It is a major principle of law that each party in a legal action should only be allowed “one bite of the apple.”
Everybody has heard of double jeopardy – the rule that says you cannot be tried twice for the same offense. A lot of people know that stare decisis is the Latin term meaning “Let the decision stand” which is simply the courts following the precedent set by earlier court cases on the same issue. In practice it is a little more complicated, but the basic principle is that when interpreting the meaning of laws judges should not reinvent the wheel but should instead rely on (and be bound by) earlier cases.
But outside of the legal profession there are not a lot of people who have even heard of the related concepts of res judicata and collateral estoppel.
Generally, res judicata is the principle that a cause of action may not be relitigated once it has been judged on the merits. “Finality” is the term which refers to when a court renders a final judgment on the merits.
Res judicata is also frequently referred to as “claim preclusion”
Collateral estoppel (CE), known in modern terminology as issue preclusion, is a common law estoppel doctrine that prevents a person from relitigating an issue. One summary is that, “once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision … preclude[s] relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case”. The rationale behind issue preclusion is the prevention of legal harassment and the prevention of overuse or abuse of judicial resources.
There are three more legal terms I want to mention:
Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome, and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action. Filing vexatious litigation is considered an abuse of the judicial process and may result in sanctions against the offender.
Abuse of Process:
Abuse of process is a cause of action in tort arising from one party making misusing or perversion of regularly issued court process (civil or criminal) not justified by the underlying legal action. It is a common law intentional tort. It is to be distinguished from malicious prosecution, another type of tort that involves misuse of the public right of access to the courts.
Malicious prosecution is a common law intentional tort. While like the tort of abuse of process, its elements include (1) intentionally (and maliciously) instituting and pursuing (or causing to be instituted or pursued) a legal action (civil or criminal) that is (2) brought without probable cause and (3) dismissed in favor of the victim of the malicious prosecution. In some jurisdictions, the term “malicious prosecution” denotes the wrongful initiation of criminal proceedings, while the term “malicious use of process” denotes the wrongful initiation of civil proceedings.
Nowadays the concepts of vexatious litigation, abuse of process, and malicious prosecution are an apt description of something commonly called “Lawfare.” It is pretty much a given that anytime Trump announces a new policy or issues a new executive order there will be a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, NARAL, or some other group within hours. And these cases are always filed in a forum like Hawaii or Washington State where they can rely on getting a sympathetic judge and a liberal-leaning appellate court.
Just as freedom of speech is a fundamental principle that predates and goes beyond the First Amendment (which only applies to government action) the underlying principle of all the legal concepts I’ve been throwing at you is fairness – a fundamental principle of Western Civilization.
One of the first legal arguments that children learn is “That’s not fair!” By the age of three most kids know that those three little words provide an argument that is simple, effective, and complete. It doesn’t always work, but it is one of the best arguments that kids can make.
“Mom! Can I have a cookie?”
“No, you’ll spoil your dinner.”
“That’s not fair! You let Billy have one!”
“Time for bed. Turn off the television and go brush your teeth.”
“That’s not fair! Jimmy’s parents let him stay up as late as he wants!”
“Yeah, well, Jimmy’s parents don’t love him as much as we love you.”
(Pro tip: Don’t ever actually say that to your kid. He’ll go tell Jimmy and/or Jimmy’s parents and that can result in butthurt, harshing of mellows and flaming bags of dog shit on your front porch every Halloween. It is a little known fact that it was just such a comment that triggered the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud.)
None of the legal concepts and principles I’ve been talking about are legally binding on Congress. They get to take as many bites of the apple as they want. Trump cannot order them to stop rummaging thru his life.
The only thing that could stop Congress from maliciously and frivolously pursuing impeachment is the Court of Public Opinion, aka “We The People.” But there are practical limits on using elections to punish political parties. The odds of a GOP candidate defeating Nancy Pelosi in an election are about equal to the odds that Miley Cyrus is still a virgin.
OTOH, if we can flip enough seats in next year’s election we can kick that old bitch to the curb and hopefully the GOP caucus will elect a new Speaker of the House who is an actual Trump supporter and not a RINO.
On the gripping hand, if wishes were horses beggars would ride.