at stake here than simply same-sex marriage; the proponents claim that state officials are flouting the rule of law by refusing to comply with Proposition 8 until an appellate court has invalidated it on the merits. But the proponents' claim that the California Supreme Court can and should address this alleged lawlessness by state officials is open to some serious complexity and significant doubt.

The sponsors may be right (and I have written about this before) in saying that Judge Walker should not, as a matter of federal remedies law, have issued an order that granted relief beyond the two couples who actually sued. That is to say, the proponents may be right about the first of the three assertions I listed above. As I explained in an earlier column:

Under [a very plausible reading of the relevant cases,] the law of the Ninth Circuit (and perhaps also that of the Supreme Court) [suggests that] a district judge has no power, outside of a class action setting, to order relief that goes beyond protecting the named plaintiffs to also protect other would-be plaintiffs, unless full relief cannot be given to the named plaintiffs without also necessarily regulating the defendants' interactions with other persons. In the present setting, full relief (i.e., marriage licenses) can be given to the named plaintiffs [, the two couples who sued,] without ordering the defendants to give licenses to anyone else.

But even if the proponents are correct about this first point under federal remedies law (and some may argue that the Ninth Circuit cases don't mean what I think they do), the bigger problem for the proponents is their second assertion-that Judge Walker's order in fact does not go beyond the named plaintiffs. For whether he was right or wrong to do so, Judge Walker wrote and entered an order that-read most straightforwardly-does go beyond those two couples, to grant same-sex marriage rights to other couples in the State as well. This is most clear when it comes to the Clerks of Los Angeles and Alameda counties; Judge Walker's order directs them, in broad terms, not to enforce Proposition 8. Period. Whether Judge Walker should have added a phrase "as to the named plaintiffs," to this part of order, he did not. The most natural reading of the order is that these two defendant Clerks, as least, are simply not supposed to enforce Proposition 8.

The proponents' best argument (although they don't quite frame it this way), is that because it would be likely unlawful under federal law for Judge Walker to have granted relief to persons who weren't plaintiffs, we should in effect add the words "as to the named plaintiffs" to his directive to the LA and Alameda Clerks. In other words, because Judge Walker nowhere explicitly said his order should apply to non-plaintiffs, and because he doesn't have the power to provide a remedy to non-plaintiffs, we should read his order as if he agreed with the proponents that his order is in fact limited.

But I think it would be difficult, and perhaps violative of federalism principles, for the California Supreme Court to effectively add limiting words to Judge Walker's order. Ordinarily, interpreting or changing the scope of a federal court order is a matter for federal courts-not state courts-to undertake. And because the proponents' argument about the permissible power of a federal court to protect non-plaintiffs is itself a point of some contention under federal law, I don't think the California Supreme Court can easily agree with the proponents in resolving this federal question; questions about the scope of federal district court powers are not the kind the California Supreme Court exists to decide.

A federal court would be the more natural place, in the first instance, to argue that Judge Walker's order, as written, exceeds federal trial court powers and, for that reason, should be construed as narrowly as possible. After such guidance from the federal courts, the proponents could then make their state law claims in the California Supreme Court. But the proponents don't have standing in federal court to raise such an argument-that is what the U.S. Supreme Court held in Hollingsworth. The proponents filed last week's request in the State Supreme Court in part because California courts don't have the same rigid standing requirements, but that doesn't mean that the state court is going to be interested in resolving these thorny questions of what the federal court order could, and does, mean. (And notice that the Ninth Circuit could have narrowed Judge Walker's order to the named plaintiffs only before lifting the stay, but apparently chose to leave Judge Walker's edict completely intact.)

The Questions of State Law Raised by the Proponents' Request

It is true that, as to the other 56 County Clerks-who were not named in the federal lawsuit in Judge Walker's court-there is a question whether these Clerks are under the "control or supervision" of one of the defendants who is directly subject to Judge Walker's order, most plausibly the Governor or the State Registrar. And the question of whether County Clerks are under the control or supervision of the Governor or the State Registrar might very well be a question of state law as to which the California Supreme Court may someday want to provide a definitive answer. In a similar vein, the California Supreme Court may someday also want to answer the question whether a County Clerk who is not subject to a court order or to the control of the Governor or Registrar can refuse to enforce a state law on the ground that it is unconstitutional. (This is matter addressed by the third contention I identified in the proponents' papers.) But the California Supreme Court might feel that what is meant by "control or supervision," as the term is used in Judge Walker's order, is not determined by state law, but rather by what Judge Walker intended, in which case we are back to the problem of a state court trying to interpret and perhaps limit the effect of a federal court order.

Moreover, and more important, even if the 56 non-named County Clerks are not covered by Judge Walker's order (and thus should not, under the proponents' contested reading of state law, be ignoring Proposition 8), same-sex couples can go to LA or Alameda counties for marriage licenses (since, as discussed above, these two clerks at least would seem clearly to be covered by Walker's order.) And the California Supreme Court may rightly say to itself: "If Proposition 8 is going to die anyway-because the LA and Alameda County Clerks are required to issue same-sex marriage licenses-then there is no practical import of resolving big questions of state law, concerning the independence of County Clerks and the requirement to follow a state law until the law has been invalidated by an appellate court, in this setting. Better, perhaps, to wait for a case that is less politically charged, and one in which the resolution of these state law questions will affect the real-world state of affairs more."

Thus, although the California Supreme Court has asked the Attorney General to file full briefs explaining why the court should reject the proponents' requests for relief, and although the court will consider the matter carefully and likely not act in a final way on the proponents' petition until next month at the earliest, I don't expect the proponents to make any real headway. The federalism issues presented by a state court trying to read a federal court order in a particular way in order to justify reaching state law issues are, I think, too daunting. And on that basis the California Supremes will probably let things continue to run the course they are on-with same-sex marriage licenses continuing to be issued.

In Part Two of this series, I will explain why, even if the California Supreme Court stays out, and even if same-sex marriages continue in California indefinitely, there is virtue in the voters of the State formally repealing the no-longer-favored measure. And I will analyze how that could come about without great cost or delay.

July 13, 2013

New Book: The Electronic Silk Road, by Anupam Chander

Yale University Press has just published The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. The book has been hailed as a "tour de force" by leading trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University, a "must read" by Senator Chris Coons, and "engaging" and "important" by Ricardo Ramírez-Hernández, Chair of the Appellate Body, World Trade Organization.

The hardcover is available from Amazon here, as is a Kindle version.

Former World Trade Organization Director-General Michael Moore, currently New Zealand's Ambassador to the United States, tweeted: "What am I reading? "The Electronic Silk Road" by @AnupamChander explains essential issues for modern trade agenda."

The book has received extensive advance praise from key figures in international law and economics.

  • "An extraordinarily lucid and colorful description of the way cybertrade is changing global commerce -- and global society. Chander proposes realistic legal arrangements that can secure the Web’s benefits and avert its perils. This is an important book."—Michael Reisman, Yale Law School
  • "The world of commerce has changed for services. A masterly analysis of the implications of this development, this book is a tour de force."— Jagdish Bhagwati, University Professor, Columbia University
  • “A must read for those interested in globalization in the information age and the public policy challenges, opportunities, and pitfalls that will result. Anupam Chander offers an insightful primer on international cyberlaw and a thoughtful set of proposals for adapting to a changed world.” —Chris Coons, United States Senator
  • “This engaging book makes a powerful argument for embracing trade, without displacing law, along the new digital trade routes. Indeed, it recognizes law as crucial to promoting both trade and consumer protection. This is an important contribution to thinking about the international legal order.”—Ricardo Ramírez-Hernández, Chair of the Appellate Body, World Trade Organization
  • “Chander examines how international trade is ordering human rights and free expression in the digital age. Virtual borders and transnational corporations are here to stay, and Chander’s notion of ‘net-work’ offers us a sobering analysis of the dangers, and the possibilities.”—Deji Olukotun, PEN American Center
  • “Chander accentuates what is often forgotten--the importance of law underlying the digital evolution. Highly readable and enjoyable, The Electronic Silk Road is a piece of sound intellectual work, which is handsomely written.”—Mira Burri, University of Bern
  • “Anupam Chander takes us on a fascinating journey, raising provocative questions on how to balance competing global and local interests when managing new trade dynamics. Anyone interested in the digital transformation of commerce should consider carefully Chander’s insights.”—Mark Wu, Harvard Law School

The Electronic Silk Road

July 5, 2013

What the Supreme Court Should Have Said in the Proposition 8 Case, and How an Important Tweak Would Have Avoided Unnecessary Damage to the Initiative Device

Cross posted from Justia's Verdict.

It was completely understandable, justifiable and even predictable that the Supreme Court would dispose of the challenge to California's voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, by saying that the sponsors/proponents of the measure lacked legal "standing" to defend it in federal court, even when the State Governor and Attorney General failed to defend.  Given the rapidly changing legal landscape, any principled legal way to bypass until another day the big question of whether there is a national right to same-sex marriage was worth exploring, as I have argued, on this website and elsewhere, since 2010.

But while the standing route is attractive, it is also potentially hazardous.  In particular, the Court needed to steer clear of damaging the initiative device in general even as it denied standing to Proposition 8's sponsors in particular.  Although some folks disparage the initiative device, it is used in about 20 states that together contain almost 150 million Americans.   Unfortunately, Chief Justice Roberts's 5-4 majority opinion did not navigate this terrain particularly cautiously, and the integrity of direct democracy might end up being the victim.

The best argument (and it was made by Justice Kennedy's dissent) in favor of sponsor standing is that elected officials should not be able to effectively defeat initiatives by simply not defending the measures against federal court challenge. This is especially problematic because the initiative device is derived from a concern that elected officials sometimes do not act in ways that are faithful to the people's interests and desires. And while most initiatives are responses to inaction (or unpopular action) by the legislative branch, there is no reason to think that the distrust of elected officials represented by the initiative mechanism does not also carry over to officials like Governors and Attorneys General.

Yet granting sponsors the ability to represent the State raises its own problems.  In short, initiative proponents who are not picked by the voters may lack credibility, and may in fact be rogue actors whose current views, sentiments, and desires bear little relation to those of the electorate that adopted the initiative in question, much less the electorate that exists at the time litigation is conducted.

A majority of Justices felt they had to credit the latter arguments over the former, and so joined an opinion that could be read as suggesting that, no matter what a State's law says, under no circumstances can initiative sponsors ever step into the shoes of the State.  The problem, said the majority, was that initiative sponsors are not subject to control of the voters the way regular State officials are.  That may be true to some extent when sponsors are compared to some regular officials, but it not true categorically.  Moreover, the majority's reasoning, read broadly, could mean that nobody who isn't on the government payroll exercising full-time government power can ever defend initiatives in federal court.  And believers in the initiative often don't want to empower or create new bureaucracies.

The dissenters, by contrast, thought the first set of arguments should trump, and so would have empowered sponsors to defend all initiatives.  Yet the dissenters did not address the reality that some sponsors may be rogue.

But this framing of the issue ignores an appealing middle path: a state should be free to authorize sponsors to defend initiatives (in a way that federal courts will accept), but the authorization has to be done carefully and in a fashion that the voters can see. In crafting a workable balance between the competing concerns presented by initiative-sponsor standing, federal courts should recognize the possibility of sponsor standing, but only when the grant of power to sponsors to defend is clearly provided for in state law, so that the voters have adequate notice that when they adopt an initiative, they are in effect appointing certain persons to defend it in court.  It would be sensible for such explicit deputization to address, among other things: (1) precisely who within the proponent organization(s) is entitled to make key litigation decisions and concessions; (2) how long the sponsor's power to defend lasts; (3) the question of attorneys' fee liability to be satisfied by public fisc if the defense fails; and (4) what the relative authority of the initiative proponent and the Attorney General/Governor should be when public officials may decide to defend the measure, but to defend it in ways different from the litigation strategy favored by the sponsors.

In other words, the key is not whether sponsors are controlled by voters or other state authorities; it is whether the sponsors were ever selected and given a discrete power by the voters in the first place.  (That is the correct way to distinguish an initiative sponsor from an Attorney General.)

Proposition 8's sponsors would have failed this test, because nothing in California law in 2008 (when the measure was passed) told voters that by adopting the measure they were also picking the sponsors as their agents.  But, going forward, fans of the initiative device in California and elsewhere should be able to specifically deputize sponsors as backup representatives of the State by saying so in the text of specific initiatives (or through some similar device that puts voters on notice that adoption of the initiative creates agency in the sponsors), and thus should have the means to prevent elected officials from frustrating direct democracy simply by failing to defend measures that are challenged in federal court.  That this path wasn't staked out by Chief Justice Roberts's opinion is regrettable.

If the Justices in the same-sex marriage cases this year did, as a group, want to embrace a middle-of-the road outcome, they could and should have been more careful to avoid making the initiative device road kill.

July 1, 2013

SB 744: Border Enforcement Run Amok? by Kevin R. Johnson

(Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf)

The passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (Senate Bill 744) by the U.S. Senate is a major achievement. It includes provisions that would increase border enforcement, expand legal immigration, and create a path to legalization for eligible undocumented immigrants.

As with all political compromises, SB 744 will not please everyone. Still, the reform proposal will in my estimation could well turn out to be the first major piece of truly "comprehensive" immigration reform since President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 into law.

The new border enforcement measures in SB 744 build on previous enforcement measures, such as the expansion of the border fence along the U.S./Mexico border. More generally, the U.S. government has greatly ramped up border enforcement since the mid-1990s, for example, with the high profile border operation known as Operation Gatekeeper sought to seal the border immediately south of San Diego.

This post focuses on one troublesome aspect of the Senate bill. The "border security" aspects, including the amendment sponsored by Republican Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven added immediately before its passage in the Senate, are deeply problematic. The "border surge" amendment dramatically increases unnecessary enforcement, adding thousands of Border Patrol officers along the U.S./Mexico border and billions of dollars into further militarizing the entire region. In my view, the border surge would not reduce undocumented migration and thus constitutes a big waste of money and resources. To add insult to injury, the surge would also exacerbate some of the worst excesses of the current enforcement regime.

Why More Enforcement?

The border enforcement provisions of SB 744, including the requirement that all employers verify employee eligibility to lawfully work through the computer database known as E-Verify, are a response to the claim that the Obama administration is failing to enforce the immigration laws. This is a difficult claim to substantiate based on the facts:

1. Record Deportations: The Obama administration has deported more noncitizens than any administration in U.S. history, setting annual removal records of about 400,000 a year.

2. Super-Aggressive Enforcement: The Obama administration has taken aggressive positions toward immigration enforcement, such as the Secure Communities program , which has allowed for record levels of removals and aggressive litigation positions, such as in Moncrieffe v. Holder, a case in which the Supreme Court rejected the U.S. government's efforts to classify a long term lawful permanent resident as an "aggravated felon" subject to mandatory removal based on one conviction for possession of the equivalent of 2-3 marijuana cigarettes.

3. Decreased Undocumented Immigration: Undocumented immigration has decreased due to the Great Recession and many Mexicans have returned to Mexico.


The Questionable Policy Impact of Increased Border Enforcement

The border enforcement measures of the Senate reform bill would do little to reduce undocumented immigration. While the requirement of the use of E-Verify by employers might diminish the magnet of jobs (although concerns abound that the database will be accurate or will wrongfully deny employment opportunities to many people eligible to work), other enforcement measures will not have do much to deter undocumented immigration. The stagnant U.S. economy has dramatically reduced undocumented immigration. Moreover, the border surge amendment has caused some pro-immigrant groups to oppose the immigration bill. To make matters worse, the various enforcement measures would continue some of the worst excesses along the border:

1. Destruction of Families: The removal of 400,000 noncitizens a year, many for relatively minor criminal offenses, has torn apart hundreds of thousands of families and communities across the country. U.S. citizen spouses and children have suffered as well as the noncitizens removed. This destruction of families is inconsistent with the goal of promoting family unity that long has been the linchpin of the U.S. immigration laws.

2. Racial Profiling: U.S. immigration enforcement long has been plagued by racial profiling of Latinos. By greatly expanding border enforcement and the number of Border Patrol officers, the bill will necessary expand racial profiling of Latinos, who are perpetually suspected of being foreigners. Profiling arguably has increased with increased state and local law enforcement involvement in immigration enforcement. Notably, a federal court in May 2013 ruled that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff's Office engaged in a pattern and practice of abusing the civil rights of Latinos in the name of immigration enforcement.

3. Border Deaths: One less well-known aspect of increased border enforcement has been the growing death toll along the U.S./Mexico border region. As enforcement has centered on major urban areas along the border, migrants have sought entry in more desolate locations where death due to exposure (i.e., heat in the desert) is more likely. Deaths on the border are a regular part of live in the border region. More enforcement, including extension of the border fence, will likely contribute to more deaths as migrants are redirected toward more desolate - and dangerous - locations.


Many observers see the border enforcement provisions of comprehensive immigration reform as a political compromise necessary to attract votes, especially from Republicans in the House of Representatives. That may be true. However, there is little, if any, reason to believe that the measures will in fact reduce undocumented immigration. And there is every reason to believe that the enhanced border enforcement will have negative impacts on Latina/os and other Americans, tearing apart American families, increasing racial profiling and discrimination, and resulting in more deaths along the U.S./Mexico border. Conmsequently, we should view the political compromise with those significant costs in mind.

Where does this analysis leave us? There are other parts of SB 744 that do make more policy sense, such as many of the changes to the legal immigration provisions (e.g., increasing the visas for high- and low-skilled workers, abolition of the diversity visa program, elimination of the long visa backlogs, etc.), and the path to legalization for eligible undocumented immigrants, including the DREAMers who were brought to this country as children by their parents. The enforcement provisions do not help the bill achieve the policy goals of immigration reform. Moreover, the decision to double down on border enforcement will result in horrible collateral damages. It ultimately is a legitimate question whether the costs of the enforcement measures outweigh the benefits of the more positive policy aspects of the Senate bill. we also should keep in mind that the Senate bill may be as good as it gets.