De Facto Class Actions? Plaintiff- and Defendant-Oriented Injunctions in Voting Rights, Election Law, and Other Constitutional Cases
70 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2016 Last revised: 24 Sep 2016
Date Written: February 6, 2016
When a court holds that a legal provision is unconstitutional; inconsistent with, or preempted by, federal law; or invalid under an agency's organic statute or a framework statute such as the Administrative Procedures Act, the court must decide whether to grant injunctive relief and, if so, how broad that relief should be. In particular, the court must decide whether to issue a Plaintiff-Oriented Injunction or a Defendant-Oriented Injunction. A Plaintiff-Oriented Injunction bars the government defendants from enforcing the challenged provision only against the plaintiffs in the case or affected members of plaintiff organizations. A Defendant-Oriented Injunction, in contrast, completely bars the government defendant from enforcing the challenged provision against anyone in the state or nation.
Many courts tend to award Defendant-Oriented Injunctions in election law and voting rights cases, even when they are not brought as class actions, without recognizing or addressing most of the pertinent issues that choice implicates. Individual plaintiffs typically lack Article III standing to seek relief protecting the rights of third parties not before the court. And such third parties may neither fall within the court’s personal jurisdiction nor wish to challenge the provision at issue. Defendant-Oriented Injunctions in non-class cases also raise asymmetric preclusion concerns, undermine the policy considerations underlying Rule 23, and allow trial courts to enforce their rulings beyond the geographic limits of their jurisdiction.
This Article presents a new framework for determining the proper scope of injunctive relief in election law, voting rights, and other constitutional cases. First the court should assess whether granting the requested relief solely to the individual plaintiffs would create unconstitutional disparities concerning fundamental rights in violation of Equal Protection principles, although this seldom, if ever, should be the case. Second, after confirming that limiting relief solely to the individual plaintiffs would be constitutional, the court should then determine whether such a Plaintiff-Oriented Injunction would be proper under the challenged statute or regulation itself by applying traditional severability principles. If the challenged provision can be applied coherently, and the entity that enacted the provision still would have intended for it to be enforced, even with the plaintiffs excluded from its scope, then a Plaintiff-Oriented Injunction would be the proper remedy. Otherwise, a Defendant-Oriented Injunction is required.
This Article further contends that, when plaintiffs file a non-class case seeking to enjoin a legal provision, the court should determine at the outset whether a Plaintiff- or Defendant-Oriented Injunction would be necessary if the plaintiffs prevail. If a Defendant-Oriented Injunction would be required, the court should order that the case proceed as a Rule 23(b)(2) class action so that all right holders who stand to benefit from a favorable ruling are included as class members. Conducting such an analysis at the outset of the case eliminates most of the concerns implicated by Defendant-Oriented Injunctions.
Keywords: injunction, equity, remedy, remedial, class action, Rule 23(b)(2), constitution, standing, personal jurisdiction, due process, territorial jurisdiction, geographic jurisdiction, claim preclusion, issue preclusion, res judicata, collateral estoppel, organizational standing, associational standing
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation