Friday, June 8, 2012

D.C. Circuit: No Right to Ballot Count for Third Party

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today in Libertarian Party v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that the Board did not violate the Libertarian Party's First Amendment speech and association rights and its Fifth Amendment equal protection rights by declining to produce an exact count of the votes received by Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate in the 2008 presidential election.

The Libertarians claimed that the Board's failure to provide an exact count of votes received meant that they couldn't tell how much support they had in D.C. and that they couldn't determine whether they met the 5 percent national threshold to qualify for public funding in the next election.  Here's the gist:

[A] voter who casts a valid write-in ballot for a declared candidate like Barr is entitled to know whether she has acted in concert with other like-minded voters or whether her vote is a lone statement in the political wilderness.  The voting public is entitled to know how Barr fared at the polls.  The Libertarian Party is entitled to know whether its stature has grown or been diminished by the votes cast for Barr.  None of this vital information, laden with associative and communicative value, is available if the Board fails to count and report the Barr vote.

The court rejected the claims.  It ruled that the Board's failure to provide an exact count was a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction on the constitutional rights of voters and therefore valid with only an "important regulatory interest."  The court said that the Board had a sufficient interest in saving money by not counting votes of a candidate for reasons other than determining the winner of an election.  Moreover, the court said that the Libertarians could always get the ballots via the FOIA, and count them themselves.


June 8, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Hawai'i Beach Weddings Permitting Scheme Upheld by Ninth Circuit

Wedding ceremonies on Hawai'ian beaches may be the stuff of some fantasies, but they may also require permits from the state as any other commercial activity on state land would.  In its opinion in Kaahumanu v. Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Ninth Circuit upheld Hawai'i's permitting scheme, except to the extent it allowed the state to alter the permits once issued.

Hawai'i beachThe permitting scheme applies to ceremonies all state-owned beaches, even if there are three people at the wedding, if the officiant is receiving compensation.  It prohibits tables, chairs, tents, and strictures demarcating the area, while allowing flowers, leis, chairs for the elderly/infirm, and "unamplified musical instruments including a conch shell."

The Ninth Circuit's unanimous panel opinion easily found that one of the plaintiffs, a wedding and events professional association, had standing, and quickly proceeded to the gravamen of the constitutional claim. 

As the court expressed it, the First Amendment challenge posed three questions:

  • First, do wedding ceremonies constitute “speech” protected by the First Amendment?
    Second, what is the nature of the forum?
    Third, are the challenged restrictions on commercial weddings permissible in the forum?

The Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) contended that weddings were not speech at all and thus excluded from First Amendment protection.  Applying the "particularized message" expressive conduct test from Spence v. Washington, 418 U.S. 405 (1974), the court had "no difficulty" concluding that wedding ceremonies were protected expression: "The core of a wedding ceremony’s “particularized message” is easy to discern, even if the message varies from one wedding to another."

The forum issue was not so easily resolved - - - and indeed, remained unresolved.  The panel seemed hesitant to render an opinion that might be used in other contexts.  Moreover, while the DLNR  contended that "all unencumbered state beaches are nonpublic forums" and the plaintiffs contended that "they are all traditional public forums," the court ruled that  Hawai’i’s unencumbered state beaches were not so easily categorized.  Instead, the beaches "vary from heavily trafficked beaches to isolated beaches accessible only by foot or watercraft," and on the present record, it was "difficult to put all of Hawai’i’s unencumbered state beaches into a single forum category."  Thus, the court assumed - - - without deciding - - - that  "unencumbered state beaches in Hawai’i are, as Plaintiffs contend, a traditional public forum."  Thus, the panel stated it would assess the validity of all regulations "that we uphold under the most exacting test for restrictions on forum access."  On the contrary, the panel assessed the particular provisions of the regulation that it did not uphold under the most lenient standard.  The panel summarized its First Amendment holding thusly:

In sum, we hold that DLNR’s regulation requiring a person to obtain a permit for commercial weddings on unencumbered state beaches is narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest, is content-neutral, leaves ample alternative spaces for hosting a wedding, and does not vest too much discretion in the government official when issuing the permits. We hold that the limitation on accessories, insurance requirement, and the indemnification/hold-harmless clause also satisfy the tra- ditional public forum standard. However, we hold invalid the grant of discretion to DLNR to revoke, or add terms to, a per- mit under the least exacting standard of review for a nonpublic forum.

The panel opinion also briefly referred to the plaintiffs' freedom of religion arguments, rejecting them because that while the regulation may have an incidental effect on specific religious "implements or physical symbols," this does not "render it impermissible."  Seemingly, a more specific as-applied challenge, perhaps also stating a RLUIPA claim, might be taken more seriously. 

Additionally, the court rejected the Equal Protection and Due Process claims: while recognizing that the "right to marry" is a fundamental right, the DLNR’s "regulation of commercial weddings on unencum- bered state beaches does not impinge on the right to marry."


June 8, 2012 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

D.C. Circuit: No Bivens Claim for LOC Employee Fired for Speech

A sharply divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled last week in Davis v. Billington that a Library of Congress employee did not have a Bivens claim against his supervisor and the Librarian of Congress for firing him for his speech.  The court ruled that special factors counselled against extending Bivens, because Congress did "not inadvertently" omit damage remedies for employees in the plaintiff's position--employees of the Library of Congress, not the executive branch--in the comprehensive Civil Service Reform Act.

The case arose after Morris Davis, the Congressional Research Service Assistant Director of the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, penned some high-profile opinion pieces critical of the Obama administration for choosing to prosecute some Guantanamo detainees in federal courts and others in military commissions.  Davis was also critical of the Bush administration handling of Guantanamo detainees.

Davis had some unique familiarity with these issues.  He served as Chief Prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay until October 2007.

After the pieces came out, Daniel Mulhollen, Davis's supervisor, fired him.  Davis sued Mulhollen and Billington, the Librarian of Congress, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and for damages against Mulhollan for violation of his First and Fifth Amendment rights under Bivens.

The court ruled that special factors counselled against extending a Bivens remedy, because Congress, through the comprehensive remedial scheme in the CSRA, did "not inadvertently" omit damage remedies for civil service members, like Davis, outside the executive branch. 

Judge Rogers filed a lengthy and sharp dissent.  She said that Congress omitted civil service members outside the executive branch from the CSRA remedial scheme based on separation-of-powers principles.  That is, the legislative history of the CSRA shows that Congress didn't include legislative branch employees in the CSRA comprehensive remedial scheme because it didn't want the executive branch to have the power to adjudicate claims of legislative branch employees.  The history shows, moreover, that Congress didn't have that same concern with respect to judicial adjudication.  According to Judge Rogers, this all shows that Congress did not omit legislative branch employees becauase it wanted to leave them without a remedy.  On the contrary, Congress seems to have left open the possibility of a judicial remedy--a Bivens action.


June 6, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DOMA Unconstitutional in Windsor v. US

Yet another opinion has held section 3 of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, unconstitutional.

Coming on the heels of the First Circuit's opinion issued last week, today's opinion by federal district judge for the Southern District of New York, Barbara Jones, in Windsor v. US reached the same conclusion that section 3 of DOMA does not pass rational basis.  In November 2010, Edith Windsor filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York as the survivor of a same-sex couple married in Canada.  Windsor sought a refund of estate taxes paid because the marriage was not recognized by the federal government and argued that the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, section 3 is an unconstitutional denial of equal protection. The New York Attorney General filed an amicus brief in support of Windsor.

Judge Jones' opinion rehearses grounds that are becoming quite familiar, and while she cites and quotes the First Circuit's opinion in Massachusetts v. HHS, she does not substantially rely upon it. 

DOMA UNCONInstead, Judge Jones does not stress the heightened rational basis standard for legislation based on animus, but concluded that the Congressional interests support DOMA did not pass the threshold of being "legitimate."  Judge Jones specifically considered the additional interest advanced by BLAG (supporting DOMA) that Congress intended to approach "same-sex marriage with caution."  Judge Jones did not quite say that this was not a legitimate interest, but did conclude that "whatever the social consequences of this legal development" that is same-sex marriage "ultmately may be, DOMA has not, and cannot, forestall them."

Of particular interest to New York constitutional scholars, Judge Jones confronts Hernandez v. Robles, the 2006 decision by New York's highest court that rejected a constitutional claim against barring same-sex marriage.  Yet this is in the context of Windsor's standing to raise the claim as to the 2009 tax year.  As Jones notes, subsequent executive and legislative action in New York has disavowed that stance in 2009, rendering BLAG's reliance on the case to show a lack of injury "unpersuasive."  

DOMA, it can certainly be said, has had its constitutionality seriously cast into doubt, yet again.




June 6, 2012 in Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Court Orders State Department to Rule on Petition Challenging Terrorist Designation

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ordered the State Department on Friday in In Re: People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran to act on the petition of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI, to delist the organization as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

PMOI originally petitioned the State Department for redesignation on July 15, 2008.  PMOI argued that, while it had engaged in terrorist actions in the past, those days were over.  PMOI said that it had stopped its military campaign against the Iranian regime, renounced violence, surrendered arms to U.S. forces in Iraq, and cooperated with U.S. officials in Iraq and on Iran's nuclear program.

Secretary Rice denied the petition on January 7, 2009, and PMOI petitioned for review with the D.C. Circuit.  The court then ruled that due process required the Secretary to notify PMOI of the unclassified material on which the Secretary proposed to rely and be given an opportunity to respond before re-designation as an FTO.  The court remanded to the Secretary to provide that access.  

The Departments of State and Justice dragged their feet, and the Secretary has yet to take final action on the petition.  (AEDPA requires a final determination within 180 days after receiving the petition.)  PMOI filed a writ of mandamus with the D.C. Circuit earlier this year.

The court was highly critical of the government's delays and gamesmanship.  (Under AEDPA, a petitioner cannot appeal to the D.C. Circuit until the Secretary issues a final determination.  The government's foot-dragging thus left PMOI in limbo.)  It gave the Secretary four months to issue a final determination--to which it said it'd give great deference--or it would grant PMOI's writ of mandamus setting aside the FTO designation.


June 5, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit Refuses En Banc Consideration of Perry v Brown, the Prop 8 Case

The Ninth Circuit en banc has refused to hear the the Ninth Circuit's 2-1 panel opinion affirming the district judge's conclusion that the controversial Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Filed Order for PUBLICATION (STEPHEN R. REINHARDT, MICHAEL DALY HAWKINS and N. RANDY SMITH) (Dissent by Judge O'Scannlain, Concurrence by Judge Reinhardt)

A majority of the panel has voted to deny the petition for rehearing en banc. Judge N.R. Smith would grant the petition. The full court was advised of the petition for rehearing en banc. A judge requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc.

The matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the non-recused active judges in favor of en banc consideration. Fed. R. App. P. 35. The petition for rehearing en banc is DENIED.

The mandate is stayed for ninety days pending the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. If such a petition is filed, the stay shall continue until final disposition by the Supreme Court.


A sharp but brief dissent by O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Bybee and Bea, highlights President Obama's recent remarks about same-sex marriage:

A few weeks ago, subsequent to oral argument in this case, the President of the United States ignited a media firestorm by announcing that he supports same- sex marriage as a policy matter. Drawing less attention, however, were his comments that the Constitution left this matter to the States and that “one of the things that [he]’d like to see is–that [the] conversation continue in a respectful way.”

Today our court has silenced any such respectful conversation. Based on a two-judge majority’s gross misapplication of Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), we have now declared that animus must have been the only conceivable motivation for a sovereign State to have remained committed to a definition of marriage that has existed for millennia, Perry v. Brown, 671 F.3d 1052, 1082 (9th Cir. 2012). Even worse, we have overruled the will of seven million California Proposition 8 voters based on a reading of Romer that would be unrecognizable to the Justices who joined it, to those who dissented from it, and to the judges from sister circuits who have since interpreted it. We should not have so roundly trumped California’s democratic process without at least discussing this unparalleled decision as an en banc court.

For many of the same reasons discussed in Judge N.R. Smith’s excellent dissenting opinion in this momentous case, I respectfully dissent from the failure to grant the petition for rehearing en banc.


Judges Rheinhardt and Hawkins, authors of the panel opinion, provided a brief response in their concurring opinion:

We are puzzled by our dissenting colleagues’ unusual reliance on the President’s views regarding the Constitution, especially as the President did not discuss the narrow issue that we decided in our opinion. We held only that under the particular circumstances relating to California’s Proposition 8, that measure was invalid. In line with the rules governing judicial resolution of constitutional issues, we did not resolve the fundamental question that both sides asked us to: whether the Constitution prohibits the states from banning same-sex marriage. That question may be decided in the near future, but if so, it should be in some other case, at some other time.


June 5, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Armour v. Indianapolis: No Equal Protection Violation for Tax Assessment Forgiveness

The question is rather simple: Is tax forgiveness by a municipality present an equal protection violation if reimbursement is not extended to the taxpayers who paid in a timely manner?

The Court's answer in its brief opinion in Amour v. City of Indianapolis is an equally simple "No."

Near the close of oral argument in March, Justice Breyer condensed the question before the Court as whether the city's choices were rational. In today's brief opinion, authored by Breyer, the conclusion is that the city did act rationally in its sewer assessment policies.

800px-Rioolbuizen_van_kunststof_(Sewer_plastic_pipelines)Breyer's opinion articulates the matter as one meriting mere rational basis review; the city's act is a "classification neither involving fundamental rights nor proceeding along suspect lines" and thus "cannot run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause if there is a rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose.”  For the Court, "Indianapolis’ classification has a rational basis. Ordinarily, administrative considerations can justify a tax-related distinction and the city's decision to stop collecting the debts "finds rational support in related administrative concerns."  As for the failure to reimburse, to "have added refunds to forgiveness would have meant adding yet further administrative costs, namely the cost of processing refunds." 

Yet not all members of the Court agreed with the rationality of the city's scheme.  In a dissenting opinion about the same length as the Court's opinion, Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Scalia and Alito,criticized the Court for not adhering to Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. v. Commission of Webster Cty., 488 U. S. 336 (1989).  The dissenters described Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal as a "succinct and unanimous opinion striking down a property tax scheme in West Virginia on the ground that it clearly violated the Equal Protection Clause" and argued that the Court failed to distinguish it convincingly.  The dissenters argued that like Allegheny Pittsburgh, the Indianapolis tax scheme was that "rare case" that comes along "every generation or so" requiring the Court to "say enough is enough, if the Equal Protection Clause is to retain any force in this context."


June 4, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Reichle v. Howards: Qualified Immunity For Secret Service Officers

As in oral arguments, the Court's opinion today in Reichele v. Howards puts the First Amendment in the "back seat."  In the front seat is the doctrine of qualified immunity, specifically the requirement that any claimed violation be a matter of clearly settled law.

As the relatively brief opinion for a unanimous Court, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas (pictured below) explains:

We granted certiorari on two questions: whether a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim may lie despite the presence of probable cause to support the arrest, and whether clearly established law at the time of Howards’ arrest so held.  If the answer to either question is “no,” then the agents are entitled to qualified immunity. We elect to address only the second question. We conclude that, at the time of Howards’ arrest, it was not clearly established that an arrest supported by probable cause could violate the First Amendment.

Recall the rather unique facts:

419px-Clarence_Thomas_officialHowards' arrest was by Secret Service agents at a mall in Colorado where then-VP Dick Cheney was appearing.  Howards was taking his son to a piano recital at the mall and on his cell phone.  Apparently, no fan of the VP, Howards stated into his cell phone, "I'm going to ask him [the Vice President] how many kids he's killed today."

This was overheard by the Secret Service agents and attracted their attention.  Moreover, Mr. Howards did make good on his stated intentions:  After dropping off his son at the recital:

Mr. Howards remained behind to visit with the Vice President. As Mr. Howards waited for his turn, he observed the Vice President interacting with the gathering crowd, greeting patrons, shaking hands, and posing for photographs with onlookers. He then approached the Vice President and informed him that his "policies in Iraq are disgusting." The Vice President responded, "Thank you." As he departed, Mr. Howards touched the Vice President's right shoulder . . .

Interestingly, Mr. Howards was not arrested then, but quite a while later when agent Reichele and Howards had an "interview" which escalated, with the agent becoming angry.  The agent arrested Howards for assault on the Vice-President, based on the touching of the shoulder, which Howards had "lied" about saying he hadn't touched the VP.

Writing for a unanimous Court, Thomas concluded that the “clearly established” standard was not satisfied: "This Court has never recognized a First Amendment right to be free from a retaliatory arrest that is supported by probable cause."  Thomas stressed that the right that must be established is not a general First Amendment one "to be free from retaliation for one’s speech," but the "more specific right to be free from a retaliatory arrest that is otherwise supported by probable cause."   Thomas then delved into the Tenth Circuit precedent, concluding that such a right was not established as a matter of circuit law, although there was certainly some "uncertainty" generated by Hartman v. Moore, 547 U. S. 250 (2006).  

Concurring, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Breyer, distinguished Hartman v. Moore as involving retaliatory prosecution rather than simply arrest.  Yet Ginsburg's concurring opinion also relied on her interpretation of the facts:

Nevertheless, I concur in the Court’s judgment. Officers assigned to protect public officials must make singularly swift, on the spot, decisions whether the safety of the person they are guarding is in jeopardy. In performing that protective function, they rightly take into account words spoken to, or in the proximity of, the person whose safety is their charge. Whatever the views of Secret Service Agents Reichle and Doyle on the administration’s policies in Iraq, they were duty bound to take the content of Howards’ statements into account in determining whether he posed an immediate threat to the Vice President’s physical security. Retaliatory animus cannot be inferred from the assessment they made in that regard. If rational, that assessment should not expose them to claims for civil damages.

While Reichele v. Howards is a unanimous opinion, it refuses to do what we often expect unanimous opinions to do: clarify the law.  By addressing only the second question - - - whether the law was settled or not - - - and not addressing the substantive question, the law remains unsettled. 

Nevertheless, the clear import of the case is deference to law enforcement, including (or especially) Secret Service agents, against civil damages even if their actions may seem "retaliatory."


June 4, 2012 in Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)