Peer Advisors v. United States
923 U.Va. 710 (2019)
Schmalzl, J., delivered the opinion of the unanimous Court.
Justice Schmalzl, for the Court.
The Court of Petty Appeals begins this sitting with a most intriguing complaint. The 2Ls and 3Ls who are most selfless (or maybe foolish?) among us have signed up to be peer advisors, sacrificing their time and newfound freedom from 1L stresses in order to guide the helpless and needy that is every 1L student. However, even the most patient and kind of them have had enough. This group files their complaint against the United States Government, arguing that defendant is infringing on their right to liberty, protected by the 14th Amendment, by shutting down for the longest period ever in the nation’s history. The shutdown has left the vast majority of 1Ls waiting to hear back about their applications to work for the government, heightening the normal 1L stress to almost unbearable levels––and leaving the PAs to pick up the pieces. The PAs argue the government has breached a contract to “run the damn country” and, because of this violation, should be subject to strict liability. Peer advisors seek punitive damages and an injunction ordering the government to “stop being children who cry and scream when they don’t get what they want” and re-open in order to hire the stressed-out 1Ls. This Court finds for the Peer Advisors in ordering the government to re-open but declines to impose punitive damages given all the government employees waiting to be paid.
After a long semester of peer advisor meetings, small-section events, and panicked texts asking what exactly a tort is, members of the peer advisor group were excited to finally start seeing their mentees nail down jobs and realize that they do, in fact, go to a top law school from which employers are eager to hire them. Sadly, this picture was very different from reality. Numerous stories fill the plaintiffs’ brief about 1Ls calling them in tears because they cannot find work with the federal government, but one stands out as most exemplary of the issue at hand. One plaintiff, PA Sarah Smith, was in the middle of her well-deserved and much-needed Netflix binge over break when her phone buzzed. And buzzed. And buzzed.
Sarah looked down to see her 1L’s name popping up again and again––One message; two messages; three messages; four. The messages read as follows: “Hi, Sarah! Hope you’re having a great break. I’m reaching out because I’m kinda freaking out about this whole job search thing. I’ve been applying exclusively to federal government jobs in D.C. and haven’t heard back from anyone. Do I need to start applying elsewhere despite having my heart set on solely government work? If the government can’t keep functioning under stress, how can I be expected to get through the spring semester? Was coming to law school a terrible mistake? I really need to talk through all of this with someone, are you too busy for a phone call?” Sarah, feeling deeply for her 1L, slowly and painfully shut her laptop screen in order to talk through the 1L’s concerns. As they chatted, she could only think about how much less stressed her kiddos would be if they could actually move forward with the job–search process, uninhibited by the government shutdown keeping them from obtaining jobs that most 1Ls pursue every year. After half a dozen phone calls spent talking the 1Ls out of dropping out of law school to pursue a career as a Starbucks’ barista, Sarah banded together with her fellow advisors to file this complaint.
In defense of their actions, the U.S. government first claims the shutdown is “inevitable” and “we don't know how to stop it.” In response, plaintiffs have submitted a video of 1Ls around the Law School halls, with sad music playing in the background, displaying clear evidence of their dismay. The video, so grotesque that some members of this Court couldn’t even bear to watch it with both eyes open, makes us wonder––is this really “the best course of action” by the government? Has anyone thought about all the aspiring 1Ls across the country, begging to work for free this summer and near death at the thought of having to go somewhere besides D.C. and pay less than $1,500 a month on rent? Despite the fact that law students across the country naturally walk with their noses a little too high and are prepared at any moment to use words such as “res ipsa loquitor” and “wherefore” in every day discussion with their non-law school friends, most are actually very fragile creatures that are always on the edge of a mental breakdown. As such, there is little support for the notion that a government shutdown is truly the best decision. The government is teetering on the line of cruel and unusual punishment by forcing this added stress upon 1Ls and leaving the PAs to pick up the pieces. In short, the defendant’s argument seems implausible and not well-thought through––as such, it is not enough to merit their current actions.
In addition to the above defense, the government maintains that this is a non-justiciable political question and, as such, this Court does not have the power to rule over it. To this the Court refers the government to its ever-favorite Petty Rule of Civil Procedure 1: We do what we want. Therefore, we clearly establish that no one, not even the U.S. government, is out of this court’s jurisdiction. Sry not sry.
The Court finds in favor of the Peer Advisors, and hereby orders that the United States government re-open, like, yesterday, and immediately begin hiring UVA Law 1Ls so all their mentors can get back to being slacker upperclassmen. It is implied in the UVA Law culture that 2Ls and 3Ls are not obligated to do much work beyond scrambling during reading period to understand something about Federal Courts or Administrative Law, and the government is preventing the upperclassmen to act in accordance with this clearly established norm. And, while this Court is sympathetic to the Peer Advisors’ desire for punitive monetary damages (see the fact that tuition prices are $60k+ a year), this Court is tired of having to stay overnight in airports because security personnel are taking their vacation while waiting to get paid post-government shutdown and, therefore, wants these and other government employees to be paid ASAP. Additionally, even this Court fears what the U.S. government will do if it owes another dollar in debt, and so we will deny the request for monetary sanctions.