One yearTwo years ago today, I started this site with the following statement: “An attorney should always put a statement of the questions presented at the very beginning of any brief unless the rules forbid it.” In that opening post, I tried to map an approach that would guide content then unwritten:
… Setting aside the notion of persuasion, the judicial posture is a useful one for approaching the world.
On the national level of the American governmental apparatus, judges usually are considered passive entities. A court cannot reach out and take or create a case that is not properly before it, nor can it concoct a set of hypothetical facts and issue a decision based on those facts. Most of the time, courts cannot even rule on arguments or contentions the parties do not raise. This detached position encourages patience and allows one to receive an orderly presentation of considerations before making a decision. And judges must make some kind of decision. Judges are passive in posture, though not in nature. At the very least, they must issue a judgment– a verdict, decision, or ruling. By convention or rule, they need to be prepared to defend their decisions verbally or in writing. This requirement of eventual and substantial action reinforces and enhances the passive phase and its attendant values. Knowledge that one must later decide focuses the passive mind and encourages patience to allow for a full understanding of the matters at hand. There is mutually reinforcing energy between listening and deciding such that nothing is mere talk, and chatter has little purpose. As usual, time is a foundational consideration: listen, then decide, then defend, and then listen again.
Resource limitations are a part of our condition. When we choose to utilize our limited resources, we want to do so effectively. This applies to mental resources as much as it does to fuel and finances. Regardless of a resource’s renewability, other limitations will constrain its expenditure or utilization. Efficacy and efficiency are the best responses to this fact of limitation, here represented by the phrase “in the real world.” Many scholars are feeding their families today because of their ability to operate (in varying degrees) detached from the real world. Ideas are important. Theory is important. That’s the point of what you are reading and will read here. The seemingly unavoidable limitations on resources demand that we root ourselves in reality, while allowing ourselves to discuss, critique, and reevaluate that reality. This is a chance to find out what happens when keeping it real goes right.
What about the questions presented? Wasn’t that where this was supposed to begin? It was, and it is. Justice Scalia and Brian Garner emphasize the primacy of questions presented because those questions shape everything that follows. I’m not exactly sure what will follow, but I have some ideas and I know you do too. It’s time to start asking questions that matter.
My goal has been to try to ask real questions, not leading or rhetorical ones, in an attempt to reveal something about what underlies our assumptions, ideas, and viewpoints. I’ve tried to at least imply a question in every post, and where I did not, my approach was to put forth a position that invited responsive comments, of which the site received many. With
nearly 3,500over 9,700 views in the first yeartwo years, I think we’re off to a good start.
Thank you for your readership and feedback.
I have written before about class actions, the most popularly familiar form of aggregate dispute resolution. See here; see also here. They are one of the most interesting areas of legal procedure because they are relatively new and, as a result, still developing in meaningful ways. Class actions are a creation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 (and subsequent state analogues), enacted in 1966, nearly thirty years after the enactment of the general, modern Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and three interacting planes of activity guide their development. There is a constitutional level: the Constitution’s due process guarantees constrain the dispute-resolution process. There is a rule-based level: the class action, so different from traditional, one-on-one litigation, is a creation of Rule 23. (I also would put other legislation, like CAFA, on this level.) And there is a “business” level: the motivations of the litigants, which often are or act like businesses, sets up, drives, and shapes (through developing litigation strategies) the judicial interpretations of the Constitution, Rule 23, and other legislation, and even triggering new legislation. There are any number of reasons why this area might be called “complex litigation,” and the ever-shifting, interactive push of these three levels of activity certainly creates complexity.
Class actions have been in the news lately, first with the lawsuits filed against law schools by former students, and, more recently, the antitrust complaint professional basketball players filed against the NBA. David Boies, the high-profile litigator who previously represented the NFL against the class of football players that sued it this summer and Jamie McCort in her divorce from Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCort, is serving as class counsel in the players’ class action against the NBA.
In an interesting publicity move, Boise and Billy Hunter, leader of the now-disbanded players’ union, held a small press conference with twelve members of the media last Tuesday to discuss the players’ case against the NBA. Boies apparently walked through the complaint with those present and offered his commentary and legal strategy explanations. While he certainly was posturing with the public (no doubt Hunter’s aim in calling the meeting), Boies’ remarks hit on a number of class action legal issues. Jonathan Abrams, on Grantland‘s Triangle blog, has helpfully presented Boies’ comments in context with relevant portions of the complaint itself. It’s a bit lengthy, so rather than reprint it here, I encourage you to read it in full: “NBA Lockout Talking Points From The Players’ Attorney.”
One of the first things Boies mentioned was the issue of forum selection. To have the authority to hear a case, a court must have jurisdiction. Often, however, there will be more than one court that could properly exercise jurisdiction over a case, and that secondary distinction is termed one of venue. Plaintiffs often have a choice of venue, or forum, and the decision operates on multiple levels. There is strategy involved: even though the case is in federal court, the federal court may be required to apply certain aspects of state law, so geographic location becomes important. Similarly, if the trial is to be before a jury, plaintiffs may find they prefer juries in certain states over those in others. Plaintiffs also may be angling toward certain judges if they are known to be expert (or not expert) in a certain variety of procedural or substantive law. The cosmetics also matter: where outside perception is relevant, where a plaintiff sues can affect appearances in the mind of the public. Any number of other factors may influence the decision of where to sue, and Boies’ statement on forum selection hit on a few of them:
There were a number of people who wanted to be in California. Billy [Hunter] has a great fondness for Oakland. He lives out there. One of the key representatives, Mr. Powe, is a resident out there in Richmond, California, which is in the Oakland division of the Northern District of California. I also think that we think that district has a practice in moving cases along very quickly. They’ve got a lot of expertise in antitrust cases and we think it will be a good forum for us to proceed with this lawsuit.
A major issue in class action litigation is defining the represented class. Because class actions almost always settle once the court certifies the class, the certification stage is the real battle. The defendant’s aim, therefore, is to show that the group of plaintiffs lacks the cohesion required for certification under Rule 23 by emphasizing the differences in the situations of the would-be class members. Conversely, the plaintiffs will try to emphasize commonality and similarity across the proposed class. When there are undeniable differences, plaintiffs have other techniques, including the creation of subclasses. In the NBA suit, the complaint names the plaintiffs as “Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Leon Powe and all those similarly situated,” and Boies explained:
I think it was people who believed they wanted to participate as plaintiffs and there were people whose lawyers believed would fairly represent the interests of the class. For example, although it’s not actually a legal requirement necessarily, in general when you’ve got a class action, you want to have a mix of people. For example, one of the subclasses in the complaint are players under contract because players under contract have particular claims that are based on the fact that the owners got together and all agreed that they would breach those contracts. So they have a certain set of claims. You then have NBA players who are not under contract and they have many of the same claims, but some different ones. And then you have the so-called rookie subclass of people coming into the league.
The remainder of the remarks from Boies and Hunter and excerpts from the complaint deal with the substantive law and factual history of the dispute. It’s a neat way to catch up on what’s been happening with the NBA labor dispute and get a sense of where it may go from here, at least as far as the litigation is concerned. Even if you don’t like watching the NBA, I recommend the NBA lockout– it’s much more interesting and entertaining.
I caught Piers Morgan’s interview of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain last month. It was the first time I had heard Cain speak, and I was surprised at the strength of the libertarian strain in his views. He neither labeled nor cleanly presented his positions as such, but Cain made clear that he does not think the government has a role in private-sphere, individual decisions like abortion. Cain personally thinks things like abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong, but he doesn’t think the (federal– he’s running for president) government should be making such decisions for people.
Theoretically speaking, there are two types of libertarians– Left and Right libertarians. The former believe that economic equality is required for people to be free; in other words, they must have (approximate) equality of condition and freedom from basic want to be able to pursue the good life on their own terms. The latter, by contrast, believe that equality of opportunity is what is important, and that legal and economic independence (rather than equality) is required for freedom. Right libertarians tend to hold socially conservative preferences as a personal matter but do not seek to impose those views on others.
The trouble for libertarians comes when their personal views conflict with their political views. Abortion is a prime example. Social conservatives think abortion is wrong because it is tantamount to– or is– murder. As libertarians, however, they say that the government ought not infringe on a woman’s right to chose whether to have an abortion. This brings the key tenet of libertarianism— the right of each individual to pursue, free from government intervention, his or her own definition of the good life– into conflict with the equally important limitation on that key tenet– one’s actions in pursuit of one’s self-defined good life cannot infringe on another’s pursuit of the good life. Killing would qualify as such an infringement. If aborting a fetus is the same thing as killing any other human being, it is impermissible under the tenets of prevailing libertarian theory.
Yet most libertarians, Right and Left, oppose government restriction of abortion rights. For Left Libertarians, this isn’t too problematic. The policy view matches their underlying personal view that a woman’s right to choose prevails. For Right Libertarians, though, the problem is as described above.
This mismatched situation appears to be due to Right Libertarians’ utilization of both “definitions” of the abortion issue. While “right to choose” and “right to life” commonly are seen as two ways to describe opposing views on abortion in positive terms, Right Libertarians employ both descriptions: their political, policy view is that abortion is about a woman’s right to choose, but their underlying, personal view is that abortion is about an unborn human’s right to life. When confronted with this apparent inconsistency, can Right Libertarians really square it by replying that it’s appropriate to apply one view of the issue at the public policy level and the other at the personal level, given the seeming fundamentality of the rationale for their personal, anti-abortion view? Criminal law generally allows for different degrees of homicide, but categorically, killing is killing, and if abortion is killing, a political theory that allows people to treat as not a killing an act simultaneously believed to be a killing may not be as robust as it initially appears.