Friday, July 21, 2017

Daily Read: Can the President Pardon Himself?

Given recent reporting that raises the specter of a Presidential self-pardon, a few sources are worth considering.

First, there is the Constitutional text itself, which is not surprisingly inconclusive on this issue. Article II §2 begins by declaring that the President "shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" and ends by stating "and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."  What's clear is the exclusion of impeachment.  What's unclear is whether this power would extend to a self-pardon. 

Second, although there has never been a case of Presidential self-pardon in the United States, the possibility was contemplated with regards to President Richard Nixon.  An Office of Legal Counsel Opinion, Memorandum Opinion for the Deputy Attorney General, offered a succinct answer to the "question whether the President can pardon himself":

Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative.

The Memo does raise several other possibilities, including one under the 25th Amendment involving the Vice-President, as well as the legislative actions.  The Memo, by Mary Lawton, was dated August 5, 1974; Nixon resigned a few days later.  A month later, President Gerald Ford issued a Proclamation with a full pardon to Nixon.

Third, a 1996 law review note article by now-Professor Brian Kalt of Michigan State University College of Law, Pardon Me?: The Constitutional Case Against Presidential Self-Pardons, springboards from the possibility that President George Bush, who had pardoned several people implicated in the Iran-Contra controversy would also pardon himself as he left office.  Kalt concludes that "the intent of the Framers, the words and themes of the Constitution they created, and the wisdom of the judges that have interpreted it all point to the same conclusion: Presidents cannot pardon themselves." 

The bedrock principle that "no one can be a judge in his own case" is the foundation of the Kalt article and its sources as well as the OLC memo, as well as providing a rationale for even the possibility not being excluded in the Constitutional text. 

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 [image via]

July 21, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, History, Interpretation, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

District Judge Finds Utah's "Ag-Gag" Law Violates the First Amendment

 In a careful and well-reasoned opinion in Animal Defense Fund v. Herbert, United States District Judge for Utah, Judge Robert J. Shelby, has concluded that Utah's so-called "ag-gag" statute, Utah Code §76-6-112, is unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment.

The Utah statute criminalized "agricultural operation interference" if a person:

(a) without consent from the owner of the agricultural operation, or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation by leaving a recording device on the agricultural operation;
(b) obtains access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses;
(c) (i) applies for employment at an agricultural operation with the intent to record an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation;
    (ii) knows, at the time that the person accepts employment at the agricultural operation, that the owner of the agricultural operation prohibits the employee from recording an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; and
    (iii) while employed at, and while present on, the agricultural operation, records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; or
(d) without consent from the owner of the operation or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, an agricultural operation while the person is committing criminal trespass, as described in Section 76-6-206, on the agricultural operation.

800px-Elk_on_farmThe analysis separated these provisions into the lying provision - - - "false pretenses" under subsection (b) - - - and the recording provisions in the other subsections.  As to both types, Utah argued that the First Amendment was not applicable.

Judge Shelby's analysis of First Amendment protection for the "lying provision" included a discussion of United States v. Alvarez (2012), the "stolen valor" case, settling on a reading of Alvarez that lies that cause "legally cognizable harm" could be outside the ambit of the First Amendment.  Utah argued that the false pretenses caused two types of legally cognizable harm: danger to animals (and employees) and trespass. Judge Shelby dispatched the danger argument given that there was no connection between the lie and the danger: the "Act as written criminalizes lies that would cause no harm to animals or workers."  Judge Shelby's analysis of the trespass rationale is more detailed, considering whether the misrepresentation negates consent so that the liar becomes a trespasser.  For Judge Shelby, the answer is "not always." Relying on Fourth and Seventh Circuit pre-Alvarez cases, Judge Shelby essentially concludes that the Utah statute is overbroad:

It is certainly possible that a lie used to gain access to an agricultural facility could cause trespass-type harm; a protestor, for example, might pose as a prospective customer, and then, after being let in the door, begin causing a scene or damaging property. But the Act also sweeps in many more trivial, harmless lies that have no discernable effect on whether a person is granted access, and, consequently, on whether a person causes any trespass-type harm. Indeed, given its broad language (“obtain[ing] access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses”), the Act on its face criminalizes, for example, an applicant’s false statement during a job interview that he is a born-again Christian, that he is married with kids, that he is a fan of the local sports team. It criminalizes putting a local address on a resume when the applicant is actually applying from out of town. In short, the Act criminalizes a broad swath of lies that result in no harm at all, much less interference with ownership or possession of the facility . . . .

Judge Shelby also rejected Utah's argument that "recording" was not protected speech under the First Amendment, citing the Seventh Circuit police recording case recognizing a First Amendment protection (note a similar Third Circuit case in the past week).

Utah also argued that the First Amendment did not apply because the acts involved private property rights, although one of the plaintiffs had been charged while she was on public property filming.  More importantly, however, Judge Shelby criticized Utah's argument as confusing a landowner's ability to exclude from her property someone who wishes to speak with the "government's ability to jail the person for that speech." 

The applicability of the First Amendment proved to be the thorniest issue, with Judge Shelby then easily proceeding to find these were content-based provisions deserving of strict scrutiny and then easily finding that the Utah statute did not survive.  Of special interest is Utah's reliance for its government interests on protecting animals and workers from injury, despite the legislative history that "appears devoid of any reference" to such interests, instead discussing harms caused by "the vegetarian people" and others.  Judge Shelby found that the Utah statute was not necessary to serve these interests and was over- and under-inclusive:

Not only is the Act seemingly not necessary to remedy the State’s alleged harms, it is an entirely overinclusive means to address them. It targets, for example, the employee who lies on her job application but otherwise performs her job admirably, and it criminalizes the most diligent well-trained undercover employees. And it is simultaneously underinclusive because it does nothing to address the exact same allegedly harmful conduct when undertaken by anyone other than an undercover investigator.

While recognizing that Utah has an interest in addressing "perceived threats" to the state agricultural industry, Judge Shelby concluded that suppressing "broad swaths of protected speech" is not a constitutionally permissible tool to accomplish this goal. Thus, this opinion joins Idaho district Judge Winmill's 2015 decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter in a defeat for the so-called ag-gag laws.

[image "elk on farm" via]

 

July 12, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Third Circuit: First Amendment Right to Record Police

 In its opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit concluded that "Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public."  As the panel majority opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro noted, "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public"; the Third Circuit joined "this growing consensus."

The court noted that police recording has become "ubiquitous" and that such documentation has "both exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from errant charges."  In considering whether the recording was First Amendment expressive activity, the court noted that the case was "not about people attempting to create art with police as their subjects. It is about recording police officers performing their official duties." Thus, at stake is the First Amendment protection of the "public's right to know": "Access to information regarding public police activity is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse on public issues, “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”

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While the right is not absolute, the court noted that there was nothing in the situation before it to warrant a discussion of the limits to this constitutional right:

Defendants offer nothing to justify their actions. Fields took a photograph across the street from where the police were breaking up a party. *** If a person’s recording interferes with police activity, that activity might not be protected. For instance, recording a police conversation with a confidential informant may interfere with an investigation and put a life at stake. But here there are no countervailing concerns.

Fields, using his iPhone, was noticed by an officer who then asked him whether he “like[d] taking pictures of grown men” and ordered him to leave. Fields refused, so the officer arrested him, confiscated his phone, and detained him. The officer searched Fields’ phone and opened several videos and other photos. The officer then released Fields and issued him a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” These charges were withdrawn when the officer did not appear at the court hearing.

Fields, along with Amanda Geraci who had been involved in a separate incident involving recording, brought 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights.  Thus, the court confronted the question of qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of the incident - - - 2013 for Fields - - - it was not sufficiently "clearly established" so that the law "gave fair warning so that every reasonable officer knew that, absent some sort of expressive intent, recording public police activity was constitutionally protected."

Dissenting in part, Judge Nygaard concluded that the right was clearly established.  In addition to the "robust consensus" before the conduct at issue, the Philadelphia Police Department's own "official policies explicitly recognized this First Amendment right well before the incidents under review here took place." For Judge Nygaard, "no reasonable officer could have denied at the time of the incidents underlying these cases that efforts to prevent people from recording their activities infringed rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."

Certainly, after Fields v. City of Philadelphia, no reasonable officer could now successfully argue that there is not a First Amendment right to record police activity. 

[image via]

July 7, 2017 in Criminal Procedure, Film, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Daily Read: The Declaration of Independence's Grievances Against the King

While we usually focus on the ideals articulated in the first portion of the Declaration of Independence - - - "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - - - the bulk of the document is devoted to proving that the "history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." It continues:

09229_2010_001_ACTo prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

 

July 4, 2017 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 3, 2017

D.C. Circuit Tosses Drone Strike Case

The D.C. Circuit on Friday dismissed a challenge to the government's drone strike program by the family of unintended, innocent victims. The court ruled that the case raised a political question.

The ruling was unsurprising, given the state of the law. But one judge on the panel concurred in order to lodge a harsh criticism.

The case involves the family members of Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, the unintended, innocent victims of a drone strike in Yemen. They sought a declaratory judgment that the strike violated the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.

The D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question. Drawing on circuit precedent, the El-Shifa case, the court wrote:

It would be difficult to imagine precedent more directly adverse to Plaintiff's position. While Plaintiffs clearly assert claims under the TVPA and ATS, the precise grounds they raise in their Complaint call for a court to pass judgment on the wisdom of [the] Executive's decision to commence military action--mistaken or not--against a foreign target. . . .

Plaintiffs will no doubt find this result unjust, but it stems from constitutional and pragmatic constraints on the Judiciary. In matters of political and military strategy, courts lack the competence necessary to determine whether the use of force was justified.

Judge Brown, who also wrote the majority opinion, concurred with a scathing critique of the application of the political question doctrine to cases like this, especially given the lack of oversight in the other two branches:

Of course, this begs the question: if judges will not check this outsized power, then who will? . . . The President is the most equipped to police his own house. But, despite an impressive number of executive oversight bodies, there is pitifully little oversight within the Executive. Presidents are slow to appoint members to these boards; their operations are shrouded in secrecy; and it often seems the board's are more interested in protecting and excusing the actions of agencies than holding them accountable. Congress perhaps? But congressional oversight is a joke--and a bad one at that. . . .

Our democracy is broken. We must, however, hope that it is not incurably so. . . . The Court's opinion . . . is all a Judiciary bound by precedent and constitutional constraints may permissibly claim. It is up to others to take it from here.

July 3, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Political Question Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

D.C. Circuit Says that Fannie Mae, Even Under Conservatorship, is No Government Actor

The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored but privately-owned corporation, but now under conservatorship of an independent government agency, cannot be sued for a First Amendment violation. The court said that the corporation, even under conservatorship, isn't a government actor.

The case involves a Fannie Mae contractor, Caroline Herron, who alleged that Fannie Mae officials retaliated against her for raising concerns about mismanagement at the corporation. Herron brought a Bivens claim against Fannie Mae officials for a free-speech violation, among other claims. But the Bivens claim hinges, of course, on Fannie Mae officials being government actors. Herron argued that they were, because Fannie Mae is under conservatorship of an independent federal agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In other words, the conservatorship converted Fannie Mae (an otherwise private actor) into a government actor.

The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court looked to the three-part test in Lebron v. National R.R. Passenger Corp. for determining whether a "[g]overnment-created and -controlled corporation[]" is a government actor for constitutional purposes. The court held that (1) the government created Fannie Mae (2) "for the furtherance of governmental objectives." But the court held that (3) under the terms of the conservatorship the government didn't permanently control it. "Although there is no specific termination date, the purpose of the conservatorship is to restore Fannie Mae to a stable condition. 'This is an inherently temporary purpose.'" For the court, it's the purpose of the indefinite conservatorship, not its internal self-destruct clause (which didn't exist), that matters.

The ruling ends Herron's case. (The course dismissed her other claims, too.)

June 29, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Court Punts in Cross-Border Shooting Case

With all the activity at the Court yesterday, we might be excused for missing the Court's non-decision in Hernandez v. Mesa. But even as the Court punted, remanding to the lower court, this is a case we should pay attention to.

The case involved a border patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican youth just on the other side of the border. (Our oral argument review is here.) The case teed up an important dispute over whether the Fourth Amendment applies outside the United States, and how the Court should decide that question. (The case also asked whether the agent enjoyed qualified immunity for a related Fifth Amendment claim.)

But then the Court added a third QP--whether the plaintiffs had a Bivens claim, an issue that the lower courts dodged--signalling that the Court thought this was a substantial, even threshold, issue. Then just last week in Abbasi the Court ruled that 9/11 detainees did not have a Bivens claim and in the course substantially narrowed the Bivens doctrine. Yesterday the Court put these two pieces together and took them to their logical conclusion: It remanded Hernandez with instructions to consider, as a threshold matter (that is, before the courts gets to the extraterritoriality question, and possibly even before the court gets to the qualified immunity question), whether the plaintiffs have a Bivens claim in light of Abbasi.

This does not bode well for the plaintiffs. That's because the Court in Abbasi all but limited the Bivens "context" to cases that look exactly like the three cases in which the Court has found a Bivens remedy. Outside of that "context," the Court won't extend Bivens if "special factors" counsel against a Bivens remedy. And the Court defined "special factors" broadly enough that it'll be hard to show that they don't. 

In other words, the plaintiffs will only prevail if they can show that special factors don't counsel against extending a Bivens remedy to this case. And given the very broad approach to "special factors" in Abbasi, that could be quite hard to do.

At the same time, the Court ruled that the lower court improperly granted qualified immunity to the agent. The Court said that the agent couldn't have known that Hernandez was Mexican (not American), and the lower court therefore erred in relying on the fact that Hernandez was "an alien who had no significant voluntary connection to . . . the United States."

That may be a hollow victory for the plaintiffs, however, if the courts rule as a threshold matter that they lack a Bivens claim. If they so rule, there'll be no need to even consider qualified immunity, or, for that matter, the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment.

June 27, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Is the Travel Ban Case Moot?

When the Supreme Court granted certiorari and modified the lower courts' injunctions halting President Trump's travel ban today, it also directed the parties to brief this question: "Whether the challenges to Section 2(c) became moot on June 14, 2017."

The question matters, because June 14, 2017, is the date on which the 90-day ban would have expired under the order's stated effective date, March 16, 2017. In other words, the cases should have become moot on June 14, because that's when the ban, by the order's own terms, would end, anyway.

But that same day, President Trump issued an order stating that the new effective date for each enjoined provision of the travel ban would be the date on which the injunctions in those cases "are lifted or stayed with respect to that provision." The government argues that the order solves the mootness problem, because the enjoined provisions, including the 90-day ban wouldn't start until the injunctions go away.

But President Trump's order purporting to extend the effective date doesn't un-moot the case as of June 14, and it won't un-moot it when it goes to the Court in October.

As to June 14: The stated purpose for the 90-day ban was "[t]o temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the [20-day review period of foreign nations' practices], to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals, to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists . . . ." But none of these reasons supports extending the effective date while injunctions remained in place. In other words, the government could move forward with all of those things while the injunctions were in place, thus securing the nation's safety against nationals from the six identified countries (the other reason for the 90-day ban), and obviating the need for 90 days after the injunctions go away.

As to October: Even if the government and Court take the position that the circuits' injunctions applied to "ensur[ing] the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals" and "ensur[ing] that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltrating by foreign terrorists"--in other words, that the injunctions halted even the government's own review of its own processes, so that President Trump's subsequent order really did un-moot the case as of June 14--the case would seem to be moot by the time the Court hears it in October. That's because President Trump's subsequent order--the one purporting to extend the effective date--says that the ban again becomes effective when the injunctions "are lifted or stayed . . . ." It seems that the Supreme Court just "lifted or stayed" them, at least insofar as the government can re-start any stalled process to review government vetting standards. (The Court itself seems to have suggested so, when it wrote that "we fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of [the ban].") If so, 90 days will pass before the Court hears the case in October. In other words, it'll be moot in October.

Still, this can't be the result that the Court foresees. If it were, it wouldn't waste everybody's time and energy on briefing the mootness question as of June 14. So: Even if the case was, or becomes, technically moot, look for the Court to get to the merits.

June 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari in "Travel Ban" Cases and Grants Partial Stay

 In a per curiam opinion in the so-called "travel ban" or "Muslim ban" cases, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawai'i, the Court has granted the federal government's petitions for certiorari and granted the stay applications in part.  The Fourth Circuit en banc and the Ninth Circuit had both found that the challengers to the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), known as EO-2.

Recall that the Fourth Circuit en banc in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project affirmed the injunction against EO-2 based on the Establishment Clause.  As the Supreme Court's opinion phrases it, the Fourth Circuit

majority concluded that the primary purpose of §2(c) was religious, in violation of the First Amendment: A reasonable observer familiar with all the circumstances—including the predominantly Muslim character of the designated countries and statements made by President Trump during his Presidential campaign—would conclude that §2(c) was motivated principally by a desire to exclude Muslims from the United States, not by considerations relating to national security. Having reached this conclusion, the court upheld the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of §2(c) [of EO-2] against any foreign national seeking to enter this country.

 Recall also that the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel similarly affirmed a district judge's injunction against EO-2, but on the grounds that EO-2 likely exceeded the president's statutory authority, thus only implicitly reaching the constitutional issue.

In today's opinion from the Court, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari in both cases, consolidated the cases, and set them for the October 2017 Term, as well as directing briefing on the issues of mootness.

Importantly, the Court narrowed the injunctive relief imposed by the appellate courts.  As to §2(c) of EO-2, which suspended entry in the United States, the Court found the injunction balanced the equities incorrectly as to "foreign nationals abroad who have no connection to the United States at all."  Thus, "§2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2."

Similarly, as to §6(b) refugee cap enjoined by the Ninth Circuit, the Court found that refugees who lack connection to the United States should not be covered.  However, EO §6 "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship" with the United States.

In discussing §2(c), the Court provided examples of the narrowed injunction:

The facts of these cases illustrate the sort of relationship that qualifies. For individuals, a close familial relation- ship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member, like Doe’s wife or Dr. Elshikh’s mother-in-law, clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO–2. The students from the designated countries who have been admit- ted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. Not so someone who enters into a relationship sim- ply to avoid §2(c): For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.

The Court's decision may give both "sides" a basis for claiming victory, but of course the decision is a temporary one and awaits a full decision on the merits.

 

June 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

SCOTUS in Trinity Lutheran Finds Missouri's Denial of Funding to Church Playground Violates First Amendment

 In its opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision, a so-called Blaine Amendment, prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations. 

Recall that at the oral arguments, most Justices seemed skeptical of Missouri's argument.  However, recall that the Eighth Circuit had concluded that Trinity Church sought an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church."  The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology."  For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.  

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Church Interior, Missouri, image via

In the Trinity Lutheran opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court characterized the Missouri policy as one that "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character."  Relying on the Free Exercise precedent it had discussed, it concluded that if such cases "make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny."  The Court added that "Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government program without disavowing its religious character."

Yet the question of subsidy or funding caused some consternation amongst the Justices who joined the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court.  Footnote 3, which provides in full "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination" is joined only by a plurality - - - Justices Thomas and Gorsuch explicitly exempted this footnote.  In two brief concurring opinions, one by Thomas joined by Gorsuch and one by Gorsuch joined by Thomas, the continued vitality of Locke v. Davey is questioned.

In the Court's opinion, Locke v. Davey is distinguished because "Davey was not denied a state-funded scholarship of who he was but because of what he proposed to do - to use the funds to prepare for the ministry." (emphasis in original).  For Gorsuch, this status-use distinction is not sufficient.

Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and almost twice as long as the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court, is rich with originalist history as well a discussion of Locke v. Davey and a citation to the 38 state constitutional provisions similar to the Missouri one.  For Sotomayor,

Missouri has recognized the simple truth that, even absent an Establishment Clause violation, the transfer of public funds to houses of worship raises concerns that sit exactly between the Religion Clauses. To avoid those concerns, and only those concerns, it has prohibited such funding. In doing so, it made the same choice made by the earliest States centuries ago and many other States in the years since. The Constitution permits this choice.

Sotomayor points to the possible ramifications of the opinion, including the troublesome footnote 3:

The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and perhaps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.

It dies seem that Trinity Lutheran opens the floodgates for claims by religious entities that they are being "discriminated" against whenever there are secular provisions for funding.

June 26, 2017 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, History, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari in Masterpiece Cake Shop: Pitting First Amendment Against Equality

 The United States Supreme Court, after a longer than usual period, granted certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission,  a case in which a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, essentially asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses.

Recall the Colorado ALJ firmly rejected the arguments of the cakeshop owners reasoning that to accept its position would be to "allow a business that served all races to nonetheless refuse to serve an interracial couple because of the business owner’s bias against interracial marriage."   The ALJ rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test.  

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A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a 66 page opinion.

Interestingly, the Court in 2014 denied certiorari to a similar case, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer. 

The petitioner argues an intersection of doctrines including compelled speech and free exercise, arguing that the Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law offers a "stark choice"  to those who "earn a living through artistic means: Either use your talents to create expression that conflicts with your religious beliefs about marriage, or suffer punishment under Colorado’s public accommodation law."  

 

June 26, 2017 in Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fifth Circuit Says "Stigmatic" Harm Isn't Enough for Standing to Challenge State Opposite-Sex "Anti-Discrimination" Measure

The Fifth Circuit ruled last week that a group of plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Mississippi's law that bans discrimination against those who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. The court said that the plaintiffs pleaded only "stigmatic" harm, not concrete and particularized harm, and that this wasn't enough to get into federal course.

Mississippi's provision bans state "discriminatory action" against those whose "religious beliefs or moral convictions" say that marriage is a union between only one man and one woman. It applies to religious organizations when they make decisions regarding employment, housing, placement of children in foster or adoptive homes, or the "solemnization of a marriage based on a belief listed" in the provision. It also applies to parents if they raise their foster or adoptive children in accordance to the belief covered by the provision. And it applies to doctors, mental health counselors, and businesses that offer wedding-related services. The statute creates a private right of action for individuals for any violations by state officials and allows its use as a defense in private suits over conduct covered by the statute.

The plaintiffs are residents of Mississippi and two organizations (a church and a secular non-profit) that do not share the provision's belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman. They argued that "they are injured by the 'clear message' sent by [the provision] that the 'state government disapproves of and is hostile to same-sex couples, to unmarried people who engage in sexual relations, and to transgender people." They claimed that the provision violated the Establishment Clause and equal protection.

The Fifth Circuit tossed the case for lack of standing. The court said that the plaintiffs asserted only "stigmatic" harm, not concrete and particularized harm, and that the "stigmatic" harm simply wasn't enough to get into federal court. (The court held that the plaintiffs' asserted harm was nothing like the actual and concrete "exposure" harm in the monument, display, and prayer-at-football game cases. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that their case was just like the plaintiffs' case in Romer v. Evans, because the Romer Court didn't address standing, and lower courts therefore can't use it for that purpose.) The court also rejected the plaintiffs' theory of taxpayer standing (based on Flast v. Cohen), because the government hadn't yet spent money in support of the provision.

The ruling ends the case and leaves Mississippi's statute on the books--for now. Under the ruling, a viable challenger will probably have to wait for a concrete and particularized harm (discrimination) at the hands of a person or organization who falls within the protection of the provision, sue that person or organization, and argue that the provision violates the Constitution when the defendant raises it as a defense.

June 25, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pipeline Company Lacks Standing to Challenge State Foot-Dragging for Construction Approval

The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Millennium Pipeline Company lacked standing to sue the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for its foot-dragging on Millennium's application for a water-quality certificate--a prerequisite for building a pipeline under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling means that Millennium's case against the state agency is dismissed. But it also means that Millennium can proceed directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get direct approval for the pipeline, considering the state agency's consideration waived.

The case arose when Millennium petitioned the state agency for a water-quality certificate, required under the Clean Water Act as a first step in gaining FERC approval for the pipeline. The state agency sat on the petition for over a year, however, arguing that it was incomplete. Millennium then sued the state agency, asking for a court order to require the agency to act so that it could take its application on to FERC.

But the D.C. Circuit ruled that Millennium lacked standing. That's because under the Clean Water Act when a state agency delays a decision for a year, the agency is deemed to have waived its consideration, and the applicant can take the application directly to FERC. As a result, the court said that Millennium hadn't suffered any harm from the state agency; after all, the agency's inaction only meant that Millennium could go right to FERC. The court went on to say that Millennium could sue FERC if it rejects the application, but that's down the road.

None of this breaks new law--and Millennium surely would have known this--so why'd Millennium sue? Probably because it anticipated opposition from the state agency down the road, and it wanted to get state-agency approval on the record now in order to preempt later opposition. The court had an answer for that, too: FERC, not the state agency, has final say, and Millennium can later sue FERC for any disapproval or delay.

June 24, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 23, 2017

D.C. Circuit Says IDEA Class Action Not Moot

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a class-action against the D.C. school system for failing to identify pre-school children with disabilities in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not moot just because the children were no longer toddlers with a personal stake in the requested relief. The court went on to affirm the district court's class certification and its comprehensive injunction designed to bring the District into compliance with the IDEA.

The case arose when the parents of six children, then ages three to six, sued D.C., arguing that the District failed to identify children with disabilities in violation of the IDEA. The district court granted class certification to a broad class of "[a]ll children [between three and five] who are or may be eligible for special education and related services" in D.C. and whom the District failed or would fail to "identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services." The D.C. Circuit, however, vacated the class certification in light of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court case rejecting "one of the most expansive class[es] ever," and which came down during the district court trial. The district court then certified four subclasses, all including three-to-five year-olds alleging different IDEA violations. The court then issued a comprehensive injunction to bring the District in line with the IDEA.

On appeal, the district argued that the case was moot, because all of the plaintiffs had moved beyond preschool.

The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court held that the relation-back exception to the mootness doctrine in United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty applied, because the district court erroneously granted class certification, causing the litigation delay that resulted in the children aging out of their relief. The court explained: "Like the plaintiffs in Geraghty, the parents had live claims when they sought certification, and but for the district court's error, could have obtained proper class certification before their individual claims became moot."

The court noted that in Geraghty the district court erroneously denied class certification, whereas here the district court erroneously granted it. But the court said it didn't make a difference:

The point in Geraghty was that claims relate back when a trial court's error prevents a class from gaining independent status under Rule 23. Whether that error is the erroneous denial of class certification (as in Geraghty) or the erroneous certification of an excessively broad class (as here) makes no difference. What matters it that the named plaintiffs' claim became moot--and their class therefore never 'acquired . . . independent legal status'--due to the district court's mistake. In other words, but for the district court's error--certifying an overly broad class--the parents' claims would not have become moot. There is no legally relevant difference between this case and Geraghty.

June 23, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

En Banc Ninth Circuit Upholds Liquor Regulation Against First Amendment Challenge

 In its en banc opinion in Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a California prohibition of alcohol manufacturers and wholesalers from providing anything of value to retailers in exchange for advertising their alcohol products.

Plaintiff Retail Digital Network, RDN, installed and operated seven foot digital screen displays in liquor stores for the purpose of running advertisements for liquor products such as Moët Hennessy;  the retail stores would would receive a portion of RDN's revenue.  However, after originally participating in the advertising, Moët Hennessy withdrew, worried that the state would enforce California Business and Professions Code §25503(f)-(h) regarding such advertising arrangements.

 

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The Ninth Circuit had upheld the provision more than thirty years ago in Actmedia, Inc. v. Stroh (1986), applying Central Hudson & Electric Corporation v. Public Service Commission of New York (1980).   RDN argued, however, that Actmedia needed to be reconsidered, and contended that IMS v. Sorrell (2011) changed Central Hudson's commercial speech standard from "intermediate scrutiny" to "heightened scrutiny."

The en banc Ninth Circuit, with the exception of Chief Judge Sidney Thomas in a lone dissent, rejected the argument that Sorrell changed the commercial speech standard of  Central Hudson.  The court's opinion has an excellent rehearsal of the doctrinal relevance of Sorrell after Central Hudson, including arguments derived from Sorrell itself and a discussion of sister-circuit cases.  In short, the court finds that Central Hudson "continues to set the standard for assessing restrictions on commercial speech."

Applying Central Hudson, the court does depart in one aspect from its previous application in  the thirty-year old precedent of Actmedia.  The court found that even assuming "promoting temperance" is a substantial government interest under Central Hudson, the state statute could not be said to "directly and substantially advance that interest" as required by Central Hudson

However, the court agreed that the statute "directly and materially advances the State's interest in maintaining a triple-tiered market system" for wines and liquor and "because there is a sufficient fit between that interest and the legislative scheme."  This "triple-tiered" distribution scheme was adopted by California after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to "prevent the resurgence of tied-houses."  Tied-houses were retailers and saloons controlled by larger interests.

ConLawProfs looking for a good case to discuss commercial speech after Sorell might find RDN worth a look.  As for whether the United States Supreme Court will take a look at RDN to clarify the commercial speech standard, RDN might also prove interesting. 

June 23, 2017 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tenth Circuit Says Any Actual Injury Will Do in Establishment Clause Case

The Tenth Circuit ruled this week that the mother of a school child had standing to challenge under the Establishment Clause the school's fundraising and support for a religious mission trip, even though the child received just one e-mail and one flyer from school officials soliciting donations for the trip.

The ruling reversed a district court order dismissing the case on the ground that the child's exposure to unconstitutional activities at the school lacked "a degree of constancy or conspicuousness."

The case arose after public school officials sought donated or a school-sponsored, religious mission trip to Guatemala. Families enrolled in the district and the American Humanist Association filed suit, seeking nominal monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed all the claims, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show sufficient harm and that they lacked standing as taxpayers. As to plaintiff Jane Zoe, the district court held that the harm--one e-mail soliciting donations and one flyer from school employees soliciting donations--wasn't pervasive enough to satisfy standing requirements.

The Tenth Circuit reversed as to Zoe. The court held that under well-settled Supreme Court and circuit precedent, any harm, even nominal harm, will do to establish standing, and that a plaintiff need not show any particular level of heightened pervasiveness or degree of harm.

But the court denied injunctive relief to Zoe, holding that "the record does not suggest that Zoe is likely to receive similar fundraising solicitations in the future." The court also held that the other individual plaintiffs lacked standing, because they couldn't show that they'd been exposed (like Zoe had).

The ruling sends the case back to the district court for consideration of the merits.

June 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Call for Papers for Younger Scholars Forum in Comparative Law

The International Academy of Comparative Law invites younger scholars (no more than ten years of tenure-track faculty experience) to participate in the first-ever Younger Scholars Forum in Comparative Law, on Wednesday, July 25, 2018, in Fukuoka, Japan.

Submit an abstract between 150 and 500 words to the appropriate moderator of one of eight workshops or the Director of the Speakers' Corner by September 15, 2017.

The program includes workshops on the Separation of Powers and its Challenges in Comparative Perspectives; Populism and Comparative Approaches to Democratic Theory; Comparative Public and Private Law Responses to Religious Diversity; Methodological Approaches to Comparative Constitutional Law; and more.

Check out the detailed call for papers for more information and contacts.

June 20, 2017 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Conferences, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Court Says No Damages Remedy for 9/11 Detainees

The Supreme Court ruled today that post-9/11 "of interest" detainees could not sue executive officials for damages for constitutional violations during their detention. Moreover, the ruling in Ziglar v. Abbasi all but wipes out future damages remedies against federal officials for constitutional violations, except in the very narrow circumstances of three cases where the Court has found such a remedy. (And those cases may be hanging on by just a string.)

The case arose when post-9/11 detainees at a federal detention facility sued then-AG John Ashcroft, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, and then-INS Commissioner James Ziglar for abusive detention policies in violation of their Fourth- and Fifth-Amendment rights. The plaintiffs sought monetary damages under Bivens.

The Court today rejected those claims. In an opinion abounding with deference to Congress, Justice Kennedy, writing for himself and Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito (Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch were all recused), held that the case raised a new Bivens context and that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.

As to context, the Court set out this test:

If the case is different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court, then the context is new. Without endeavoring to create an exhaustive list of differences that are meaningful enough to make a given context a new one, some examples might prove instructive. A case might differ in a meaningful way because of the rank of the officers involved; the constitutional right at issue; the generality or specificity of the official action; the extent of judicial guidance as to how an officer should respond to the problem or emergency to be confronted; the statutory or other legal mandate under which the officer was operating; the risk or disruptive intrusion by the Judiciary into the functioning of other branches; or the present of potential special factors that previous Bivens cases did not consider.

In other words, if a new case isn't nearly on all fours with one of the three cases where the Court has found a Bivens remedy--Bivens itself (a Fourth Amendment violation), Davis v. Passman (an assistant's Fifth Amendment Due Process claim against a Congressman for gender discrimination), and Carlson v. Green (a prisoner's estate's Eighth Amendment Cruel-and-Unusual claim)--there's a new context. And the Court said that this case presented a new context.

As to special factors, the Court said that the claims "call[ed] into question the formulation and implementation of a general policy," that the policy related to the government's response to the 9/11 attacks (a national security concern, traditionally an area for the executive), that Congress had not provided a damages remedy, and that other remedies (injunctive relief, a habeas claim) were available.

Between the Court's very narrow view of new circumstances and its very broad view of special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy, this case failed. And the ruling ensures that very few future Bivens cases will succeed.

On another issue, the Court remanded a related claim against the prison warden, instructing the lower court to conduct a special-factors analysis. Finally, the Court rejected the plaintiffs' civil-rights conspiracy claim, holding that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, because the question whether officials all within the executive branch could constitute a conspiracy "is sufficiently open so that the officials in this suit could not be certain that [conspiracy] was applicable to their discussions and actions."

Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg.

June 19, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Declares "Disparaging Trademarks" Provision Violates First Amendment

 In its opinion in Matal v. Tam, formerly Lee v. Tam, the United States Supreme Court has concluded that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.  Recall that the underlying controversy involves the denial of trademark registration to a band called "The Slants" on the ground that the mark would be disparaging.  Recall also that the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.  The en banc majority found that the disparagement provision constituted viewpoint discrimination and failed strict scrutiny.

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While all eight Justices participating in the decision agreed that the Federal Circuit should be affirmed, and all Justices agreed that the provision was subject to strict scrutiny as a viewpoint regulation, there was some disagreement regarding the applicability of other First Amendment doctrines as was apparent in oral argument.

Writing for the Court in most respects, Justice Alito's opinion concludes that the trademark disparagement provision applies to marks that disparage members of a racial or ethnic group (there was a statutory argument by Tam that this was not true) and is thus subject to the First Amendment. Justice Alito then proceeded to address three government arguments

  • that the trademarks are government speech and thus not subject to the First Amendment;
  • that trademarks are a form of government subsidy;
  • that trademarks should be subject to a new "government program" doctrine.

As to the first discussion on government speech, all the Justices joined Alito's opinion.  However, as to the second and third arguments made by the government, only Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Breyer joined.  In the concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Kennedy writes that the "viewpoint discrimination rationale renders unnecessary any extended treatment of other questions."  

The issue of whether First Amendment viewpoint discrimination doctrine applies to commercial speech has unanimous assent, with Alito's explanation for four Justices being a bit more extensive than Kennedy's explanation for four Justices, with the supplement of Thomas' additional concurrence to state that commercial speech should not be a separate First Amendment doctrine in cases content regulations.

The essence of the case is that the disparagement provision is viewpoint discrimination subject to strict scrutiny that it does not survive.  For Justice Alito (in a plurality portion of the opinion), the matter is resolved thusly:

the disparagement clause is not “narrowly drawn” to drive out trademarks that support invidious discrimination. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: “Down with racists,” “Down with sexists,” “Down with homophobes.” It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.
[emphasis in original]

From the perspective of the other four Justices, Kennedy phrases the problem a bit differently in addressing the government's arguments that the disparagement clause was not actually a viewpoint discrimination.  Kennedy ends by stating

A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.

Is this a distinction without a difference?  Doctrinally, it makes little difference.  But it does convey a difference in the mood of the Court.

June 19, 2017 in First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Race, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Rules NC Statute Restricting Internet for Sex Offenders Violates First Amendment

 In the United States Supreme Court unanimous decision in  Packingham v. North Carolina, the Court found that the state statute, NCGS § 14-202.5, making it a felony for registered sex offenders to access commercial social networking sites, violated the First Amendment.  This outcome was predictable given the then-eight Justices' skepticism during the oral arguments in February.  Recall that Packingham was convicted of the North Carolina felony for his Facebook page on which he wrote " Thank you Jesus.  God is good" regarding a result on his parking ticket. 

The Court's majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a mere 10 pages.  The Court not only stresses the breadth of the North Carolina statute, but highlights the role of the Internet in "our modern society and culture" as vital to the First Amendment:

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By Fekner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via

A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more. The Court has sought to protect the right to speak in this spatial context. . . .

While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense)for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the “vast democratic forums of the Internet” in general, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 868 (1997), and social media in particular. Seven in ten American adults use at least one Internet social networking service. . . .
While we now may be coming to the realization that the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be. The forces and directions of the Internet are so new, so protean, and sofar reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today might be obsolete tomorrow.
This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet. As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.

For the Court majority, even assuming the North Carolina statute was content neutral and should be analyzed under intermediate scrutiny, the statute "enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens."  The Court noted that the present statute applies to all social networking sites including  Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and that a state could possibly enact a more specific provision, such as prohibiting contacting a minor on social media. 

In sum, to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights. It is unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences. Even convicted criminals—and in some instances especially convicted criminals—might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, in particular if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives.

While Justice Alito's opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, agrees with the outcome, Alito criticizes Kennedy's opinion for the Court as not being sufficiently circumspect and cautious, and for engaging in "loose rhetoric."  For Alito, the problem with the North Carolina statute is likewise its breadth: "its wide sweep precludes access to a large number of websites that are most unlikely to facilitate the commission of a sex crime against a child."  Among Alito's examples are Amazon.com, the Washington Post website, and WebMD.  Yet Alito's opinion, just slightly longer than Kennedy's for the Court, found it important to argue that the entirety of the internet or even social media sites are "the 21st century equivalent of public streets and parks." In support of this, Alito argues that the internet offers an "unprecedented degree of anonymity."

Yet Alito's concurring opinion does not essentially disagree with the Court's finding that it would be possible for a state to craft a sufficiently narrow statute.  The disagreement, however, may be in the room for states to maneuver in drafting such a criminal statute. 

 

June 19, 2017 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)