Monday, December 26, 2011

Pryor Restraint, Part II

What is going on in Birmingham? I just wrote a post about how Judge Bill Pryor, known as one of the more conservative judges on the 11th Circuit, keeps on joining surprisingly liberal opinions (I attributed this to the presence of a friend of mine who is currently clerking for him). And here is another one, perhaps the most shocking of all, since it flatly reverses an opinion by the same panel.

The case is one I commented on before, centering around whether calling a Black employee "boy" is evidence of racial animus in an employment discrimination case. The 11th Circuit had previously ruled "no", and was reversed by the Supreme Court. Then on remand, it answered "no" again (with respect to the facts of this case), and remanding the case for a new trial. And now, the trial having been completed again, with another verdict for the plaintiff, the 11th Circuit has finally caved, vacating its last opinion and upholding the verdict (save for the punitive damage award).

The New York Times observes that the opinion of the court reads more than a little begrudging (Pryor did not author this opinion), taking it upon itself to chastise an amicus brief by a group of civil rights leaders and concluding that the "verdict could have gone either way, and it went Hithon's way." But still, wow. It's rare to see a panel reverse itself like this, and a serious pattern with Pryor is emerging.

The question is whether it will continue without my secret agent in his chambers. Only time will tell.


troll_dc2 said...

Maybe the facts of the case were such that ideology did not matter much. I think that observers rely too much on "liberal" and "conservative" to explain judicial outcomes.

As for the amicus brief, the court said that it misstated the facts. Why should it not be upset?

David Schraub said...

Well, the 11th Circuit has worked really hard to toss this suit. So it is notable that it reversed its own opinion on the topic.

On the amicus brief, maybe the court's statement was entirely innocuous. But given the tenor of the opinion, it just came off as grumpy.