Who Could Possibly Know…

whether a $60 million pain and suffering award was “too much” and needed to be cut in half?

The Appellate Division, First Department. That’s who.

It’s a lot of money either way, of course. At least, in context it is.

But we’ll just say here what we have said before: there is no principled reason why the appellate court should adjust the jury’s award at all. There are only unprincipled reasons, such as we can’t have municipalities or insurance companies being forced to make such big payouts to the rabble.

Alas, we are once again repeating ourselves.

Ugh.

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Cause And Effect

We’re in deep, deep trouble.

Don’t know how we missed this. Except, well, we’ve been busy.

Causation, in the larger sense, is a subject for philosophy, not the law. We have determined at long last, and contrary to our impression growing up and consequently through a large portion of our adulthood, that lawyers and judges as a group are intellectually ill-equipped for any nuanced and honest analysis of any topic with any degree of subtlety. This is probably because the bulk of them were intellectually framed by being political science majors in college.

The idea of “proximate cause” – primarily a negligence concept – is okay for lawyers and judges because it is a greatly simplified version of the idea of causation generally. Beyond that they dare not go.

But then they do. Thus the trouble we are in.

So in Frost we have lots of discussion about due process and deliberate lying and cheating by a police officer or police officers and the majority finds that there was causation or at least that there could be causation:

Second, defendants miss the mark in their assessment that Frost has not raised a triable issue regarding causation. As we have explained, a “prosecutor’s decision to pursue charges rather than to dismiss [a] complaint without further action[] may depend on the prosecutor’s . . . assessment[] of the strength of the case, which in turn may be critically influenced by fabricated evidence…Here, a reasonable jury could have found that Vega’s identification “critically influenced” the decision to prosecute Frost. 

We need not enter into a hypothetical discussion about what a prosecutor might or might not do if we understand that deliberate lying and cheating by a government actor corrupts the process itself, the very thing that we call “due process” and the very thing that a criminal defendant is constitutionally entitled to.

This winds up being another excuse to cabin or limit the Mooney line of cases by requiring a showing of “causation” tied to some specific act by a government actor that is more concrete than simply recognizing that the corruption of the process due to government dishonesty is sufficient by itself to amount to a fatal constitutional infirmity.

This is a much simpler way of looking at it, but it’s also more subtle, and for that reason lawyers and judges are bound to screw it up.

Indeed, this intellectual deficiency is demonstrated not only by the majority opinion but also by Judge Kearse in dissent:

But this recognition of the actual pretrial focus of Frost’s claimed deprivation of liberty highlights my doctrinal difficulty with the majority’s reinstatement of Frost’s so-called fair-trial claim…The manufacture of false evidence, in and of itself, . . . does not impair anyone’s liberty, and therefore does not impair anyone’s constitutional right.”

Well, this is the issue, isn’t it?

Our position that this latter assertion is wrong; that is, that the manufacture of false evidence, in and of itself, does constitute a deprivation of due process simpliciter, by corrupting the process itself, whether or not anyone’s “liberty” is impaired by imprisonment or pre-trial detention or whatnot.

What is most worrisome about Frost, though, is that it’s attracting the attention of the SCOTUS, having received a “Response requested” and now a relist. This may be just reflexively favoring the government as the SCOTUS is wont to do (the government is the Petitioner). But maybe not, too.

We will be keeping our eyes on this one.

Ugh.

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“Meticulous Rebuke”

We take it that Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate would generally not approve of District Court judges issuing “rebukes” to the SCOTUS. But she loves this one.

We at LoS are quite struck by this passage:

In order to block the law, [District Court Judge] Pitman crafted an injunction to “halt existing S.B. lawsuits and prevent new suits from being maintained by the state judiciary.” He forbade state judges and clerks from “accepting or docketing” these cases, and, for good measure, barred “private individuals who act on behalf of the state” from filing them. Finally, he ordered Texas to “publish this preliminary injunction on all of its public-facing court websites with a visible, easy-to-understand instruction to the public that S.B. 8 lawsuits will not be accepted by Texas courts.”

When you are being “meticulous” you “craft” injunctions, because you are being so, so careful to follow “the law”.

Lithwick can’t really believe this drivel.

Judge Pitman is actually enjoining state court judges from doing their jobs under state law.

Will the SCOTUS sign off on this sweeping assertion of the power of federal courts over state courts?

If this were a habeas case, the decision would have already been reversed. But habeas cases are about some poor and likely innocent schmuck who is slated (no pun intended) to be executed, or is rotting away in some state prison. No one cares about that, certainly not our Very Important federal judges who have other more Very Important matters to attend to.

Again, as we have pointed out before (and we have actually re-read that one recently with a certain amount of surprise – and yet satisfaction – that it seems to say what it says pretty well), there is only one area of the law where the federal courts, and the SCOTUS in particular, have any “federalism” concerns: habeas corpus. Because that’s the little guy against the big guy and we crush the little guy, who is constantly wasting our time. We like Big, Important Ideological Questions like Abortion because they Matter in some Hegelian World-Historical sense, whereas the plight of the innocent imprisoned or executed are lesser concerns consigned to lesser levels of government, whose job it is to return, again and again, to the Augean Stables.

Judge Pitman’s decision is one part lawlessness and two parts effete snobbery. And Slate applauds.

Ugh.

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Hyper-technical

Read the SCOTUS blog article on Brown v. Davenport – upon which we have opined before – and see if you can figure out just what the issue is here.

The best thing to say about it, at this point, is that the case should never have been a cert grant and the SCOTUS should probably DIG it. What need is there to have a rule about an issue that will almost never occur? The SCOTUS does not exist to answer absurdly technical and practically hypothetical questions. In the exceedingly rare event where a non-death penalty habeas grant occurs by some District Court or Court of Appeals, SCOTUS should just leave it alone.

Ugh.

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The Toppling Of A Mayor

Politics ain’t beanbag. We get that.

She knocked off Tom Richards, who was an odd choice for Rochester mayor, speaking demographically. But he was not odd in one important respect: the shadowy powers that be held him in high regard.

Lovely did not truck with the powers that be and that has consequences, especially if you are vulnerable to attack, and Lovely was, and is. An indictment will sink most any political career. And they’re easy to get. And so the powers that be eventually got one, and now there’s a plea deal, and that’s that.

This is a sad chapter in Rochester politics. Sad because Warren became such a disappointment, but then her enemies were always close. Many of them worked “for” her. There’s a swamp in DC? Surely.

The Lovely Warren episode demonstrates that there is also a swamp in Rochester.

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The Election Of The President

At some point someone has to say something. Might as well be us.

There’s a website characterized as “far right” on Widipedia called “The Gateway Pundit” (“GP”)

GP reports that there was a “rally” yesterday in Georgia presided over by former President Trump that featured a “massive crowd”. Is this true? GP says it is true. Regular media outlets such as CNN do not mention it, so presumably they don’t deny it.

As we’ve said many times, we don’t even like Trump. We think it’s unfortunate he ever was POTUS. And now we’d like him to just fade into history, like a lot of people prefer, and like most presidents before him promptly did once someone else takes over the helm.

But…..

A former president conducting “rallies” where thousands of people appear is, unquestionably, a news worthy event. So it’s bizarre that it’s not being reported on by the mainstream media (“MSM”). People should get some information about such rallies, such as….what is this rally about? Is it about a 2024 run by Trump? Is it about challenging the validity and legitimacy of the 2020 election? Both? Neither?

We suspect the cause for a rally would have to be the latter – that is, challenging the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Why not simply report this?

The MSM apparently holds the position that challenging the results of the 2020 election is somehow out of the bounds of civil discourse. Is this an arguable position?

No.

Take a look at Title 52 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 207. Records of federal presidential elections are to be retained for 22 months. Willful concealment or destruction of such records is a misdemeanor, which is surprising considering all the things that are federal felonies.

Why would there be a law providing that records of elections must be retained for 22 months? Obviously, so that in that period they can be inspected. Why would anyone want to inspect them? Because they are disputing the legitimacy of the election outcome. Is this, arguably, a threat to democracy?

No. That is not even arguable. Yet this is the predominant MSM position, upon which they are basing their coverage, or lack thereof, of those who are making such disputes.

Once again, it occurs to us that Trump is not the threat to the Republic that all the press shrieking has alluded to ever since he was elected. Indeed, the Republic by all appearances has already survived the Trumpian menace, which was never as important as it was made to seem.

But an incoherent, shrieking and ultimately untrustworthy press is a threat to the Republic, which is why the press was singled out for protection in the 1st amendment in the first place. Much of the press complains about “conspiracy theories” that run rampant and unchecked on social media, but the often wild speculations – and particularly their popularity – are the natural result of a loss of confidence in our regular news reporting. The MSM complains about it, in other words, but they brought it on themselves.

And the rest of us.

Just as the legal profession has failed and caused the collapse of the third branch of government, so has the journalism profession failed the so-called 4th branch.

How’s the third branch doing these days? A bit over-defensive, it seems:

“If Roe is overruled,” the law clerk wrote, “the public will understand that the Court’s reversal is explainable solely by reason of changes in the composition of the Court.” Thus, he concluded: “The damage to the public understanding of the Court’s decisions as neutral expositions of the law … would be incalculable…”

By the way, when those two pillars of civil society (i.e., the third and fourth branches of government) have fallen the government has already collapsed. The rest is just watching it pan out. It’s not something that is going to happen – it has already happened.

Those are our thoughts this morning. Ugh.

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Open Letter To Don McClean

Last verse of the immortal “American Pie”:

I met a girl who sang the blues

And I asked her for some happy news

But she just smiled and turned away

And I went down to the sacred store

where I’d heard the music, years before

But the man there

said the music

wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed

the lovers cried and the poets dreamed

But not a word was spoken

the church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most

the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast.

The day

the music died.

Question: is this referring to the suppression of the traditional latin mass?

It’s hard for us to imagine it could be referring to anything else.

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Finally

Someone, other than us, points out that the SCOTUS really shouldn’t be getting a pass.

Although it isn’t just SCOTUS favoritism to the police that poses a threat to the Republic, as it were. As if we had anything even remotely resembling a Republic or a democracy at this point here in the USA.

SCOTUS is just relentlessly establishmentarian across the board. Somehow, with all the federal government overreach since the 1930’s, SCOTUS finally decides to put its foot down so that people – including children – can be evicted and made homeless. It’s not that we even disagree with the principle here at LoS. It’s that principle has nothing to do with it.

The threat of homelessness is an essential ingredient of the status quo, the “status quo” being more or less a modern version of serfdom. We went over this a couple of years ago, to the usual effect – which is to say none.

We have lost our capacity for self-government. Or, it’s been taken from us. Maybe it was never all it was cracked up to be anyway.

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The Feds

Apropos our last post: here’s a clue.

Based solely on federal prosecutions and convictions, the “most corrupt” governments are in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Which just happen to be the three largest cities in the United States.

We are not sure what to make of this little foray into “most corrupt” statistics. It doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that the three most prominent New York State political figures of the last generation – Sheldon Silver, Joe Bruno and Elliot Spitzer – all wound up in serious criminal trouble and two of them wound up in federal prison.

Beyond that, is this conclusion:

Tracking the worst by city–Chicago is still the most corrupt for political corruption convictions followed by Los Angeles then NY’s Southern District for Manhattan.

simply a function of raw numbers, such that the largest places will have the largest numbers? We don’t know.

But we are also pondering the idea that the feds are more active where their efforts will draw more media attention, and that means big cities. The flip side of this coin is that they ignore squalid little backwaters like Mount Morris, New York.

Maybe. We’re not sure this morning.

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Prosecutorial Discretion

Turley makes a good point this morning. At least that’s what we think. We put up a little comment there. Now we’re going to comment over here. Where we live.

In obscurity. But never mind that for now.

To us it seems the feds often don’t really have any principles at all about who and what they prosecute.

For instance, they seem to have a large number of little noticed prosecutions for tax fraud, money laundering, welfare fraud, food stamp fraud. Our impression is that these are training events for junior prosecutors. Nobody much cares about them except the Defendants and their families.

There are occasional large drug crime prosecutions, of course, but like every other kind of crime such prosecutions are normally carried out by state officials under state laws. Why the feds get involved in this or that case is often a mystery.

There’s a notion we have only recently become aware of (because while it is a prevalent notion, it is also never – or almost never – explicitly stated, and we expect a manly straightforwardness around here at LoS), that the federal government is simply more important and higher status than the state governments. It’s a surprising notion, not least because it is un-American and contrary to the entire scheme of the constitution.

But we digress.

We chronicled another strange prosecutor decision here. This wasn’t the feds, but the mindset is the same. And like the feds, once they put you into the “perp” box they normally “succeed” in convicting and imprisoning you.

Prosecutor discretion is an important safeguard in the system. When it’s driven not so much by a sense of justice and mercy but by career concerns – or as Turley points out this morning, political concerns – it becomes perverted. And dangerous.

Is that what goes on with the feds – that is, career and political concerns over everything else?

We think sometimes the answer to that is yes. It gives us no pleasure to say so. But there it is.

Ugh.

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Collectivism

Just a little musing here this morning.

We were thinking back, in world-historical terms, and reminding ourselves of our now long ago educational experience as an undergrad, where for a time we were infatuated with the ideas of GWF Hegel.

Hegel was not a communist – he predated communism – but some of his ideas were preludes, as it were.

For example, communism is known for its “dialectical materialism”. Hegel wasn’t a reductionist/materialist at all, but damned if he didn’t virtually invent this notion of “dialectic”: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, doncha know.

But not being a materialist, there was this spiritual gloss over the whole thing, and it had a name: weltgeist. Literally, “world ghost”.

What was, or is, the weltgeist? Sort of a “spirit of the age” kind of thing. But Hegel imbued it with a personality, an independent identity, and it became in his mind and the minds of his followers a spirit that moved things and determined events in the world. Its methodology? Why, the dialectic, of course!

It can be thought provoking to view certain historical events through this prism, and particularly this: those periods where we make the transition from one century to the next.

Which brings us to the title of this post.

As the world transitioned from the 19th century to the 20th we were reaching a crescendo of a certain weltgeist that might be termed the industrialization and collectivization trend, which in turn produced mass armed conflict that we called the “Great War” at the time, until there was another one a decade or so later, whereupon we called both of them “World Wars”. Weltkriegs, Hegel might have said.

As we may have said elsewhere, there was then push back against the collectivist trend – kind of a decentralizing trend, we probably opined – in which we figured the internet was a prominent piece. A profoundly decentralizing medium, we think we put it at the time.

So now we a roughly at the point in time in the 21st century where the world had just put the Great War behind itself, and lo what do we have? A Great Pandemic, and some sort of “Great Reset” in the offing. And the internet, which we had originally described as a profoundly decentralizing medium – well, we might have been mistaken about that. Because there is a powerful trend afoot now to exert a rather profound centralizing effect on the world wide web, where it seems to be more of a collective hive mind than a free-for-all.

So the point this morning is this: the centralization weltgeist of the 19th to 20th century transition that led to the collectivist phenomena of world wars is duplicated in the centralization weltgeist of the 21st century transition that has led to the phenomena of one continual, collectivist public health “emergency” in which all are compelled to participate, much as men were drafted to fight the collectivist wars of the 20th century.

And this outlook somewhat explains the sort of natural ideological division that surrounds the pandemic. The people who reflexively or instinctively approve of the collectivist action on the pandemic do so because they are, basically, collectivists more than anything else and in the first place. And the people who reflexively or instinctively recoil at the same phenomenon are more individualists.

So that is our morning musing on the state of things in the world. It’s all about Hegel. And collectivism. And the weltgeist.

And, you know, religion. But that part will have to wait.

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Fiat Justitia..

ruat caelum.

“Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

Being a judge can be a very easy job, or a very difficult one, but when it’s difficult it’s not difficult in the usual way. That is, it’s not difficult due to arduousness, or long hours. No, being a judge can be difficult when it requires moral courage, one of the four cardinal virtues of antiquity.

The Latin adage is interesting from that standpoint. Most cases are routine – by definition, we guess – and the judge doesn’t really do any of the work; rather, he reviews the work of others and his job is to make the decision. But sometimes the case is not routine – again, by definition – and what this means in practice is that the party who would be normally expected to prevail (government, bank, insurance company) should lose.

The operative word being should.

Unsurprisingly, the party that is normally expected to prevail – well – expects to prevail. When those expectations are unfulfilled “the heavens fall”. That’s the idea, anyway.

Here’s an account of a judge who did his duty in just the way we are pondering this morning. Note that he did not go on to the usual conceptions of judicial greatness, becoming a federal appeals court judge or a United States Supreme Court Justice. Indeed, knowing full well that his decision in the Scottsboro Boys case would cost him the position he had, he made his decision anyway. He lived out the rest of his life in obscurity in rural Alabama as a farmer.

We hear nothing about Judge James Edwin Horton, just as we hear nothing about John Edland. Even as we can’t avoid hearing about Kim Kardashian.

We need to do better, in terms of the cardinal virtues, obviously. Especially the virtue of courage.

Today is Memorial Day, and we here in the US observe and commemorate the ultimate sacrifices of those servicemen who lost their lives in the military service of their country. We ourselves are a military veteran of the US Navy and we do take the observance seriously.

But this is a lawyers blog, and we put up this post this morning to make this connection: our war dead made their sacrifice for a country that promises justice. When lawyers and judges fail – or indeed often refuse – to do the hard work and (in particular for judges) make the hard decisions that cause the heavens to fall we dishonor and make futile their sacrifice. That is a terrible sin.

So this morning our request is that our colleagues on the bench and in the bar rededicate themselves to do justice though the heavens fall, to do their duty without fear or favor, as they swore they would at the beginning of their careers. And by doing so honor the sacrifices of the fallen, who died defending the civilization that depends upon lawyers and judges making the hard decisions when called upon.

Amen.

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Rehashing Casey Anthony

We have no idea why this is occurring. There’s a lot going on in the country, and indeed the world, that ought to command our attention. Then again, look at all the attention the Kardashians get.

In any case, back in the day we opined somewhat prolifically about the Casey Anthony trial, which was a world wide frenzy for no particular reason we could fathom even then. We found the whole thing horribly fascinating.

The difficulty that attends Casey Anthony to this day is that apparently there was no conduct by public officials in the course of prosecuting her that gave her a cause of action for damages. She has never been compensated for her ordeal, and so we assume for practical reasons (i.e., lack of funds) she is unable to follow our advice for the “wrongfully acquitted”: leave the country and live obscurely elsewhere.

So here we are 10 years later, and there’s some sort of documentary in the offing that will of course imply that Casey Anthony killed her toddler and went out partying in “hot body contests”. And to gin up even more interest in the spectacle, we are treated to articles like this in our Yahoo news feed this morning.

Not to mention this juicy little tidbit: one of the jurors, who now allegedly regrets his vote to acquit. Note that he has to remain anonymous, even 10 years later. And stories from a jailhouse snitch. We are not making that up.

Apparently, even the jurors should leave the country with a bucket of cash, but we don’t know how that can be done.

The whole fiasco remains an important case study. It demonstrated that pretty young women have a really hard time as criminal defendants because of jury dynamics. It proved that even that can be overcome by a brilliant – and rare – performance by the defense attorney. It showed that mass delusion and the madness of crowds are with us still, even in the age of the individualistic world wide web.

Perhaps most importantly, the Casey Anthony case showed us that a large segment of the population will believe in someone’s guilt once they are in the dock, with virtually no rational reason to believe it. The mere possibility of guilt is more than enough to convince many, many people.

We’ll say it again, as we said 10 years ago. There is virtually no reason to believe Casey Anthony killed her toddler. The jury verdict was courageous and clearly correct, clearly even compulsory.

The end.

Ugh.

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“Failed To Allege”…

There is absolutely no way in any sane universe that the Plaintiffs “failed to allege” sufficient facts to avoid a 12(b)(6) dismissal in this case, headlines and bylines and introductory paragraphs notwithstanding.

The linked article is behind a paywall, but neither you nor I have to read the article, nor do we have to spend our PACER capital looking up the actual decision.

The system has learned nothing from a year or more of social unrest. Here’s what happened in this case, and it can be gleaned from what little remains. Volkswagen and a few other German automakers were sued in a class action. They spent an enormous amount of money to hire Sullivan & Cromwell, perhaps the most “prestigious” law firm in New York City. Sullivan & Cromwell made an utterly bullshit, even embarrassing “argument” that the complaint should be dismissed on 12(b)(6) grounds. The judge granted the motion.

Arguments are cheap, but not when Sullivan & Cromwell makes them. Then they are very expensive and prevail, no matter how stupid they are.

The decision will be upheld on appeal to the CA2, if there even is an appeal. Because intermediate federal appeals courts are now “certiorari” courts, which ostensibly means that they only devote their “scarce resources” to important questions of law, but in practice what it really means is that District Court decisions throwing the rabble out of court will always be upheld, because we don’t spend our scarce resources on the rabble.

In other words, this is a purely class-based decision in favor of established, entrenched interests. It’s snobbery pretending to be a legal opinion. It’s the kind of increasingly common occurrence that in the long term is a threat to the courts as institutions because, as we have repeatedly noted, established and entrenched interests prevail without courts, so courts may as well be done away with. But since that is, by definition, the collapse of the government….

We’ve described all this before, in a similar context. Recently. Indeed we would not be surprised to learn that this Volkswagen decision is derived from the case we were reviewing there.

This cannot go on. The institutional momentum, mindless though it may be, is doubling down after a crisis that should have inspired some change. If all the courts ever do is rationalize the powerful prevailing over the weak, the lesson becomes power is everything and truth and justice are nothing. The weak learn the lesson and turn to rioting and other forms of violence. It’s the only logical approach, and we follow logic, ultimately, whether the courts do or not.

Oh yes, almost forgot. Here is the bio of the judge. She’s Hispanic, but she’s made her “career” by being an establishment shill. Former prosecutor. Political operative. Ivy Leaguer.

We’re beginning to think that not just prosecutors should be barred from judicial office, but Ivy Leaguers, too. The extent to which that is unthinkable is directly related to how hopeless the situation with our courts is.

Ugh. We are doomed.

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Edwards v. Vannoy, Finality And Floodgates Run Amok

So, this was an interesting case that came down from the SCOTUS this week. We’ve been busy and haven’t had the time to deal with the case, at least not in the manner with which it deserves to be dealt.

Interestingly our media elite, such as at CNN, have exercised no restraint whatever in their haste to report not so much the significance of the case for people affected by it, but rather the revealing banter between the Justices in their various opinions, which collectively stretch to almost 60 pages. Which is not the lengthiest of opinions in the modern SCOTUS era, but lengthy enough. Seems that in times gone by SCOTUS was able to do much more in far fewer words.

In other words, CNN is focused on its own “legal analysts”, who in turn are focused on career-oriented gossip like the good little Ivy Leaguers they are. Indeed, if CNN is still accompanying that article with the video entitled “How are Supreme Court Justices chosen?” you’ll note, as we did, the pending rehabilitation of Jeffrey Toobin.

(Jeff ran into an excruciatingly embarrassing problem not that long ago. We find it hard to sympathize, both because the indiscretion involved seems unfathomable to us, and because Toobin thinks Edwards v. Vannoy is an occasion to talk – again, and ad nauseum – about the “impeccable” credentials of SCOTUS Justices.)

The poor schmucks who will rot in prison even though everyone now knows they shouldn’t be incarcerated at all? Who gives a shit about them? We’d rather gossip about petty sniping between the impeccably credentialed Justices than try to understand what they did and did not do to thousands of our fellow human beings.

You see the problem with our “legal analysts” (We mean, aside from their tendency to pleasure themselves on camera)? They’re so deeply mired in their own silly snobbery they miss the actual story.

We tend to the actual story here at LoS.

So what is that, in context here? Edwards holds basically, on the surface, one thing: the jury unanimity requirement that was held to apply to the states in Ramos v. Louisiana, such that a judgment of conviction for a felony after a jury trial can be valid only if the jury was unanimous, does not apply retroactively such that federal collateral relief is available to those aggrieved.*

Yet just like Ramos, which was specifically about jury unanimity but wound up being about stare decisis and Roe v. Wade for the likes of Jeffrey Toobin, so Edwards winds up being about something else as well. And what is the something else?

Federal habeas corpus.

The problem is, does Edwards really say anything we don’t already know? Kind of. It’s giving us some insight into the Justice’s positions. And for the most part, and probably unsurprisingly, it reveals that the Justices are hostile to the “Great Writ”, at least as exercised by federal courts over state court criminal convictions. Which is not to say that they are not also hostile to the Great Writ as exercised by federal courts involving federal court criminal convictions – they most certainly are, although those are called “2255 motions”, not petitions for habeas corpus.

But we digress.

Let’s string together a few choice quotes from Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion:

But under the habeas corpus statute as interpreted by this Court, a new rule of criminal procedure ordinarily does not apply retroactively to overturn final convictions on federal collateral review. See Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288, 310 (1989) (plurality opinion)…As the Court has explained, applying “constitutional rules not in existence at the time a conviction became final seriously undermines the principle of finality which is essential to the operation of our criminal justice system…When previously convicted perpetrators of violent crimes go free merely because the evidence needed to conduct a retrial has become stale or is no longer available, the public suffers, as do the victims…Put simply, the “costs imposed upon the States by retroactive application of new rules of constitutional law on habeas corpus thus generally far outweigh the benefits of this application.” Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U. S. 227, 242 (1990)

Yes, well. We might as well be re-reading Calderon v. Thompson and post about that here. Like we did just about seven years ago exactly. Obviously, Justice Kavanaugh has not come over here to read.

Let’s say a person really is innocent and was wrongly convicted and rots in prison unjustly. How does the “cost imposed upon the State” outweigh the benefit of exonerating, freeing and compensating the wrongly convicted and imprisoned? Who in their right minds thinks this question even needs to be asked?

Are SCOTUS Justices in their right mind? We wonder sometimes. And note that the majority joined this opinion.

For his part, Justice Gorsuch, concurring, plainly understood that this is yet another case about federal habeas corpus, the AEDPA, and so on. He starts with a rather lengthy and detailed review of the history of habeas corpus and its origins in England.

Notice how Teague comes up again:

Under the view that prevailed in this country for most of our history, and in England for even longer, Teague’s question about the “retroactive” application of “watershed” rules of criminal procedure to undo final criminal judgments would have made no sense. Because a final judgment of conviction, pursuant to a full-fledged criminal trial, was the process due to a criminal serving a custodial sentence, the habeas writ had served its purpose…Only in the middle of the twentieth century did things really begin to change. In 1915, this Court suggested that a state court’s extreme departure from “established modes”of criminal trial practice, such as proceeding under the specter of mob violence, might be akin to the loss of “jurisdiction,” at least if no corrective mechanism like an appeal existed. Frank v. Mangum, 237 U. S. 309, 326, 335–336 (1915).

But if that represented an innovation, it was a modest one. The same cannot be said for Brown v. Allen, 344 U. S. 443, 464, 478 (1953)

Turns out Justice Gorsuch doesn’t like Brown v. Allen. Interesting that he also leaves out – skips over, actually – our favorite quote from Frank v. Mangum, which we have noted before:

In the light, then, of these established rules and principles: that the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment has regard to substance of right, and not to matters of form or procedure; that it is open to the courts of the United States upon an application for a writ of habeas corpus to look beyond forms and inquire into the very substance of the matter, to the extent of deciding whether the prisoner has been deprived of his liberty without due process of law, and for this purpose to inquire into jurisdictional facts, whether they appear upon the record or not; that an investigation into the case of a prisoner held in custody by a State on conviction of a criminal offense must take into consideration the entire course of proceedings in the courts of the State, and not merely a single step in those proceedings; and that it is incumbent upon the prisoner to set forth in his application a sworn statement of the facts concerning his detention and by virtue of what claim or authority he is detained; we proceed to consider the questions presented

This quote wouldn’t have bolstered his argument any, of course.

Justice Gorsuch certainly knows what he wants to say about Brown, though:

With time, these implications became clear and, as Justice Jackson predicted, Brown’s innovation proved unsustainable. The haystack just grew too large.

We debunked this claim some time ago, when it was made by Justice Scalia. The “floodgates” argument, one of the SCOTUS’ favorites, is really annoying. It’s worse than annoying when you’re on the receiving end. It’s a visceral thing with the Justices, imagining the unwashed hordes storming the courthouse and making their lives miserable when they’re sitting for their portraits.

Here’s a nice little bit of positivism from Justice Gorsuch, a little further in to his opinion:

But if the rule of law means anything, it means the final result of proceedings in courts of competent jurisdiction establishes what is correct “in the eyes of the law.” Herrera v. Collins, 506 U. S. 390, 399–400 (1993).

Apparently, the “rule of law” can incorporate falsehood after falsehood, ad infinitum, so long as the falsehoods are findings of guilt in criminal cases in state courts. Because “finality” and “floodgates”.

And here’s something even more odd:

It’s simpler than that: The writ of habeas corpus does not authorize federal courts to reopen a judgment issued by a court of competent of jurisdiction once it has become final.

Whither 28 U.S.C. 2254, then, which explicitly says the opposite?

Here’s the reality. In any other context, all this hokum about federalism and federal courts not disturbing state courts doesn’t matter to the Justices at all, and it hasn’t mattered to the SCOTUS since at least the 1930’s and FDR’s “New Deal”, which essentially cemented in the United States a central (as opposed to federal) government. The state governments are now, and have been for some time, essentially vassals of the “federal” government who largely administer federal funds that pass through multiple layers of bureaucracy at the federal, state and local level before they reach their intended targets, if indeed they ever do. Just for grins and giggles some time, take a little trip following “policy” and more importantly money as it winds its way through the federal Health Care Finance Administration (“HCFA”) augmented by a stop on the way down at the State Health Department, which then delegates to the County Health Department, which services whatever individuals are making claims. In theory, anyway.

All of this would have been unthinkable to the founders of the United States and is profoundly contrary to our national traditions. FFS, the same goes for the FBI, a permanent national police force, or for that matter a standing army and a military industrial complex. Our federal government, in other words, has long since assumed a general supervisory role over public life in the Republic, and in the public mind – not to mention the minds of the rulers – this is a perfectly proper state of affairs. The federal courts themselves are considered, in our hearts of hearts, “super courts” that attract only the “best and the brightest” and adjudicate every “important” question, which the lesser state courts merely administer.

But for the SCOTUS, and now especially Justice Gorsuch, there is one exception to this otherwise prevailing regime of thought: when some poor schmuck is wrongfully convicted of a crime in a state court, his life essentially taken from him whether he winds up executed or not, the state courts have failed him and he seeks relief in a federal court.

The real reason, in other words, is not that we are so, so concerned about not elevating ourselves to a perch higher than our state court counterparts; rather, it’s that the task is too “dreary” for our Very Important Federal Courts, says Justice Gorsuch. This argument reminds us of Justice Scalia likening the same task to endlessly shoveling shit out of horse stables.

Finally, this rather interesting footnote:

The dissent criticizes today’s decision as a departure from modern habeas precedent. Post, at 2; post, at 3, n. 2; post, at 12–13. But the dissent’s history is selective. The dissent champions decisions from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. But it disregards how those decisions departed from a century of this Court’s precedents and the common law before that. Supra, at 5–8. At the same time, the dissent’s account overlooks this Court’s precedents refusing to afford retroactive application in every case since the 1980s. Post, at 10–11; post, at 12, n. 7. The dissent may prefer decisions within a particular 30-year window. But it is too much to say this preference is required to “[r]espect[] stare decisis.”

Brown v. Allen, the 1953 case that is Justice Gorsuch’s bete noire in this opinion, was most decidedly not an out of the blue SCOTUS expansion of the availability of federal court relief for state prisoners, as Justice Gorsuch seems to think. It was consistent with precedent that had accumulated for about 20-40 years before that – at least since the 1930’s, in other words. Which of course is consistent with the FDR era history that the federal government and federal courts were now the Very Important places where all Very Important debates took place, the roots of which are even earlier. Don’t believe us? We have already demonstrated that Justice Gorsuch is largely misrepresenting Frank v. Mangum, which is a 1915 case, and pretty much stood plainly for the proposition that the federal courts will collaterally enforce federal rights over state courts on habeas review. Mooney v. Holohan, 294 US 103 (1935) was actually a habeas corpus petition seeking review of a final criminal state court judgment (California) that also originated in the SCOTUS itself, not a District Court, yet another hitherto unheard of but bound to be more and more common example of federal court oversight of state court criminal judgments. Mooney didn’t result in an out and out grant, but it was entertained, opined upon, and remanded to the state courts who were presumably chastened.

Want more, even earlier? Moore v. Dempsey in 1923. In particular, we suggest you read the dissenting opinion of Justice McReynolds and joined by Justice Sutherland. It is essentially the same point being made by Justice Gorsuch. In dissent. That is, by 1923 Justice Gorsuch’s view was already becoming quaint.

But what should really put to bed – forever – Justice Gorsuch’s views about federal habeas corpus is an ancient and, you know, what we used to call hoary principle of habeas corpus practice known as the exhaustion doctrine. The exhaustion doctrine says that you cannot seek habeas corpus relief in a federal court unless you have exhausted your remedies in the state court system and – usually – been denied review in the SCOTUS on petition for certiorari.

The necessarily true corollary, of course, is that after you have exhausted state remedies you can seek habeas corpus relief in the federal courts.

Far from being a novelty of the swinging 1960’s anything goes decade, the exhaustion doctrine appears as early as 1886 and then floats around through 1907 and by 1944 is pretty much written in stone. Here’s another in 1948.

Put another way, contrary to his contentions about “the dissent” it is Justice Gorsuch’s “history” that is highly selective and renders his position untenable. We hope he’s not serious when he sort of oddly pledges to persist in this error:

My vote in similar cases to come will, I hope, “be guided as nearly as [possible] by the principles set forth herein.”

We hope the opposite, because we sort of like Justice Gorsuch and think he’s capable of self correction.

Some days it all just seems too much, you know? Ugh.

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*To tell the truth, in practical terms neither the Edwards decision nor our little critique here of it is necessarily as significant as we think, because our brief and cursory review of post-conviction proceedings in Oregon and Louisiana may support the idea that prisoners can seek relief under the state laws governing those proceedings, which appear to confer a fairly broad discretion on the state courts. That is, Edwards refuses to apply the Ramos rule retroactively for federal habeas corpus purposes, but the state courts are free to grant relief. Strange that we at LoS should mention this point when the SCOTUS doesn’t in 60+ pages, especially since many of those pages are so deferential to state courts. Not strange, of course, that the media and their legal “analysts” miss it as well: they are so imbued with the notion that only federal courts, and especially the SCOTUS with all their impeccable this and that, MATTER.

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Filed under epistemology, Media incompetence/bias, wrongful convictions