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Lesson 3: Judge-Shopping Must Be Curbed

Here is the third lesson to be learned from the debacle noted this morning.

Plaintiffs seeking to enjoin government actions have way too much choice where to file their suits.  Further, there is not enough control on conflicting decisions when it comes to injunctions.

The WSJ article noted in a previous post this morning reports on the development of the strategy of the opponents:

Democratic attorneys general and their aides held a series of conference calls. They agreed to mount separate lawsuits across the country. The goal: try lots of different arguments to block the ban in hopes that one of them would succeed.

Minnesota's attorney general, Lori Swanson, joined the Washington lawsuit. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined the American Civil Liberties Union's case in federal court in Brooklyn. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey did the same with an ACLU case in Boston.

Not only did they throw as much against the wall as they could to see what stuck, they threw it against as many walls as they could, and it only needed to stick to one.  Judge Gorton in Boston declined to extend his earlier, temporary block of the executive order, but Judge Robart in Washington did block it, and the result was that it was blocked.  Conceivably, a group of persons opposed to some government action could file coordinated suits in every district in the country, and they would only have to win one to get a halt for the time being.

Even when only one suit is filed, broad venue rules and "related case" rules give the challengers too much leeway to steer cases to the judges they know will be favorable to them.  The habeas corpus "fast track" regulations were held up for over three years by order of a judge with no jurisdiction in a case steered to her in exactly that manner.

Congress should take a hard look at the rules regarding venue in cases that seek nationwide injunctions.  "Venue" sounds like a boring subject, but this case illustrates how much it can matter.

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