I. History of Equitable Remedies
A. In England
B. The Founding and the Role of the Judiciary
II. Comparing the Benefits and Harms of Nationwide Injunctions
III. Current Scholarship on Nationwide Injunctions
A. Professor Bray’s Plaintiff-limited injunction
B. Siddique’s “Complete Relief” Principal
C. Berger’s Circuit-Border Rule
D. Other Approaches
IV. Triangulating Equitable Remedies
A. The number of factors makes balancing difficult to impossible
B. A “triangulation” of equitable remedies simplifies balancing
V. “Hot and Cold”: Easy and Difficult Cases for Equitable Balancing and a New Path Forward
A. Abuse of discretion in “hot” and “cold” cases
B. The common law method in “warm” cases
C. Application #1: Trump’s Travel Ban
D. Application #2: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA)
The very ability of courts to issue nationwide injunctions is due to the nature of equitable remedies themselves. Therefore, to make an argument about how the judiciary’s equitable powers ought to change, it is important to understand something of their origin and how they have evolved over time. The fact that the discretion accorded to judges in equity is a fundamental feature has strong implications for what type of solutions are available to modern problems in equity.
Equity has long afforded substantial discretion to judges. The first reason for this is historical. The Court of Chancery in England started out as a court of conscience, to which parties could turn to when the common law courts failed to give them justice: “[t]he Office of the Chancellor is . . . to soften and mollify the Extremity of the Law.” The king was seen as the fount of all justice, and the office of chancellor evolved to assist the king in administering the “king’s justice.” The fact that early chancellors were religious figures cemented the role of conscience over form, and caused ecclesiastical law to have a strong influence on equity. The freezing of additional common law writs with the Provisions of Oxford in 1258 exacerbated law’s more formalistic tendencies, which made common law courts useless in solving certain new legal problems, particularly cases surrounding use of real property. Accordingly, the chancellor was accorded a great deal of discretion in addressing these novel problems, and in ordering the appropriate remedy.
Indeed, the chancellor’s discretion was so absolute that it prompted harsh criticism, perhaps none more well-known than John Selden’s witty remark that:
Equity is a Roguish thing, for Law we have a measure . . . . Equity is according to the conscience of him that is Chancellor, and as that is larger or narrower so is equity. “Tis all one, as if they should make his foot the standard for the measure we call a Chancellor’s foot; what an uncertain measure would this be! One Chancellor has a long foot, another a short foot, a third an indifferent foot.”
The view that equity existed to make up for the common law courts’ rigidity and formalism existed not only in the 17th century, but was echoed by Blackstone over one hundred years later. Paraphrasing Aristotle, Blackstone wrote:
For since in laws all cases cannot be foreseen or expressed, it is necessary, that when the general decrees of the law come to be applied to particular cases, there should be somewhere a power vested of excepting those circumstances, which (had they been foreseen) the legislator himself would have excepted.
Even as the chancellor ceased to be seen as a religious figure and took on a more secular role, equity’s role in correcting injustices that resulted from the inadequacies of common law courts continued. In sum, regardless of the reasonphilosophy, history, or simple necessitydiscretion became an intrinsic feature of equity.
Over the years, questions about the role of the judiciary in controlling legislation and enforcing the constitutional order have abounded. The accusation that Justice Marshall invented judicial review has been widely circulated. Notwithstanding the widespread traction this idea has gained, it is false. Professor Randy Barnett convincingly made this argument from an originalist perspective, showing that both proponents and opponents of the Constitution understood it to give the courts this power. Most important for our purposes, this power included the power of judicial nullification of legislation. While I mention this part of the history only in passing, it is important to the question of nationwide injunctions because in constitutional cases, it shows that the courts are to play a role in being intermediaries between the people and the other two branches of the government, not merely the servants of Congress.
Part of what makes the debate over nationwide injunctions so complex is that there are powerful values on both sides of the debate, any of which could be outcome determinative in a given case. This section examines both the benefits and harms of nationwide injunctions.
- Rule of Law and Uniformity
Perhaps the strongest reason for the proliferation of nationwide injunctions is a simple, moral intuition that it is wrong to allow illegal, especially unconstitutional, conduct from continuing unchecked. While nationwide injunctions are a relatively new phenomenon, the beginning of their logic stems all the way to Marbury v. Madison. At least since Marbury, it has been firmly established that the courts have the power to strike down laws. It is only a small step from the concept of judicial review to the nationwide injunction, because if it is the job of the courts to declare what the law is, any view which contradicts a judicial opinion is, in a sense, not the law. This is particularly true in constitutional matters because the constitution is the supreme law of the land, rendering all statutes that conflict with it moot. To allow an agency to continue enforcing a “moot” law violates this basic principal.
Indeed, in the first judicial decision to directly address concerns about the propriety of nationwide injunctions, Judge Leinenweber identified precisely this concern: “The rule of law is undermined where a court holds that the Attorney General is likely engaging in legally unauthorized conduct, but nevertheless allows that conduct in other jurisdictions across the country.” This persuasive argument in favor of nationwide injunctions also justifies their increasingly widespread use. Since the federal government generally enacts policies and statutes uniformly around the country, if one of those policies or statues is unconstitutional, the harm is likewise nationwide. If the rule of law is harmed by allowing any similarly situated citizen to be harmed, nationwide injunctions will become the norm.
- Egalitarian Concerns
By protecting affected individuals not party to the litigation, nationwide injunctions also promote equality. In fact, Wirtz v. Baldor Electric Company, the case that first issued a nationwide injunction, advanced the idea that all similarly situated plaintiffs deserve the same outcome from the law counseled toward issuing a broad injunction. “[Where] a lower court … has spoken, that court would ordinarily give the same relief to any individual who comes to it with an essentially similar cause of action.” These concerns about equality are exacerbated when similarly situated plaintiffs have different access to legal resources.
- Judicial Economy
Lastly, nationwide injunctions help preserve judicial resources. While a slower, more incremental approach may allow for “percolation” of the best ideas on the subject, nationwide injunctions decide the issue immediately for the whole nation, preventing duplicative litigation and reducing the courts’ dockets. Given widespread concern about the sometimes exorbitant costs of litigation and costs to society of paying for a judicial system, it may be most beneficial to have some legal issues decided once and for all.
- Forum Shopping
Accusations of forum shopping for judges who are ideologically inclined to the plaintiff or plaintiffs have, with the increased use of broad equitable remedies, become commonplace and well publicized. They also cross political boundaries. Most recently, many conservatives cried foul when judges issued nationwide injunctions against the Trump administration’s so-called “Muslim ban.” It probably did not help that two of these cases were issued by judges in the 9th Circuit, which has a reputation for being one of the more liberal circuits in the country. Similarly, multiple pieces of notable environmental litigation against the Bush Administration was filed in the Ninth Circuit.
Possibly the most obvious case of forum shopping occurred in United States v. Texas, where Texas and other states sued the Obama Administration over its immigration program, “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” (DAPA), which granted legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. The case was brought in the Southern District of Texas in the Brownsville division which had only two active judges. One of those judges was Andrew Hanen who was known to be conservative and had publicly criticized the Obama Administration’s immigration policies. Judge Andrew Hanen ended up getting the case. Forum shopping runs the risk of painting the judicial process as just another instance of political gamesmanship, endangering respect for the judicial process as a whole.
- Asymmetric Effects of Injunctions
An issue similar to yet distinct from forum shopping is asymmetric issue preclusion. If a challenge is brought to a statute and it is upheld, that decision is directly binding only on the parties to that case. If instead the statute is found unconstitutional and a nationwide injunction is issued, the federal government is enjoined from enforcing that statute anywhere. A sobering example of this asymmetry is illustrated in United States v. AMC Entertainment, which involved interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the Fifth Circuit held for AMC, a district court in California ruled against AMC, issuing an injunction that was nationwide in scope and conflicted with the Fifth Circuit’s decision. While the 9th Circuit later narrowed the injunction to exempt the 5th Circuit because comity concerns, the results asymmetrically benefitted the plaintiffs. Even though AMC won once and lost once, it had to comply with the 9th Circuit’s injunction in eleven out of twelve circuits. While that case involved a private party defendant, it illustrates the same problems the federal government faces as a defendant. This asymmetry exacerbates the potential for forum shopping because even if the initial plaintiff does not forum shop and the statute is upheld, future plaintiffs” need only find a single ideologically aligned judge to defeat the government.
- Conflicting Injunctions
The possibility that judges will issue conflicting injunctions is a doomsday scenario which has never taken place, but the previously mentioned case United States v. Texas offers some valuable lessons in the dangers of nationwide injunctions. After 5th Circuit affirmed the district court, the death of Justice Scalia caused the Supreme Court to split 4-4, affirming the 5th Circuit’s decision. Many plaintiffs attempted to circumvent the District of Texas’ injunction by challenging its scope, while one district judge in New York even signaled his willingness to disregard the district court in Texas’ injunction. While Scalia’s seat has since been filled, this case showed a possible doomsday scenario: two circuits issue conflicting decisions, while the Supreme Court deadlocks 4-4 on the constitutionality of the statute. This could leave a plaintiff in a bind, mandated by one judge to follow a statute, but prohibited by another from doing the same.
No such doomsday scenario has occurred recently, since most conflicts are resolved by one court backing down, the case being reversed by the circuit court, or one court’s decision to exclude from injunctions circuits which have upheld challenged policies. However, it is just common sense conflicting injunctions are much more likely if judges issue more injunctions with broad scopes. Since nationwide injunctions are a relatively recent and rapidly proliferating phenomenon, it is likely that more conflicts will occur.
- Damages the Supreme Court’s Supervisory Position
One widely hailed benefit of the circuit court system is that it allows for what Judge Leventhal famously called a “value in percolation among the circuits.” Under this account, the ability of multiple circuits to review novel issues of law and fashion different solutions to them provides at least two advantages. First, it helps filter out the truly difficult cases, which would benefit most from Supreme Court review. If an issue seems difficult at first but every circuit to review it comes to the same conclusion, the likelihood that it was decided correctly are high. If not, than the Supreme Court can and should exercise appellate review to resolve the circuit split. Second, percolation allows for more judges to lend their voices to the discussion, increasing the diversity of viewpoints presented, which may cause the final version of arguments on both sides to be presented in their most compelling forms. In Justice Ginsburg’s words, “[W]hen frontier legal problems are presented, periods of ‘percolation’ in, and diverse opinions from, state and federal appellate courts may yield a better informed and more enduring final pronouncement by this Court.”
Nationwide injunctions undercut both of these features of our system. First, they prevent the system from screening meritorious issues as effectively. A nationwide injunction may increase or decrease the chance of certiori being granted. If the case is relatively mundane, the chances of cert. being granted are likely decreased since no circuit split is able to develop, keeping the case off the radar. If the case is high-profile, as was the case with DAPA litigation, a nationwide injunction may have the opposite effect, forcing the Supreme Court to grant cert. as soon as possible to resolve the resulting crisis. In both cases, however, the filtering process fails, forcing the Supreme Court to take cases it might not have needed to take, or preventing important legal issues from garnering the attention they deserve. When cases are forced through the system more quickly with no other circuits having a chance to review the issue, the Supreme Court looses out on some of the insight it might have gained from those circuit judges and legal scholarship that would otherwise have time to be written.
- Lack of Remedial Uniformity
One of the primary articulated advantages of nationwide injunctions is that they promote uniformity among the courts. Ironically, however, the use of nationwide injunctions has left the law of equity itself in a state of disarray. Contrast, for example, two quotes from the same circuit. Judge Posner wrote in 2011 “[w]hen the court believes the underlying right to be highly significant, it may write injunctive relief as broad as the right itself.” However, another 7th Circuit decision that Posner himself signed onto stated the opposite conclusion: “A wrong done to plaintiff in the past does not authorize prospective, classwide relief unless a class has been certified. Why else bother with class actions?” Nor is this confusion limited to the relationship between class actions and broad injunctive relief. Courts are split on whether the Administrative Procedure Act calls for nationwide injunctions, and whether o not facial challenges are more deserving of nationwide injunctions. As a result, judges have virtually complete discretion whether or not to issue an injunction, and can cite authority supporting any decision about the scope of equitable relief.
- Conflicts with Other Doctrine
Part of the appeal of nationwide injunctions is it appears egalitariana narrow injunction protects only the plaintiff who happened to initiate the litigation and had the resources to do so. It may seem unfair to allow the government to enforce an unconstitutional in other jurisdictions when, with the stroke of a pen, the district court judge can right all the nation’s wrongs. However reasonable, this conflicts with two widely accepted legal rules: the rule that non-mutual issue preclusion does not apply to the federal government, and intercircuit agency non-acquiescence.
The first of these rules was endorsed unanimously by the Supreme Court in United States v. Mendoza, which held that the federal government was not subject to non-mutual issue preclusion. This means that the federal government is free to re-litigate issues that it previously lost. The doctrine of issue preclusion (also known as collateral estoppel) holds that parties are estopped from relitigating issues that they had already litigated and lost. The common-law rule was that collateral estoppel required mutuality, meaning that it only applied if the party asserting collateral estoppel and the party it was being asserted against were parties (or privies) to the original litigation. The Supreme Court relaxed the requirement of mutuality in the interest of preserving judicial resources, but also to promote finality and uniformity. In Mendoza, however, the Supreme Court ruled that nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel does not apply to the government because doing so would “substantially thwart the development of important questions of law by freezing the first final decision rendered on a particular legal issue.”
Nationwide injunctions, however, constitute an end-around Mendoza because they effectively prevent the federal government from relitigating issues in other courts, subjecting the federal government to a form of de-facto claim preclusion. As noted above, this poses the same harms to the judicial system that non-mutual claim preclusion against the government would have: thwarting percolation among the circuits and putting pressure on the Supreme Court’s certiori process. Even though Mendoza signaled the importance of the federal government having discretion in relitigating previously decided issues, courts have frequently prevented exactly that by issuing nationwide injunctions.
Intercircuit agency nonacquiescence is a second doctrinal inconsistency with the use of nationwide injunctions is. While the Supreme Court has never specifically endorsed any form of agency nonacquiescence, it flows logically from Mendoza and the rule against intercircuit stare decisis: if court of appeals decisions are only precedential within their circuit, and if according to Mendoza the federal government should be free relitigate issues in multiple circuits, then agencies should not be bound by a judicial decision nationwide until the Supreme Court resolves the issue. Leaving to one side the argument over whether intracircuit nonacquiescence is constitutional, intercircuit nonacquiescence has been widely accepted. However, just as nationwide injunctions constitute an end-around Mendoza, they effectively nullify agency nonacquiescence. By enjoining agencies from enforcing policies anywhere in the country, nationwide injunctions essentially require agencies to acquiesce to the injunction-issuing district court.
One of the first and widely cited articles to argue how nationwide injunctions could be limited was written by Professor Bray. He argues that, because the role of the courts is solely to do justice to the parties before the court, courts do not and should not have the power to enjoin a defendant vis-à-vis anyone but named plaintiffs. Professor Bray finds evidence for this proposition in two sources: Article III and traditional principles of equity. Bray argues that because, at equity, there were no injunctions against the crown, since as noted above the chancellor spoke on behalf of the king, there can be no support in equity for nationwide injunctions. Second, Professor Bay argues that because Article III gave the courts the “judicial power” and this power was only a power to do justice between the parties before the court, any equitable remedy that reaches beyond the named plaintiffs violates Article III. Lastly, Professor Bray argues that limits on traditional equity were not necessary because there was one chancellor, while because of the circuit court system in the United States there are “multiple chancellors.”
While Professor Bray’s plaintiff-limited injunction is clear and easy to apply, it is to be disfavored for multiple reasons. First, as noted above, while it is true that traditional principles of equity did not often allow for courts to reach non-parties, equity constantly evolved to meet new issues of the day that the formalistic and static common law could not. Even if this is true, it represents an unfortunate misunderstanding of the role of equity. Because the chancellor stood in the place of “God and King,” equity’s ability to fashion new remedies to meet new problems is clearly established. Had there been a widespread failure of the common law that required injunctions to other parties, it seems clear that equity would have had the authority to do exactly that.
Professor Bray’s Article III argument is distinct, but also vulnerable. Under this account, the “older” (and correct) conception of the judiciary is one in which the judiciary merely refused to apply statutes that conflicted with the constitution because there was a higher law, while the “new” (and false) conception of judicial review is that judges “strike down” unconstitutional statutes. While a thorough argument about the proper conception of the judiciary is beyond the purview of this note, Professor Bray’s article endorses a narrow view of judicial review that, while endorsed off and on by the Court at various times, is inconsistent with the founder’s understanding of the judiciary. As noted above in the section on the founding, Professor Barnett convincingly argues that the original meaning of the “judicial power” included the judicial nullification. While Barnett cites may convincing sources of the original meaning of the “judicial power,” one quote from Alexander Hamilton is particularly instructive: “the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority.” If one accepts an originalist framework, as Professor Bray appears to do, it is clear that the courts have a role in supervising the constitutional order, and are not relegated to declining to enforce statutes out of protest.
Even if Professor Bray were correct about the proper role of the judiciary, his proposition is clearly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s current view of the propriety of injunctions reaching beyond class members. The Supreme Court has recognized that district courts enjoy substantial discretion in fashioning equitable relief, just as in England since equity was “transplanted” here in 1789. While no doubt Professor Bray would gladly acknowledge what a revolutionary effect his theory would have if it were implemented, a rigid rule that a court could never reach beyond named plaintiffs is not only contrary to the idea that equity involves discretion, but would lead to a plethora of unintended consequences.
Professor Bray freely acknowledges one of the most strikingplaintiff detection. The example he provides is a good one, which was a set of fourteen plaintiffs who challengedand won a California Highway Patrol policy of aggressive enforcement of helmet law, which the court found to violate Fourth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction against the Highway Patrol enforcing the policy against anyone, not just the named plaintiffs, because it would be incredibly impractical for officers to be able to tell whether a motorcyclist on the road was one of the fourteen named plaintiffs that had won an injunction against the state. Professor Bray responds that this does not matter because the burden is on the State to find a way to comply with the injunction, and state could embrace a more “creative option, such as distributing decals to the [plaintiffs]” to assist officers with identification. Of course, there is a simpler option: allowing a statewide injunction.
Similar but even more difficult cases cannot be solved by issuing decals to plaintiffs, even if that were an acceptable option. Take, for example, school desegregation. It is perhaps unsurprising that injunctions against governmental entities changed during this time as Bray points out since the harm felt by discrimination was felt by an entire race of citizens. As a result, the Supreme Court affirmed complex and far-reaching remedies, desegregating entire school districts, setting up bussing, which was an extremely complex remedial scheme. Another possible example would be nuisance law, where it would make little sense to enjoin Party A from polluting the stream of Party B if the pollution, in fact, affects a class of people not represented. Systemic harms require systemic remedies, but Professor Bray’s theory would atomize the legal system, handicapping it from addressing these types of problems.
A second, more modest proposal is Zayn Siddique’s “complete relief” principle, which more or less restates the status quo approach to issuing injunctions. This rule would direct courts that “injunctive relief should be no more burdensome to the defendant than necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs.” This principle is sound, but is insufficient for a few reasons. The most fundamental is that since this rule is already widely accepted by the courts, if it was going to work in constraining judges, it would have done so already. Second, the “complete relief” principle works for and against the cause of reducing judicial discretion with nationwide injunctions depending on which half of the rule is emphasized. Judges who decide to issue an injunction emphasize affording “complete relief,” to plaintiffs, while those who decide that a nationwide injunction is inappropriate emphasize fashioning remedies to be “no more burdensome to the defendant than necessary.” Therefore this principle does nothing to change the status quo, and does not present an obstacle to a judge who feels strongly that an injunction is necessary.
A third approach to limiting the nationwide injunction is that nationwide injunction should be geographically limited to the circuit in which the issuing court resides. Berger argues that this approach is preferable because sometimes injunctions broader than just the named parties is necessary, but that nationwide injunctions are too extreme of a remedy and should not be used. Berger advocates this proposal for two reasons: the congressional policy choice to divide the circuits into geographic units, and the policies underlying the Supreme Court’s decision Califano, which held that the federal government is not subject to nonmutual issue preclusion. With the first warrant, Berger writes that the circuit court system “embody a congressional policy judgment that they are large enough to create regional uniformity yet distinct enough to foster genuine percolation and intercircuit dialogue, thus striking an equilibrium between these competing values. The circuit-border rule does the same.” As to the second warrantthe precedent of CalifanoBerger argues that because the Supreme Court communicated that the ability for the circuits to communicate with each other was important, and the circuit-border rule promotes the same value, it is supported by precedent.
While Berger’s thesis is an admirable attempt to solve a complex problem, it has a couple of shortcomings. The first of these is that it is supposed rest on implied congressional intent to limit the jurisdiction of courts to their circuits. The problem with this argument is that traditional rules of equity have long held that equity could enjoin acts committed outside of the court’s territorial jurisdiction. Indeed, language in Califano, itself a source Berger identifies as support for the circuit-border rule, rules out the idea that equity is limited by geography. Given the long, unbroken history of equity acting “in personam” regardless of geographical lines, one would expect Congress to be more explicit if it intended to restrict courts’ authority in this way.
Second, the circuit-border rule is arbitrary. While the circuit borders are a useful way of breaking up the nation, one could instead use the borders of the 94 district courts. While such a system would doubtless be difficult to administer (though still more flexible than the principle advocated by Bray), the choice of where to draw the lines is a policy choice, and has no equitable “pedigree.” Therefore, if the nationwide injunction is to be constrained, a different approach is necessary.
Other recommendations for constraining the national injunction have been advanced which deserve mention here. Professor Morley has suggested that courts apply an equal protection and severability analysis before issuing a nationwide injunction, requiring plaintiffs properly seeking broad remedies to certify as a 23(b)(2) class action. Maureen Carroll recommends a similar but softer approach: a set of changes to make class action lawsuits more appealing. Daniel J. Walker proposes a list of nine factors which courts should consider, suggestive of a multifactor balancing test. Lastly, Michelle R. Slack proposes a rule that courts should employ presumption against certifying a class action lawsuit when the government is a party. Each of these theories make good points but are not mutually exclusive with my proposal, but are included here for completeness.
The existence of discretion and ability to evolve is a feature, not a bug in the system of equity. However, it is not without drawbacks, namely the indeterminacy and inconsistency inherent with any system of standards and rules. This paper suggests that the solution to the problem is the obvious and time-tested one: equitable balancing. The concept of “balancing the equities” is hardly new, and courts already apply it in some form. In this section I argue that equitable balancing is consistent with equity’s history, and that balancing tests are beneficial because they force judges to justify their choice of remedy, an important feature of the common law method. The biggest roadblock to use of a balancing test in this arena are the sheer number of possible factors that could be used. This paper’s first contribution to the doctrinal landscape is that it proposes a three-factor framework to simplify the multiplicity of possible factors into a more manageable balancing test, providing both a means for evaluating different factual scenarios and for critiquing them.
Ultimately, it seems inevitable that courts will have a great deal of discretion when fashioning equitable remedies as this has been a feature of equity for centuries. Therefore, the only solution absent Congressional attention will return to the roots of equity, engaging in a multifactor balancing test to shape the appropriate remedy. As noted above, equity has a long history of providing courts with discretion. Therefore, absent a statute or evidence of congressional intent to the contrary, this discretion must be a feature of any system of injunctions. A system of multi-factor balancing is the only system that meets this description. However, to effectively construct a multifactor balancing test, it is necessary to examine as many possible factors as possible. Unfortunately, the sheer number of possible factors has not been appreciated by previous scholars, and a thorough examination shows that there are far too many to construct a simple balancing test.
While there has been some attempt to evaluate the factors courts have and should consider when deciding whether to issue a nationwide injunction, any list will almost certainly be under inclusive since it is likely impossible to consider, ex ante, every possible factor. Nevertheless, this note attempts to collect the most important factorsand quite a few miscellaneous factorsthat have been and should be considered by courts when fashioning an injunction.
- State Courts, “Our Federalism,” and Abstention Issues
The doctrine of “Our Federalism” holds that federal courts should not enjoin an ongoing state prosecution out of concern for the interest of the states in carrying out prosecutions. “Our Federalism” is conceptually similar to anti-commandeering cases established by the Rehnquist court in New York v. United States and Printz v. United States. There are a number of abstention doctrines, including Pullman, Colorado River, Burford, and Rooker-Feldman abstention, which are similar in the sense that they often consider issues of comity between the courts, but since they are doctrines of abstention they leave discretion to the judge applying them that the 10th Amendment cases do not. While the details of injunctions will vary from doctrine to doctrine, the existence of a state as a party, especially as a defendant, may counsel towards a narrower injunction or even no injunction at all.
- Federal Agencies, Intercircuit Nonacquiescence, and Mendoza
Because of the holding in United States v. Mendoza, the presence of an agency as a defendant is a significant factor in weighing whether to issue a nationwide injunction or not. Because a nationwide injunction does, to some extent, subject an agency to de-facto issue preclusion and renders intercircuit nonacquiescence moot, if an agency is the defendant against whom an injunction is sought, a narrowing presumption is to be favored.
- Type of Agency being Enjoined
The type of agency is also material in the likelihood that a court will show difference when balancing the equities. Courts may be more likely to give deference to law enforcement agencies a greater deal of deference than they would other types of agencies. For example, while this may be partially due to the nature of an inmate’s rights rather than the type of agency itself, the Supreme Court has approved some restrictions on inmate behavior by prison administrators, like limits on contact with the outside world, that would not be permissible in another context. Similar in principle to issues of comity, federalism, and separation of powers, courts must be sure to not unduly pressure law enforcement’s ability to carry out their legal duties, while simultaneously protecting the rights of those law enforcement interacts with.
- Substantive Area of Law and Scope of the Injury
One of the most important factors courts must consider is the substantive area of law being applied. As noted above, civil rights cases are more likely to require complex, systemic remedies than a breach of contract case (even one involving the federal government) would. First Amendment may likewise be a candidate for broader injunctions because the harm experienced, through a chilling of speech, is diffuse and difficult to trace completely to one particular plaintiff or group of plaintiffs. Professor Morley’s recommendation that courts conduct a kind of severability analysis concerns exactly this issue. If the harm to particular plaintiffs can be addressed by eliminating just certain portions of the statute, then a broad injunction overturning the entire statute is not necessary. By examining how localized the harm is, geographical, statutory, or otherwise, courts have an indication of how broad the remedy may need to be to afford complete relief.
- Facial vs. As Applied Challenges
While some courts have arguably gone too far in treating the existence of a facial challenge as prima facie support for a nationwide injunction against an act, the nature of the challenge is nonetheless important. An influential opinion in this regard is Justice Blackmun’s dissent in Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, where he stated that as-applied challenges generally justify narrow remedies, while facial challenges justify remedies that benefit non-parties. These broad remedies are not necessarily mandated in such cases and courts should consider other factors, but they are permissible.
- The Type of Injunction Sought
The type of injunction sought is material to the scope of that injunction. For example, mandatory injunctions are generally more onerous on the defendant than a prohibitory injunction because they require the defendant to actively carry out some action rather than simply refraining from action. In addition, the procedural facts of the case are important, as preliminary injunctions are generally easier to get than permanent injunctions, and should therefore be more narrowly tailored until more discovery can be done into the nature of the violation (assuming that a legal wrong has even been committed).
- Judicial Resources and Venue Considerations
In at least one case that discussed the propriety of class-wide relief in the absence of a class-action lawsuit, conservation of judicial resources was an important factor that weighed in favor of issuing an injunction. While the court also argued that the APA mandated broad injunctions, a concern that a plaintiff-focus injunction would “merely to generate a flood of duplicative litigation.” The fact that much of this litigation centered in the D.C. Circuit factored into the court’s prediction. The pressures each circuit faces are different and the chances for duplicate litigation are unique to each case, so likely no abstract principle can be stated, but conservation of judicial resources may sometimes weigh towards issuing a broad injunction.
- Boundaries of the Potential Class and Asymmetric Effects of Res Judicata
The boundary of potentially affected non-parties influences whether a broad remedy is appropriate absent a class action suit for two reasons. The first of these is that if the affected class of non-parties is very small and cohesive, an injunction that reaches non-parties even more clearly falls within a court’s equitable powers, as it approximates the English concept of a “bill of peace” which even Professor Bray acknowledges may be an appropriate use of the judicial power.
More fundamentally, however, is the problem that allowing for a single class member to win an injunction that affects a large class puts defendants at systemic disadvantage. With a class action, a defendant benefits from getting res judicata against members of the class, but faces an equally large liability towards each member of the class. In contrast, if a single plaintiff can win a broad injunction that benefits an entire class, the liability to the defendant approximates that of a class action lawsuit, but if the defendant wins the res judicata effect of that decision applies only against one plaintiff, leaving an almost infinite number of other plaintiffs to bring the same lawsuit.
- Miscellaneous Factors
In addition to the factors listed above, there are five potential issues with nationwide injunctions which I list here because they have been discussed at length elsewhere. Uniformity, plaintiff detection, egalitarian concerns, forum shopping, comity concerns surrounding conflicting injunctions, and percolation, are all factors that affect the proper scope of an injunction. For discussion of these topics in greater detail, see section II.
In sum, no fewer than fourteen factors are relevant in discussing the proper scope of a nationwide injunction, and there are certainly more, and some of these listed could doubtlessly be broken up in even more detail. However, it seems clear that Daniel Walker’s complex balancing test is even more complex than it first appears, and a purely ad hoc balancing of so many factors will leave judges with almost infinite discretion.
This paper’s first, and perhaps most significant innovation is a new framework for categorizing and evaluating the factors that affect nationwide injunctions. While these factors are deserving of individual consideration, paying attention to the key characteristics of each reveals that there are really three categories of factors: the nature of the parties before the court, the substantive law at issue, and the effect of the decision on the court system as a whole. These factors can be thought of as asking “who,” “what,” and “where” respectively.
- “Who:” the parties before the court
The first of these categories is the nature of the parties before the court. This category includes:
- The type of party involved (state, federal, and private parties)
- Federalism and abstention issues associated with state defendants
- The precedent of Mendoza and intercircuit agency nonacquiescence
- The type of agency being sued (including whether is a law enforcement agency)
- The presence of a certified class (or conversely the size of the non-party beneficiaries)
- Plaintiff-detection issues.
- “What:” The substantive issue being litigated
This category includes:
- The Substantive Area of Law/Scope of the Injury
- Facial vs. As Applied Challenges
- Type of Injunction Sought
- “Where:” The court deciding the case and the macro effects on the court system as a whole
- Boundaries of the Class and Asymmetric Effects of Res Judicata
- Conservation of Judicial Resources / Venue Considerations
- Uniformity in Application of the Law
- Comity and Conflicting Injunctions
- Forum Shopping
This note’s second innovation is in how courts can use this factor category framework to effectively apply a multifactor balancing test in determining when a nationwide injunction is appropriate.
Because the main obstacle towards reigning in the unfettered use of nationwide injunctions is in the ability to reverse at the court of appeals level, and a multifactor balancing test is a kind of standard, district courts will be reviewed for abuse of discretion. Professor Bray argues that this is a fundamental flaw with using a standard. While I acknowledge this difficulty, the danger is overstated. At the very least, there exists a category of cases which are “hot:” when all three categories point towards issuing a broad injunction, then a court is firmly within its power to do so. In contrast, when all three factors point against issuing a broad injunction, then it is abuse of a discretion for a court to do so. While this is imperfect since often the factors will be split, this at least affords a way to curb the greatest errors of the judiciary without resorting to the extreme position of never allowing remedies to reach non-parties.
Even in those cases where the categories are split, resorting to a balancing test still affords a benefit over the status quo: it forces judges to describe and justify their reasoning. The good news for those concerned about nationwide injunctions is that, perhaps, a dialogue about the proper scope of injunctive relief is beginning which can iron out the details of these difficult cases. This is the ordinary conception of how the common law works. As Oliver Wendell Holmes’ eloquently stated “We must think things not words, or at least we must constantly translate our words into the facts for which they stand . . . .” Legal rules are made to apply to real circumstances, and by testing out different approaches, over time more effective rules are developed. Injunctions should be no exception.
While nationwide injunctions in general are controversial, none has gotten as much widespread attention as Executive Order 13769 and its successor Executive Order 13780, popularly referred to as the travel ban. While the first and second executive orders differed in important ways from a liability perspective, from a remedies perspective they were nearly identical and will be analyzed together.
With the first category, the identity and nature of the parties before the court, the defendant was (obviously) the federal government and the specific agencies involved included the Department of Homeland Security, the Secretary of State, and the President himself. The dangers of enjoining the President at least are strong, analogous to the dangers of enjoining a law enforcement agency since the President is made responsible for overseeing enforcement of the laws by the Take Care Clause. Indeed, the Fourth Circuit and Ninth Circuits both reversed the district courts’ injunctions against the President personally for these exact prudential reasons, though it kept the rest of the injunction intact. Issues surrounding intercircuit nonacquiescence were somewhat ameliorated because two district courts and two courts of appeals had the chance to review the revised order and another district and circuit court had already reviewed the first order. The last relevant sub-factor, the breadth of the affected class, weighs strongly against issuing an injunction. While it is difficult to say how many people the first or second travel bans would have affected, the revised travel ban limited the number of refugees per year to 50,000 while President Obama had planned to admit around 100,000, so the number of unnamed plaintiffs affected is likely in the tens of thousands. Putting the pieces together, every relevant sub-factor counsels against issuing an injunction, so this category counsels against issuing an injunction.
The second category, the substantive area of law, is more balanced but also counsels against issuing an injunction. Immigration law does not have the same spill-over effects associated with nuisance law for example. The Fourth Circuit did reason that Establishment Clause violations justify broader injunctions because allowing the policy to be enforced against others would send a message that the plaintiffs were “outsiders” and “not full members of the political community” citing Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. Yet the Fourth Circuit’s reliance on Santa Fe seems misplaced as the quote in question went to liability, not the appropriate scope of the remedy. More importantly, it was possible to make distinctions between the injury felt by the individual plaintiffs seeking entry to the United States, while prayer at school football games (which was at issue in Santa Fe) is binaryeither it happens or it does not). Because the injury is severable from the whole, this sub-element councils against issuing an injunction. The challenge was a facial challenge however, which cuts the other direction. The type of injunction sought was also prohibitory (against the executive order taking effect) which is less onerous than a mandatory injunction. On balance this category counsels against issuing an injunction because if the mere fact that a challenge were facial and prohibitorywhich almost all constitutional suits against enforcement of a law arewould be sufficient to justify an injunction. Therefore the type of injury involved does not justify a broad injunction.
The third and final category, the effect on the court system, likewise points away from a nationwide injunction. The boundaries of the class size are very large, so the asymmetric effects of the Res Judicata are large. Only one plaintiff must prevail for every class member to benefit, while the government gets the benefit of Res Judicata. There does not appear to be a court crowding issue specifically at play like in National Mining Associationas none of the cases had to be filed in a specific circuit. Forum shopping is certainly a potential problem since an immigrant could plan to use any city as port of entry (that received international flights) to receive standing to sue in the district of their choosing. Similar to the issue of nonmutual issue preclusion, the chance for percolation among the courts was hurt by these injunctions, though multiple courts still issued opinions and the issue was so well publicized that there was little chance that the Supreme Court would need a circuit split to be convinced to take the case. Uniformity in application of the law, as with any case, also played a role and was specifically mentioned by both courts of appeals. Ultimately the direction this factor ought to lean depends on the weight one puts on the doctrinal problem with unjust Res Judicata results against the government, forum shopping, and percolation, compared with the benefit of uniformity and efficiency. However, as Professor Bray eloquently argues, Congress’s choice to break up the courts into circuit was itself a policy decision to endure a loss of uniformity and efficiency for more incremental, but less unstable change. “Each legal system can pick its poison, tending toward the vices of immediate, final resolution or the vices of slow, provisional resolution.” In close cases, because Congress has already made this policy decision, courts should apply that same policy preference in cases like this one.
On June 15, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security implemented a policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), by which DHS would no longer prosecute those who were brought to the United States as children but had not immigrated legally. That policy was supplemented on November 20, 2014 through the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program which extended similar protections to parents of American citizens or lawful permanent residents. Seventeen states jointly sued the United States under the Take Care Clause and Administrative Procedure Act. The district court issued a preliminary injunction which was nationwide in scope which was upheld by the Fifth Circuit. The Supreme Court however, due to the death of Justice Scalia, split 4-4, upholding district court’s opinion.
In reviewing the propriety of this injunction, the first factor of the identity of the parties before the court, favors issuance of a nationwide injunction. While the defendant in this case was the federal government, the plaintiffs were also governments. More importantly, because the size of the “class” of states is fifty, seventeen out of the fifty in that class were represented, and apparently all of the states who wished to sue had joined the lawsuit, most of the sub-factors in this category were not a problem. The government had no interest in continuing to litigate the issue in other circuits because there would be no more litigation on this subject. The non-party beneficiary class was very low. Therefore, this factor could only have more strongly favored a nationwide injunction if every single state joined the lawsuit, which effectively means that one could hardly imagine a better set of facts for purposes of this category.
The second category, the substantive nature of the claim, likewise supports an injunction. This was a facial challenge, the injunction was prohibitory (against the memo having legal effect), and most importantly the plaintiffs could not be made whole without a nationwide injunction because, much like with constitutionality of school prayer in Santa Fe, legal status is binaryeither immigrants have the right to be in the United States or they do not. Perhaps a circuit border rule could be implemented based on where an immigrant was apprehended, but this would likely be a logistical nightmare. Moreover, this would make it harder for states who won to keep undocumented immigrants out of their state since every border with a state that did not join the lawsuitnot just the Mexico and Canadian borderswould become a possible entry point, which the Border Patrol was almost certainly unable to handle. Therefore this injunction also strongly favored a nationwide injunction.
Lastly the third factor, the effect on the courts, also mostly favors issuing an injunction. Once again, because there would only be one lawsuit of this kind since 17 states all joined the lawsuit, there were no asymmetric disadvantages to the federal government, and neither are there comity or percolation issues. Uniformity also favors a nationwide injunction (as it almost always does). Forum shopping is something of a concern, perhaps in this case more than any other because there were such strong indications of careful venue selection. This makes this case interesting because single other sub-factor discussed was either moot or favored a broad remedy, but this one factor is extremely clear and negative. While this is unfortunate, the effect on the court system of issuing this injunction were still generally positive in this case because the case was likely to head to the Supreme Court anyways (it took about a year for the Supreme Court to issue a decision, and at the time no-one could have predicted Scalia’s death), and had the policy gone into effect the courts would have had to expend considerably more resources unwinding the policy. While this category is the closest of the three, it still pointed towards issuing an injunction.
In summary, while there are lessons about the dangers of forum shopping to be learned from Texas, all three categories pointed towards issuing an injunction. While a careful look at the disadvantages of nationwide injunctions should, at least compared to the status quo, lead to fewer nationwide injunctions, this is not always the case as Texas v. United States shows.
2017) (denying injunctive relief on the basis that plaintiffs failed to show likelihood of success on
the merits). That victory was essentially rendered meaningless when it was effectively overruled by the nationwide injunctions issued by the other district courts.
Trust & Savings Association in 1942, which has since been adopted by the federal courts. 122 P.2d 892 (1942).
Nonacquiescence and the EPA’s Water Transfer Rule Dilute the Clean Water Act after Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. v. City of New York, 60 Me. L. Rev. 173, 175 (2008).
the nature of the right being vindicated.”).
be enforced without the invalidated portions.”).