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January 16 2019

A tale of two injunctions — how a district court abuses its discretion

via The Hill
by Erin Hawley

With the stroke of her pen, Judge Wendy Beetlestone on Monday enjoinedthe Trump administration from enforcing certain final administrative rules “across the nation.” She found the plaintiff states likely to succeed in their challenge to Trump administration final rules that would exempt employers from a requirement to provide birth control coverage based on religious and moral objections.

But Judge Beetlestone’s judicial district does not extend across the nation. She is a district court judge sitting in Pennsylvania, part of the Third Circuit. And only two States, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, were plaintiffs in the case before her court.

Judge Beetlestone’s coast-to-coast injunction stands in stark contrast to another decision regarding the very same administrative rules regarding a religious exception to birth control coverage issued by a district court judge in California Sunday.

In the California case, Judge Gilliam also found the states likely to succeed in their challenge, but he issued a much narrower injunction. “On the present record,” the judge wrote, “the Court cannot conclude that the high threshold set by the Ninth Circuit for a nationwide injunction … has been met.” As a result, Judge Gilliam issued a limited injunction, enjoining the administration from enforcing the rules only vis-à-vis the thirteen states and the District of Columbia that were parties to the lawsuit.

Judge Gilliam was on strong footing. Indeed, in an earlier iteration of the case, the Ninth Circuit (hardly a conservative bastion) had reversed a nationwide injunction — finding such relief overbroad and an abuse of discretion.

As the Ninth Circuit wrote in that earlier case, nationwide injunctions come with many downsides. First, they impair judicial decision making. The Ninth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has often emphasized that “nationwide injunctions have detrimental consequences to the development of law and deprive appellate courts of a wider range of perspectives.”

The detrimental effect of nationwide injunctions is magnified when accompanied by an order halting trial proceedings, because the one-two punch of an injunction and a stay of lower court proceedings deprives reviewing courts of a fully developed factual record.

Further, nationwide injunctions encourage forum shopping — it’s no accident that the states challenging the administration’s religious objection exception to contraceptive coverage have sued in the Ninth and Third Circuits. Unless they intervene in the lawsuit (which may be located literally on the other coast), the issuance of a nationwide injunction deprives non-parties to a case of the ability to litigate in any court — much less their forum of choice.

As a result of its concerns over nationwide injunctions, the Ninth Circuit laid out a stringent test. While the court did not issue a per se bar to national injunctions, it held that “such broad relief must be ‘necessary to give prevailing parties the relief to which they are entitled.’”

The Ninth Circuit’s focus on these two factors — necessity and relief as to the particular parties before it — pervaded its opinion: The court quoted Supreme Court precedent for the proposition that injunctive relief “should be no more burdensome to the defendant than necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs” before the court. Further, where plaintiffs have failed to seek class certification, the court emphasized that injunctive relief should generally be limited to apply “only to the named plaintiffs.”

The Ninth Circuit thus struck down a national injunction enjoining prior versions of the administration’s moral and religious exceptions to contraceptive coverage as overbroad and an abuse of district court discretion. The remedial power of the injunction must be limited to the harms of the parties before the district court  — not the speculative harms of other states or other parties who were not part of the lawsuit.

Judge Beetlestone’s order is just the latest nationwide injunction to issue from a federal district court. Given her ruling, no other federal district judge will have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue  and no other state or interested party will be heard at the trial level. Under even Ninth Circuit precedent, that is too high a price to pay.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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