Dealing with frivolous litigation, whether filed by a seasoned attorney or a novice pro se litigant, is a bit like wrangling cats.
Robert J. Davis
While one doesn’t usually combine “birther” and “contribution” in the same sentence, the birther phenomenon has left its mark on the US justice system through educational examples, black letter law, and a bit of humor to spice up otherwise dull legal briefs. This article details ways in which the birthers in general, and Orly Taitz in particular, have contributed to the law.
A good example of bad behavior
I don’t know whether they teach this at the William Howard Taft online law school, but there are certain standard reference works that attorneys rely on to inform their practice and to find the citations that they need to make legal arguments. One source is the Practicing Law Institute whose mission is:
To enhance the professionalism of attorneys and other qualified persons by providing, in a cost effective manner, the highest quality and most innovative programs, publications and other services to enable them to practice law competently and ethically, and to fulfill pro bono responsibilities.
In 2010, the PLI published a paper by Koral and Price titled: “Trying the Court’s patience instead of the case: common litigation mistakes” to draw the line between “zealous advocacy” and “impermissible or injudicious tactics.” One way of brightening the line is to give examples of what constitutes “impermissible or injudicious tactics” and the birthers, in the person of Orly Taitz, provide a featured example of being on the wrong side of the line. Writing about Rhodes v. MacDonald, where Judge Clay D. Land sanctioned Taitz:
Attorney Orly Taitz provides a notorious recent example of an attorney’s conduct succeeding more at irritating the judge than at advancing the interests of her client. A member of the “birther” movement, which challenges President Obama’s citizenship on the grounds that he had failed to adequately prove that he was born in the United States, Ms. Taitz filed a motion in connection with this litigation on behalf of a Captain in the United States Army to enjoin her deployment to Iraq. District Judge Clay D. Land held that the motion was frivolous, and further found that “Plaintiff’s motion is being presented for the improper purpose of using the federal judiciary as a platform to espouse controversial political beliefs rather than as a legitimate forum for hearing legal claims.”
Taitz was sanctioned for her conduct in the case because, as Judge Land said:
[t]his pattern of conduct reveals that it will be difficult to get counsel’s attention [and so a] significant sanction is necessary to deter such conduct.
The PLI article was written in 2010, before Orly Taitz brought a federal lawsuit against Judge Land. I wonder what the article would say if it were written today!
Black letter law
The Wikipedia article on Precedent says:
In common law legal systems, a precedent or authority is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.
Black letter law is the body of cases that attorneys and courts look to for established precedent. If you have ever read a birther legal decision that involves dismissal for lack of standing, you will almost invariably see Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife cited. Once the body of birther lawsuits built, one began to see citations on standing to decided birther cases, notably Hollander v. McCain and Berg v. Obama. More recently we see extensive citations to Ankeny v. Governor of Indiana alongside US v. Wong on the question of whether Obama is a natural born citizen and Robinson v. Bowen on ripeness of election challenges.
The precedential value of birther lawsuits now extends beyond the backwaters of birtherism; they have become mainstream precedent in several areas of the law and now appear in the standard reference resources used by attorneys.