En Banc Court Hears First Amendment Challenge to Campaign Finance Restriction

Congratulations are in order to the forty-something law clerks that swore in to the Sixth Circuit bar Wednesday.  That was a prelude to the court’s en banc argument on campaign finance restrictions in National Republican Senatorial Committee v. FEC.  The Committee challenges the constitutionality of part of the Federal Election Campaign Act that places limits on political parties’ “coordinated party expenditures.” 

Notably, the en banc court is taking the first pass on the constitutional question.   The Act includes a unique judicial review provision that requires the district court to “immediately … certify all questions of constitutionality of this Act” to the court of appeals to “hear the matter sitting en banc.”  All 16 of the Sixth Circuit’s non-senior judges sat for the lively argument.

In limiting “coordinated party expenditures,” the Act caps the amount a party may spend on activities like political advertising for a candidate.  Even if that spending limitation serves the legitimate objective of limiting corruption and its appearance, the Committee argued, the restriction violates the core First Amendment right to associate with the political candidate of one’s choosing under seminal precedents like Citizens United, McCutcheon, and the 2022 Cruz decision (all versus FEC). 

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Sixth Circuit Grants P.G. Sittenfeld Release from Prison Pending Appeal

Today, the Sixth Circuit took the relatively rare step of granting a criminal defendant’s release from prison before deciding the merits of his case.  That followed last week’s oral argument in the high-profile criminal appeal of Alexander “P.G.” Sittenfeld, the former Cincinnati City Councilperson.  Sittenfeld’s counsel closed his rebuttal argument by renewing his request for release from prison pending appeal, in advance of the Court issuing its opinion.  The court granted that relief today (subject to conditions) in a per curiam order.  This interim relief is a positive development for Sittenfeld, though the court was careful to “express no opinion on the ultimate outcome of Sittenfeld’s appeal.”  The briefs and oral argument satisfied the panel that Sittenfeld at least met “the standard for release pending appeal.”

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Bettors Beware: Read Sixth Circuit Before Wagering on the Kentucky Derby

Tomorrow marks the first Saturday in May, so the sporting world will turn its attention to Louisville, Kentucky for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.  Perhaps $200 million will be wagered on “the fastest two minutes in sports.”  And while the Derby is “the most storied race of them all,” West v. Kentucky Horse Racing Comm., 972 F.3d 881, 883 (2020), Churchill Downs will play host to 26 more horse races this weekend—on all of which wagers will be placed.  The proliferation of sports gambling in conjunction with this weekend’s run for the roses makes Judge Cole’s opinion for Sixth Circuit in Mattera v. Baffert all too timely.

This week in Mattera, the Court clarified that, under Kentucky’s law of pari-mutuel race betting, the “first order of finish marked ‘official’ counts for wagering purposes.”  That means, if a horse wins, places, or shows—finishes in the top three—only to be later disqualified and retroactively scratched from the race, bettors on the pre-disqualification finish are in luck.  “A subsequent change in the order of finish may affect the purse and the history books,” the Court explained, “but it will not impact pari-mutuel wagering.”

The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby in 2021 brought these rules to life.  Thoroughbred Medina Spirit led from wire to wire.  The race stewards marked the official finishing order as: (1) Medina Spirit, (2) Mandaloun, (3) Hot Rod Charlie, (4) Essentially Quality.  Wagers were paid out accordingly.  But several months later, the Kentucky stewards disqualified Medina Spirit (posthumously) and crowned Mandaloun the winner.  Medina Spirit tested positive for a performance enhancing substance after the race.

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The Ohio Supreme Court Updates its Writing Manual

Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court published a new and improved writing manual.  The Third Edition is “a comprehensive guide . . . designed to improve the readability of opinions issued by, and briefs filed in,” Ohio’s courts.  The unquestionable headline is that the new manual abandons the cumbersome triple-parallel-citation format of old in favor of citing just the Ohio online reporter, like so: Smith v. Ohio State Univ., 2024-Ohio-764, ¶ 2.

An overview of notable changes includes:

  • A new, streamlined way to cite the U.S. Supreme Court.  E.g., Dutton v. Evans, 400 U.S. 74, 77 (1970).
  • New uniformity for citations to the Ohio courts of appeals (eliminating the case number and placing the court in parentheses).  E.g., State v. Jones, 2003-Ohio-5994, ¶ 6 (10th Dist.).
  • Streamlined short cites for cases cited more than once.  E.g., Smith at ¶ 21.
  • Abbreviated citations to State and the U.S. Constitutions.  E.g., Ohio Const., art. IV, § 2(B)(1)(g).
  • The introduction of ellipses (. . .) instead of stars (* * *) for omissions in quotations.
  • A qualified approval of the “cleaned up” parenthetical that this Blog has previously investigated.

These and other changes bring Ohio to the “forefront in modernizing legal writing,” said the revision committee’s Chair, Justice R. Patrick DeWine.  Justice Melody J. Stewart also served the committee, which Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy convened in 2023.  Below, we select a few other updates to highlight, but practitioners might look closer at the 172 pages, in particular because the Court’s Rules of Practice commend the Writing Manual “for guidance on the style of documents filed with the Supreme Court.”  S.Ct.Prac.R. 3.01.

The Third Edition, recognizing that “parallel case citations are no longer necessary or helpful,” makes “changes intended to simplify and modernize citation forms.”  The new manual confronts a tension familiar to all legal writers:  Nearly every sentence in a legal argument requires citation, and yet “they are not very readable.”  The new manual does yeoman’s work toward simplification, and therefore readability, that practitioners and opinion readers (us included) will doubtless applaud.

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While We Are Waiting On Chevron

The Supreme Court issued three opinions today, including an important decision on whether omissions in SEC filings are actionable, and a decision that the Takings Clause does not distinguish between legislative and administrative land-use permit conditions (and that relies on Judge Murphy’s recent Takings Clause decision). But no decision yet on the highly-anticipated blockbuster cases (here and here) that might overturn Chevron deference.

While we continue waiting for those decisions, we’ll point you to an interesting article by our colleague Keith Bradley. The article acknowledges that Chevron privileges the policies of government agencies over those of individual people and businesses that disagree with those policies. But then it argues that the doctrine also gives agencies flexibility to operate under the often-ambiguous laws passed by Congress, which may create positive outcomes for other individuals and businesses outside of litigation.

Justice Sotomayor References Rarely Used Procedure: Circuit Certification to U.S. Supreme Court

Four years ago, the Supreme Court declined a federal habeas petitioner’s request to review the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Avery v. United States, 770 F. App’x 741.  Justice Kavanaugh, the Sixth Circuit’s assigned circuit justice, attached a “statement” to the Supreme Court’s cert. denial to highlight a circuit split that Avery implicated and to note his interest in revisiting the issue “[i]n a future case.”  140 S. Ct. 1080, 1081 (2020).  The same issue returned to the Supreme Court this February, this time on an original habeas petition filed directly with the Court.  But the Court turned it away.  See Sup. Ct. R. 20.4(a).  Justice Sotomayor wrote her own “statement” to “join [Justice Kavanaugh]” in “his desire . . . to resolve th[e] split.”  In re Bowe, No. 22-7871 (U.S. Feb. 20, 2024).  Justice Sotomayor identified a three-fold practical impediment to Supreme Court review of the issue (which gets into the weeds of AEDPA, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(E)), but concluded by offering solutions.

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Pump Your Brakes: Sixth Circuit Warns District Courts to Make “Rigorous” Rule 23 Analysis

The Sixth Circuit yesterday in a per curiam opinion (paneled by Judges Boggs, Thapar, and Readler) accepted interlocutory appeal of and vacated a class certification order from the Eastern District of Michigan.  The case is In re: Ford Motor Company, Case No. 22-0109 (6th Cir.). The Court’s opinion served to remind district courts that they must conduct a “rigorous analysis” to determine whether “not one or two, but all four Rule 23(a) prerequisites are met.”  Op. at 2.  It is worth noting that on interlocutory appeal, the circuit court typically either denies review or accepts the case for briefing on the merits.  In this case, however, the Sixth Circuit accepted review and summarily vacated to allow the district court to correct its error, without further briefing. 

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Sixth Circuit Reverses Grants of Preliminary Injunctions in Gender Dysphoria Cases

Yesterday evening, the Sixth Circuit issued a blockbuster decision in consolidated cases addressing the constitutionality of Tennessee’s and Kentucky’s laws limiting minors experiencing gender dysphoria from certain sex-transition treatments. Chief Judge Sutton wrote the majority opinion, which Judge Thapar joined. Judge White dissented. The majority and dissenting opinions cumulatively span over 70 pages.

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An Update on the Censorship Cases Pending at SCOTUS

Earlier this week, we blogged about the social media censorship cases that have been working their way through various courts of appeals, including the Sixth Circuit, and how one of those cases – the Fifth Circuit case – has now landed on the Supreme Court’s emergency docket.  As a reminder, the Sixth Circuit held that the plaintiffs in its case did not have standing to sue because, in the Panel’s judgment, the plaintiffs did not adequately allege that they suffered an injury fairly traceable to the government.  The Fifth Circuit case had more of a record developed in it and, based on that record, the Fifth Circuit held not only that the plaintiffs in its case had standing to sue at least some officials but also that those officials likely violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.  

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Sixth Circuit’s Denial of Rehearing En Banc Spawns Concurring and Dissenting Opinions

Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit issued a set of engrossing opinions accompanying its order denying the petition for rehearing en banc in United States v. Carpenter, No. 22-1198 (6th Cir. Sep. 18, 2023).  The order is noteworthy for, among other reasons, solidifying a circuit split on the interpretation of the last, restrictive clause in section 403(b) of the First Step Act.  Although the Court did not rehear the case en banc, a majority of active judges weighed in on the interpretive issue by joining one of the three opinions the order generated.  Also notable was the fact that one of those opinions was the first ever authored by the Sixth Circuit’s newest member:  Judge Bloomekatz. 

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