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A Question For Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Members to Ask Sri Srinivasan If Obama Nominates Him to Fill Scalia’s Seat

In private practice, prior to his appointment to the appeals court, Srinivasan successfully represented former Enron Corp CEO Jeff Skilling in a Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court narrowed the reach of the so-called honest services fraud law, invalidating one theory used by prosecutors for Skilling’s conspiracy conviction and ordering further appeals court review. Despite the high court ruling, Skilling’s conviction was later upheld by an appeals court.

Srinivasan also represented Exxon Mobil Corp in a lawsuit alleging human rights abuses in Indonesia, and mining giant Rio Tinto in a similar case about its activities in Papua New Guinea. Both cases concerned in part whether a law called the Alien Tort Statute allows such cases to be heard in U.S. courts. The Exxon case is still ongoing. The Rio Tinto lawsuit was dismissed.

Judge who could replace Scalia worked on controversial cases for business, Jonathan Hurley, Reuters, today

There are, of course, some questions about the Exxon Mobil cases that he should and probably will be asked, by Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee if Obama does nominate him, as the betting folks in Washington expect.

Far less controversial, in my opinion, is his representation of Jeffrey Skilling.  The federal honest-services fraud statute, which the Court held, at Srinivasan’s urging as a partner in the Supreme Court Practice group at the Washington, DC office of mega-legal-powerhouse Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers, was too vague to comport with constitutional dictates of due process of law.

But what is controversial, in my opinion, is how it happened that this particular criminal defendant managed to garner the attention and support of at least four justices (the minimum needed for the court to grant a petition to hear a case), in a case that challenged a criminal statute as unconstitutionally vague.

The Supreme Court has a preset number of cases it will hear each year (a fact that itself is ridiculous and inappropriate).  I believe the number is about 70.  Almost all of the cases that fill those spots—court term after court term after court term—are heard at the behest of lawyers who fall into one of three categories: attorneys representing law enforcement, usually the state’s attorney asking the Court to reverse a lower federal appellate court’s grant of a petition for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a convicted state-court criminal defendant, but also “cert.” petitions asking the Court to reverse a monetary judgment against a law enforcement officer in a civil rights lawsuit; a lawyer from one of the rightwing self-styled legal foundations around the country serving as pro bono counsel in a culture-wars and Koch-brothers-wish-list cases (think: affirmative action, attempts to nullify the Voting Rights Act, attempts (currently, at the Court) to profoundly restructure legislative reapportionment; you get the picture); and a member of so-called Supreme Court specialist bar, whose actual specialty is putting the lawyer’s name, law firm and Washington, DC. Office address on the cert. petition, for a fee that only corporations, lobbying groups and individuals of the Jeffrey Skilling personal-wealth set, have access to.

Pretty much no one else need apply, although roughly 9,000 others each year do. Many of them to the tune of about $7,000, the de facto application fee, the typical cost for the 40+ copies of the cert. petition and appendices, printed by one of three printing companies that exist because they print these things with the (very) nonstandard sizing and binding-into-a-cute-little-booklet precision that the Court’s rules mandate.  A high cost for the privilege in participating in a charade.  A steep admission fee, deliberately so; there is no conceivable justification for it, given today’s modern technology for printing, electronically transmitting, and e-reading.

I mean, y’know, no legitimate justification for it.

In recent years, the Court has, in my opinion appropriately, agreed to hear a number of cases that challenge on vagueness grounds the constitutionality of criminal statutes.  But they are always federal statutes rather than state ones, and almost always are heard at the behest of someone whose cause correlates with a Republican interest, of the culture-wars variety or of the corporate-folks variety.

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The OTHER big ACA case being argued today (albeit not at the Supreme Court) concerns the statute’s alleged Disestablishment Clause

Obamacare faces two separate court challenges on Tuesday, but only one could deliver a major knockout blow to the law.

The case getting the most attention is tomorrow’s Supreme Court challenge to the health care law’s requirement for employers to provide birth control to their workers. At the same time Tuesday morning, the District of Columbia’s Circuit Court of Appeals will consider whether Obamacare allows premium subsidies to flow through federal-run health insurance exchanges. That case has been called “the greatest existential threat” to the survival of the health care law by one of Obamacare’s staunchest supporters.

The contraception case is big, but another challenge could really hurt Obamacare, Jason Millman, Wonkblog, Washington Post, yesterday

Ah. And to think that so many people think the big Obamacare cases to be argued in a federal court today are the contraceptive-mandate ones.  But not regular AB readers! That’s because y’all read this post of mine and then this one.  And you remember those posts!

But to refresh your memories about the details, I’ll quote Millman further:

The law’s opponents argue that Congress never authorized subsidies in federal-run exchanges, and they claim this was done on purpose. They say Congress wanted to incentivize states to run their own exchanges, an option that only 14 states and the District of Columbia chose in 2014.

The law’s supporters argue that the law doesn’t differentiate between federal-run and state-run exchanges, so people should be able to receive subsidies no matter who’s administering the insurance marketplaces. Further, they say the broad purpose of the law is to expand access to affordable insurance regardless of who runs the exchange.

There are four pending cases in federal court challenging the subsidies. In Tuesday’s case, Halbig v. Sebelius, a lower federal court in January upheld the IRS rule allowing subsidies in federal-run exchanges.

“The Court finds that the plain text of the statute, the statutory structure, and the statutory purpose make clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges,” District Court Judge Paul Friedman wrote in his decision.

Well, of course, Judge Friedman found that the plain text of the statute, the statutory structure, and the statutory purpose make clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges. Sure, he’s a Reagan appointee, but I published the first of my two posts deconstructing The Antidisestablishmentarianism Theory of Obamacare Illegality seven weeks before he issued his opinion agreeing that the ACA does not in fact have a disestablishment clause.  And since he’s undoubtedly an avid AB reader, he didn’t even have to read the government’s brief deconstructing the disestablishment-clause theory.  Well, maybe he did anyway, but he already knew that that clause in the ACA did not really disestablish the statute’s federal tax credits in 36 states.

So he wrote:

Looking only at the language of 26 U.S.C. § 36B(b)-(c), isolated from the cross-referenced text of 42 U.S.C. § 18031, 42 U.S.C. § 18041, and 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-91(d)(21), the plaintiffs’ argument may seem the more intuitive one. Why would Congress have inserted the phrase “established by the State under [42 U.S.C. § 18031]” if it intended to refer to Exchanges created by a state or by HHS? But defendants provide a plausible and persuasive answer: Because the ACA takes a state-established Exchange as a given and directs the Secretary of HHS to establish such Exchange and bring it into operation if the state does not do so. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 18031(b)-(d), 18041(c). In other words, even where a state does not actually establish an Exchange, the federal government can create “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U.S.C. § 18031]” on behalf of that state.  [Italics in original.]

Friedman’s opinion, which gets into the “Chevron deference” doctrine–don’t ask; I might tell you–illustrates just how hypocritical it would be for the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to buy these plaintiffs’ argument once this case (or one of the other three being litigated in other regional federal courts) arrives there.

Which is not to say that that is necessarily a determining impediment to their doing so; we all know better by now than to think that it.  But I do think there is a point at which this type of thing becomes so clear that it penetrates the awareness of enough people to be of fairly widespread concern.  And although the justices themselves as yet seem unconcerned, there may come a time, fairly soon, when they conclude that that unconcern is untenable as a matter of social acceptance.  Then again, I’m not sure they will care.

 

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