All Volumes

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin: The Fifth Circuit Questions Judicial Deference to Race-Conscious Admissions Policies in Higher Education

The Fifth Circuit held that as long as Grutter remained good law, UT's use of race-conscious measures in admissions decisions complied with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it was narrowly tailored to achieve a critical mass of minorities despite its simultaneous use of the Ten Percent Law. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 631 F.3d 213, 246-47 (5th Cir. 2011), cert. granted, 132 S. Ct. 1536 (2012).

Capitalism, Liberalism, and the Right to Privacy

The constitutional right to privacy is a doctrinal mess. The United States Supreme Court appears incapable of articulating a coherent underpinning to this important line of cases, or--more likely--is simply unwilling to do so. And yet there is an obvious candidate for that job: the philosophy of liberalism. But liberalism is a notoriously complicated and contested philosophy. Thus, this Article proposes a succinct and functional articulation of liberalism, which it then applies to Supreme Court cases dealing with the right to privacy. As we shall see, the Court's failure to follow liberal principles lies at the heart of its inconsistencies. Greater understanding of liberalism, and greater willingness to respect this political theory so deeply rooted in American history and tradition, could bring much needed coherence to this body of constitutional law.

Hiding Behind the Cloak of Invisibility: The Supreme Court and Per Curiam Opinions

Per curiam—literally translated from Latin to “by the court”—is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as “[a]n opinion handed down by an appellate court without identifying the individual judge who wrote the opinion.” Accordingly, the author of a per curiam opinion is meant to be institutional rather than individual, attributable to the court as an entity rather than to a single judge. The United States Supreme Court issues a significant number of per curiam dispositions each Term. In the first six years of Chief Justice John Roberts's tenure, almost nine percent of the Court's full opinions were per curiams. The prevalence of issuing unattributed opinions raises questions of its impact on judicial accountability and the development of the law. This Article argues that the per curiam is a misused practice that is at odds with the individualized nature of the American common law system, frustrating efforts to hold individual judges accountable and inhibiting the development of the law. Thus, the use of the per curiam in courts of last resort, including de facto courts of last resort, should be limited to a narrow class of opinions in which the use of formulaic, boilerplate language has already extinguished any sense of individuality. Opinions containing language that is more expansive must be attributed in order to serve as a check on judges' fidelity to the law and to enable the public and the legal profession to formulate an accurate understanding of the law.

Advisory Adjudication

The Supreme Court decision in Camreta v. Greene is revealing. The Court first issues an opinion authorizing appeals by prevailing parties in qualified immunity cases, even though doing so entails the issuance of an advisory opinion that is not necessary to resolution of the dispute between the parties. And the Court then declines to reach the merits of the underlying constitutional claim in the case, because doing so would entail the issuance of an advisory opinion that was not necessary to the resolution of the dispute between the parties. The Court's decision, therefore, has the paradoxical effect of both honoring and violating the Article III jurisdictional limitation on advisory opinions at the same time. The Camreta paradox illustrates a problem that makes our current conception of judicial review incoherent. We insist that the Supreme Court avoid separation of powers problems by confining itself to the retrospective adjudicatory activities envisioned by the Marbury v. Madison dispute-resolution model of judicial review. But what we really want the Court to do is participate in the prospective formulation of governmental policy, as if it were part of a tricameral legislative process. These dual conceptions of judicial review reflect a tension inherent in liberalism itself. We want both to advance our own self-interests in an unflattering pluralist political process, but simultaneously we wish to think of ourselves as other-regarding adherents to loftier civic republican virtue. We ask the Supreme Court to mediate this tension for us by making our liberal political victories look as if they are rooted in deeper communitarian principles. But this mediation can be successful only to the extent that the Court can mask for us the underlying incoherence of the judicial review function that we ask the Court to perform. In Camreta, this incoherence is so close to the surface that, hopefully, we will be forced to confront it. Without the camouflage that we ask judicial review to provide for our baser instincts, perhaps we will come to treat each other less harshly, and with more empathy.

United State v. Pickett: The Fifth Circuit Renders Point of Origin Irrelevant in Evaluating the Application of the Border Search Exception

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the border search exception applied, regardless of a defendant's point of origin, as long as the defendant crossed a border. United States v. Pickett, 598 F.3d 231, 235 (5th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 637 (2010).  

Combo Maritime, Inc. v. U.S. United Bulk Terminal, LLC: The Fifth Circuit Finds Comparative Fault Principle Unaffected By Burden-Shifting Presumption of Fault in Admiralty Case

Reversing the district court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that United could seek contribution from Carnival after settling with Combo, reasoning that contribution can be sought by a settling tortfeasor who releases all claims, that the presumption of fault against a defendant in the case of drifting vessels is not to be applied between codefendants, and that the presumption of fault does not affect the principle that joint tortfeasors are entitled to allocate damages relative to their proportionate degree of fault. Combo Maritime, Inc. v. U.S. United Bulk Terminal, LLC, 615 F.3d 599, 2010 AMC 2196 (5th Cir. 2010).  

Peterson v. City of Forth Worth: The Fifth Circuit Demands More Than the Demanding Standard of Monell to Establish Municipal Liability under § 1983

Ultimately, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas concluded that while Peterson made a colorable claim for the excessive use of force against the individual officers, he failed to meet the rigorous standard necessary to impose municipal liability, and the court consequently dismissed his complaint under summary judgment. Affirming this decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that twenty-seven claims of excessive force did not amount to an official city policy permissive of excessive force and, thus, the city could not be liable. Peterson v. City of Fort Worth, 588 F.3d 838, 852 (5th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 79 U.S.L.W. 3195 (U.S. Oct. 4, 2010) (No. 09-983).  

Smith v. Xerox Corp.: The Fifth Circuit Maintains Mixed-Motive Applicability in Title VII Retaliation Claims

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the mixed-motive framework applies to Title VII retaliation cases and a plaintiff can present circumstantial or direct evidence to obtain a mixed-motive jury instruction. Smith v. Xerox Corp., 602 F.3d 320, 329, 331-32 (5th Cir. 2010).  

Marine Casualty Investigations

This Article will focus primarily on the government entities (e.g., Coast Guard and NTSB) responsible for conducting marine casualty investigations. These formal investigations allow evidence to be gathered and preserved in a more orderly manner than can be done during, or even immediately after, a serious collision, fire, oil discharge, sinking, or other casualty, when response is the primary goal and the “Incident Command Center,” whether run solely by the Coast Guard or in conjunction with other federal and state agencies, is still in full swing.