NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 96, Number 5

November 2021
Articles

Weaponizing En Banc

Neal Devins, Allison Orr Larsen

The federal courts of appeals embrace the ideal that judges are committed to rule-of-law norms, collegiality, and judicial independence. Whatever else divides them, these judges generally agree that partisan identity has no place on the bench. Consequently, when a court of appeals sits “en banc,” (i.e., collectively) the party affiliations of the three-judge panel under review should not matter. Starting in the 1980s, however, partisan ideology has grown increasingly important in the selection of federal appellate judges. It thus stands to reason—and several high-profile modern examples illustrate—that today’s en banc review could be used as a weapon by whatever party has appointed the most judges on any particular circuit. A weaponized en banc reflects more than just ideological differences between judges. We define the phrase to capture a “team mentality” on the courts of appeals—an us versus them—where the judges vote in blocs aligned with the party of the President who appointed them and use en banc review to reverse panels composed of members from the other team.

In this Article, we test whether en banc review is now or has ever been weaponized. We make use of an original data set—the most comprehensive one of which we are aware—that tracks en banc decisions over six decades. Our findings are surprising in two very different ways. The bulk of our data indicates that rule-of-law norms are deeply embedded. From the 1960s through 2017, en banc review seems to have developed some sort of immunity from partisan behavior over time, and we unpack potential reasons why. But that important and long-lasting immunity could now be in danger. Our data from 2018–2020 show a dramatic and statistically significant surge in behavior consistent with the weaponizing of en banc review. It is too soon to tell whether this is a temporary change or an inflection point indicating a more permanent shift. We consider both possibilities and, in so doing, highlight the critical role that en banc review plays in ascertaining judicial commitment to rule-of-law norms. The time may soon be upon us to confront the cost of en banc review in a regime where party identity frequently trumps other judicial impulses.

The Right to Benefit from Big Data as a Public Resource

Mary D. Fan

The information that we reveal from interactions online and with electronic devices has massive value—for both private profit and public benefit, such as improving health, safety, and even commute times. Who owns the lucrative big data that we generate through the everyday necessity of interacting with technology? Calls for legal regulation regarding how companies use our data have spurred laws and proposals framed by the predominant lens of individual privacy and the right to control and delete data about oneself. By focusing on individual control over droplets of personal data, the major consumer privacy regimes overlook the important question of rights in the big data ocean.

This Article is the first to frame a right of the public to benefit from our consumer big data. Drawing on insights from property theory, regulatory advances, and open innovation, the Article introduces a model that permits controlled access and the use of big data for public interest purposes while protecting against privacy harms, among others. I propose defining a right of access to pooled personal data for public purposes, with sensitive information safeguarded by a controlled-access procedure akin to that used by institutional review boards in medical research today. To encourage companies to voluntarily share data for public interest purposes, the Article also proposes regulatory sandboxes and safe harbors akin to those successfully deployed in other domains, such as antitrust, financial technology, and intellectual property law.

Black on Black Representation

Alexis Hoag

When it comes to combating structural racism, representation matters, and this is true for criminal defense as much as it is for mental health services and education. This Article calls for the expansion of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice to indigent defendants and argues that such an expansion could be of particular benefit to indigent Black defendants. Extending choice to all indigent defendants reinforces the principles underlying the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and can help strengthen the attorney-client relationship. Because an expansion would grant defendants the autonomy to request counsel who they believe would best represent them, Black defendants who prioritize racial congruency and cultural competency may select Black counsel. Empowering indigent Black people to select, should they desire, Black and/or culturally competent public defenders has the potential to offer a range of benefits, including mitigating anti-Black racism in the criminal legal system.

Methodologically, this Article takes multiple approaches. First, it connects indigent representation to existing literature from other fields—clinical therapy and education—both of which recognize the benefits of racial congruency, to support the argument that Black public defenders may benefit Black clients. To explore how same-race representation functions in practice, this Article also relies on qualitative interviews with Black public defenders regarding communication and trust, factors that the American Bar Association identifies as integral to criminal defense. Together, these approaches highlight how expanding choice to indigent defendants might impact Black defendants, something that past choice of counsel literature does not examine. The Article concludes that recruiting more Black public defenders and training culturally competent lawyers are critical next steps regardless of whether the Court expands the right to counsel of choice to people who qualify for appointed counsel.

Notes

Wealth-Based Equal Process and Cash Bail

Liza Batkin

Though indigency is not a suspect class, the Supreme Court has repeatedly applied heightened scrutiny to laws that deprive low-income people of certain rights they can’t afford. It has done this through a makeshift doctrine that combines the principles of Equal Protection and Due Process. But the absence of a generalizable rule behind what this Note refers to as “wealth-based equal process” leaves the Court’s few constitutional protections for low-income people vulnerable to erosion by conservative Justices. This threat looms especially large as recent litigation draws on that doctrine to challenge the unfair treatment of indigent people in the criminal justice system. This Note attempts to shore up wealth-based equal process doctrine by proposing a general principle: Courts must apply heightened scrutiny when the government, by putting a price on a fundamental right that only the government can fulfill, entirely deprives an indigent person of that right. The Note then applies this principle to cash bail, revealing that the pretrial detention of indigent defend- ants lies at the heart of this doctrine and requires heightened scrutiny.

Simplistic Structure and History in Seila Law

Sasha W. Boutilier

In Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Supreme Court split 5–4 on appointing party lines in striking down for-cause removal protections for the Bureau’s single Director as violating the constitutional separation of powers. Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion expounded a novel principle: Significant executive power may not be concentrated in any single individual in the executive branch unless that individual is removable at-will by the President. This Note argues that the majority’s usage of structure and history to constitutionalize this principle was deeply flawed. It is unconstrained by any particular interpretive commitments. Further, it is internally inconsistent, logically flawed, historically opportunistic, and unsupported by a pragmatic consideration of the issue. And the Court’s subsequent decision, Collins v. Yellen—extending Seila Law to invalidate removal protection for the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency—has only exacerbated Seila Law’s flaws. I conclude with reflection on agency independence post-Seila Law and a call for pragmatic deference to the political branches.

Fact-Checking FISA Applications

Claire Groden

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorizes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to subject Americans to uniquely invasive electronic monitoring, so long as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approves the surveillance application. But in 2020, the government announced that two of the FISA applications it submitted to surveil a former 2016 Trump campaign aide were based on false statements and omissions—revealing systemic deficiencies in the accuracy of FISA applications, which has long relied on the integrity of FBI and Justice Department procedures alone. In the ordinary criminal context, defendants would have the ability to challenge the truth of the application predicating their Fourth Amendment search under Franks v. Delaware, but when defendants are prosecuted with evidence derived from FISA-authorized surveillance, courts have uniformly interpreted the statute to abrogate defendants’ rights to a Franks hearing. This Note argues that courts should use the procedures authorized by the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) to facilitate Franks hearings for these defendants in order to reveal the incidence of falsely premised FISA surveillance. While Franks hearings in this context would be unlikely to vindicate the individual interests of FISA-surveilled defendants, they would offer a systemic deterrent effect, alerting the FISC to flawed applications and providing the Court an opportunity to discipline the FBI agents responsible.

Lessons from the Military on Reforming Police Discipline

Julia E. Paranyuk

In recent years, there has been significant public debate concerning policing in the United States. Current events and recurring instances of police brutality have drawn attention to police misconduct and reinvigorated calls for systemic reforms to policing and police discipline. While there is a growing consensus in the United States among citizens, politicians, and even officers, that policing—and, in particular, police discipline procedure—requires reform, there is far less agreement as to what changes are necessary and feasible. In the U.S. military context, Congress enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which created a separate military law system that imposes punishment for various administrative and criminal offenses. Some police reform advocates have proposed enacting a UCMJ equivalent—a Uniform Code of Police Justice (UCPJ)—for the nation’s police forces. This Note argues in favor of adopting a UCPJ and proposes a recommended Code structure, while acknowledging that a UCPJ would not be a cure-all for our nation’s policing troubles; further systemic reforms would still be required.