Thursday, November 12, 2009

Matsuo v. United States (9th Cir. - Nov. 12, 2009)

This morning, Chief Judge Kozinski writes one of his classically informally, perfunctory opinions. Full of contractions and the like, it basically says -- shortly and sweetly -- "You lose, and you lose because you lose. This is a sufficiently easy case that I don't even have to bother telling you why you lose in detail because it's so obvious."

Which is often distressing to the lawyers -- or at least those on the losing side -- because they've spent 50 or so pages arguing the various issues in detail. As a result, they often really want the court to at least respond to their arguments, rather than giving facile rejections, even if that's the way the case is going to end up.

For that reason, I'd probably be somewhat less inclined that the Chief is to write opinions like this one. Not because such opinions really need the extra language, since they somewhat don't. But I'd generally due so purely for respect and courtesy issues. The lawyers bothered to put in the time and make arguments. They at least deserve the courtesy of a explanatory rejection.

My reaction is the same, by the way, to exceptionally conclusory unpublished dispositions; e.g., ones that are merely one or two pages. Those often come out of the Ninth Circuit nowadays, and their frequency has only increased (for predictable reasons) after they changed the rules to allow unpublished dispositions to be cited.

All that said (and heartfelt), there are nonetheless some cases that may indeed merit largely conclusory resolution. And this might well be one of them.

In my mind, to state the question presented by this case is pretty much to answer it. Here's the first sentence of the opinion: "We decide whether the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990, 5 U.S.C. § 5301 et seq., imposes an unconstitutional burden on the right to travel." Does it violate the Constitution to pay people in different states different amounts? Of course not! It's absurd to even argue the contrary. Could you come up with an argument? Sure, I guess. And I guess if you did so you might ground it on the right to interstate travel. But you'd lose. For sure. There'd be a zero percent chance of victory. And entirely rightly so.

In those cases, I'm admittedly more on board for basically not wasting my time. I don't doubt that the plaintiffs (and their counsel) here are heartfelt, and believe what they believe. But in that select group of cases in which someone else's reality is so radically different from the world (and Constitution) that's actually present, I might be persuaded to get a little conclusory as well. Since my sense of courtesy is somewhat diminished by the fact that I think the case is not only so easy, but that pretty much everyone else in the world who's rational should understand that it's an easy case as well.

Ultimately, I might have been a little less conclusory that Chief Judge Kozinski here. Perhaps out of mere respect for plaintiff being able to come up with an argument that doesn't make me fall out of my chair laughing. But only slightly.