August 17, 2012
Court Dismisses Operation Flex Challenge on State Secrets Privilege
Judge Cormac J. Carney (C.D. Cal.) this week dismissed a case brought by several Muslims challenging an FBI surveillance program on the government's assertion of the state secrets privilege. (Thanks to emptywheel.net for links to the opinions below.)
The ruling, along with a companion ruling on the plaintiffs' FISA claim, terminates all but a sliver of the case. It also illustrates what a powerful weapon the state secrets privilege can be--protecting an indiscriminate surveillance program that, as described by the plaintiffs, even the judge called "disturbing." At the end of the day, Judge Carney dismissed the entire case (aside from the FISA claim, discussed below and dismissed in part on other grounds) on the government's own claim, based on a sealed declaration, that its defense would necessarily reveal state secrets.
The rulings in Fazaga v. FBI arose out of the plaintiffs' challenge to the FBI's "Operation Flex" program. According to the complaint, the FBI engaged a civilian, Craig Monteilh, to conduct indiscriminate surveillance on Muslims in Southern California. The surveillance resulted in hundreds of hours of video and thousands of hours of audio recordings from the mosques, homes, businesses, and associations of hundreds of Muslims. But it didn't result in a single criminal charge.
The plaintiffs sued the FBI and its officers under several constitutional and statutory theories, including FISA. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that its defense necessarily required disclosure of information that would harm national security--that is, state secrets--and the court agreed. Judge Carney explained:
Here, Plaintiffs' claims are predicated on their core allegation that Defendants engaged in an indiscriminate investigation, surveillance, and collection of information of Plaintiffs and the putative class because they are Muslim. . . . [T]he Court is persuaded that privileged information provides essential evidence for Defendants' full and effective defense against Plaintiffs' claims--namely, showing that Defendants' purported "dragnet" investigations were not indiscriminate schemes to target Muslims, but were properly predicated and focused. . . . [T]he Court is [also] convinced that the privileged and nonprivileged information are inextricably intertwined, such that litigating the instant case to judgment on the merits would present an unacceptable risk of disclosing state secrets.
Op. at 31, 33 (emphasis in original).
Judge Carney's ruling is thorough and thoughtful--explaining the Totten bar and the Reynolds privilege; navigating between and synthesizing recent rulings coming out of the Ninth Circuit (Jeppesen Dataplan) and the Fourth Circuit (El-Masri); reviewing the government's confidential supporting affidavit and memorandum; checking the government's assertion against the government's own standards and processes for asserting the privilege; and explaining in broad terms just what the kind of information might be disclosed in the litigation. In other words, the ruling seems modest, balanced, and reasonable.
But still there's this: Judge Carney dismissed the entire case because the government's defense would have required revealing information that would harm national security, based only on the government's own say so. The dramatic result creates a perverse incentive for the government to overreach in its surveillance programs, with the knowledge and comfort that it can successfully shut down an entire case simply by showing that any defense of it would reveal state secrets.
In the companion ruling, Judge Carney dismissed the plaintiffs' FISA claim against the government, but not the individual defendants. Judge Carney relied on the Ninth Circuit's recent ruling that FISA's civil damages provision did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity. But Judge Carney also said that nothing in the civil damages provision stops the suit against the individual defendants. And the government didn't assert the state secrets privilege over the FISA part of the case.
As a result, the plaintiffs' FISA claim against the individual defendants appears to go on. We might expect a government assertion of the state secrets privilege over this remaining part of the case now. If so, it could face a hurdle: The Northern District of California ruled in In re Nat'l Sec. Agency Telecomms. Records Litig., 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1120 (2008) that FISA preempts the state secrets privilege with respect to a FISA claim. While the court cited and discussed the case (in rehearsing the plaintiffs' argument), it's not clear that it would agree with it, or not.
August 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
First Amendment Appeal?: Shirvell's 4.5 million dollar verdict
A little less than two years ago, then-assistant state attorney Andrew Shirvell made news for his blog "Chris Armstrong Watch," entirely devoted to Chris Armstrong, the student body president of University of Michigan. There was also some reportedly obsessive behavoir, such as showing up "at Armstrong's home three separate times, including once at 1:30 a.m," according to the state attorney general's investigation, which led to the termination of Shirvell.
Chris Armstrong sued Shirvell, as the video below discusses:
As the Detroit Free Press reports, a jury has awarded Armstrong 4.5 million dollars in damages.
While we previously suggested to ConLawProfs that Shirvell's termination from his assistant attorney general position would make a great class problem on the limits of Garcetti v. Ceballos , the jury verdict presents opportunities to explore First Amendment defenses to tortious behavior, including defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and stalking.
[h/t Art Leonard]
Federal DC Judge Enjoins Small Business Affirmative Action Program as Applied to Military Simulators
In an extensive opinion in DynaLantic Corp. v. United States Department of Defense, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has enjoined the Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense from awarding procurements for military simulators under the Section 8(a) program without first articulating a strong basis in evidence for doing so.
In a nutshell, the judge found that the constitutionality infirmity resided in the agencies' failure to specifically determine "that it is necessary or appropriate to set aside contracts in the military simulation and training industry." Relying upon City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989) (plurality opinion), Judge Sullivan stated that " Croson made clear that the government must provide evidence demonstrating there were eligible minorities in the relevant market - in that case, the Richmond construction industry - that were denied entry or access notwithstanding their eligibility," and thus the agencies' lack of specific studies relating to the military simulation industry was fatal.
Yet Judge Sullivan rejected the facial challenge to Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act which permits the federal government to limit the issuance of certain contracts to socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. The corporation argued that the Section 8(a) program - - - a program that evolved from Executive Orders issued by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon in response to the Kerner Commission - - - violated the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Applying the rigorous standard of United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745 (1987). requiring that the "challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid,” Judge Sullivan carefully considered reams of studies, data, and information, as well as the corporation's arguments attacking the provision for being both overinclusive and underinclusive.
This litigation began in 1995 when the Navy determined it would award its contract for a flight simulator for the Huey helicopter (pictured above) through the Section 8 (a) program. DynaLantic's lawsuit was dismissed for standing, the D.C. Circuit reversed, and then protracted litigation continued as Congress reauthorized the program and a plethora of studies, evidence, and arguments accumulated.
As the educational affirmative action case of Fisher goes to the United States Supreme Court, DynaLantic is a reminder of the continued legacy of Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995), as well as Croson in the government procurement context.
August 16, 2012
The Constitutionality of Sex-Segregated Education Challenged in Lawsuit Against Middle School
A complaint filed by the ACLU in Doe v. Wood County Board of Education argues that the mandated sex-segregated education practices of Van Devender Middle School in Parkersburg, West Virginia violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause as well as Title IX.
The complaint alleges not only that the school separates children by gender, but that the educational practices in the sex-segregated classrooms are different. This is based on teacher-training that posits the differences between children based upon sex. Girls do not like stress; boys do. Girls like warmer rooms; boys cooler. Girls like to be face-to-face; boys learn better in rows. Girls learn better when their movement is minimized and their rooms are darker; boys "need" to move and have light.
But despite the school's motto - - - "where gender matters" - - - the complaint makes allegations that gender should not be the only thing that matters. For example:
Anne Doe is legally blind and has difficulty reading in the girls’ classroom, which is kept dimmer than the boys’ classroom. Anne would benefit from brighter lights to enable her to read more easily during class, but she has not been permitted that option. When Anne asked her teachers to brighten the lights to accommodate her vision problems, her teachers refused and told her to move closer to the window.
The complaint alleges that "Sex is an imprecise proxy for psychological, learning, emotional and developmental differences in adolescents." The complaint also stresses that sex-segregation and sex-differntial teaching "harm children who do not conform to the gender stereotypes advanced in these classes, such as boys who would happily engage in a conversation about literary characters’ emotions or girls who need to move around," and thus harm children.
Although the complaint followed the usual practice and did not cite any cases, including United States v. Virginia (VMI), the complaint's allegations fit squarely within the VMI rubric. While VMI is often recalled as involving the exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Academy, Virginia had instituted sex-segregated education. In VMI, Virginia's argument was that the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL), at Mary Baldwin College, satisfied equal protection concerns by offering women a "cooperative method" that would be better suited to women and reinforce their self-esteem rather than VMI's "adversative method," suited for male citizen-soldiers. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the Court, rejected this sort of stereotyping and generalizations about "the way women are."
Indeed, if the allegations of the complaint prove true, it will be difficult for the school to argue that it is not engaging in the type of stereotyping and generalizations about "the way" girls - - - and boys - - - are that was rejected by the Court in VMI.
[image: "Trouble in the classroom" by August Heyn, circa 1920]
First Amendment Right to Impersonate a Police Officer? Split Fourth Circuit Panel Opinion
The case arose when Chappell, a former Fairfax County Sheriff employee was stopped for speeding, and, hoping to avoid a ticket, represented that he was a member of the Sheriff's Office. (Apparently, Chappell believed it would be a successful excuse; and apparently the officer who stopped Chappell thought it was sufficiently important to validate). The prosecution was in federal court: the offense occurred on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and involved a US Park Police officer; federal law makes the Virginia impersonation statute applicable to the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
At the center of the First Amendment argument - - - and of the disagreement between the majority and dissent - - - is the Court's June 28th opinion in United States v. Alvarez, the "stolen valor" case. The majority has a nice digest of Alvarez:
In Alvarez, a four-Justice plurality declared that false statements of fact do not by themselves fall outside of the First Amendment’s scope. Id. at 4-10. Applying exacting scrutiny, the plurality invalidated the Stolen Valor Act because there was not an adequate causal link between the Act and the government’s interest in protecting military honors and because the Act did not represent a sufficiently narrow means of securing that interest. Id. at 12-18. Moreover, in this context, simple counterspeech should suffice to achieve the government’s objectives. Id. at 15-17. Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Kagan, produced the majority for invalidating the statute. Concurring in the judgment, Justice Breyer reasoned that the Stolen Valor Act worked a disproportionate harm to protected speech interests relative to the government’s interests advanced by the Act. Id. at 8-10 (Breyer, J., concurring in the judgment).
The majority then states, "Significantly, no Justice thought it advisable to drape a broad cloak of constitutional protection over actionable fraud, identity theft, or the impersonation of law enforcement officers." This limitation of Alvarez for the majority is necessary to avoid "a treacherous scenario of falling statutory dominoes, placing numerous federal and state impersonation statutes at risk — all in the face of the Supreme Court’s strong signals to the contrary."
The majority also grounds its conclusion in constitutional principles counterbalanced with the First Amendment:
The police function serves a significant salutary purpose in protecting public safety, but it also possesses an oppressive potential in the curtailment of liberty. Courts over time have been required to superintend this balance through Fourth Amendment reasonableness doctrine and related measures. To strike down police impersonation statutes, however, would risk expanding the oppressiveness of the police function by adding to the legitimate number of officers an untold flock of faux policemen, all without any corresponding salutary benefit. This strikes us as a complete inversion of the traditional balance courts are charged with maintaining.
Judge James Wynn, in a dissenting opinion as lengthy as the majority's opinion, argued that the Court in Alvarez rejected "the notion that false speech should be in a general category that is presumptively unprotected." He criticizes the majority for "cherry-picking" language from Alvarez to support its conclusion that statutes criminalizing impersonation are constitutional. For Judge Wynn, the Virginia statute
does not require any act, does not require that the individual obtain anything of value, and does not include any showing of actual deception or harm. In sum, the provision in the Virginia statute before us, and under which Chappell was convicted, criminalizes mere false speech and is closer to the Stolen Valor Act than to the impersonation statutes discussed in Supreme Court dicta and relied upon by today’s majority opinion.
Both the majority and dissent also discuss what the majority terms the "lifeboat of the overbreadth doctrine." For the majority, this is no lifeboat at all: it calls some of Chappell's hypothetical applications - - - such as those attending costume parties - - - as "far-fetched." Judge Wynn finds such applications worth considering, again because the statute does not include an element of intent to defraud, as most impersonation statutes do. For example, Judge Wynn notes that the statute "would have covered Chappell, even if he had not attempted to avoid a ticket but instead expressed his remorse for violating a traffic law, stating, 'I am a police officer and should have known better.' "
With the ink on Alvarez barely dry, there are already important disagreements about its scope.
[image: "Speeding ticket" by Anna Palm deRosa circa 1900, via]
August 15, 2012
Sixth Circuit Says No Expectation of Privacy in Location Data From Cell Phone
A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled in U.S. v. Skinner that a defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in GPS data coming from a cell phone that showed his location, and therefore the government did not violate the Fourth Amendment in using that data to track him and locate him.
The case involved a drug-runner's use of a pay-as-you-go cell phone that was equipped with GPS technology. The DEA identified the phone number for the phone and obtained an order from a federal magistrate authorizing the phone company to release subscriber information, cell site information, GPS real-time location, and ping data. DEA agents then pinged the number and determined the location of the defendant. They tracked him for a couple days and arrested him at a motorhome with over 1,100 pounds of marijuana.
The Sixth Circuit ruled that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS data coming from the phone and therefore that the DEA did not violate the Fourth Amendment in using the data to track the defendant and locate him. The court explained:
There is no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cell phone. If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen. The recent nature of cell phone location technology does not change this. If it did, then technology would help criminals but not the police. It follows that Skinner had no expectation of privacy in the context of this case, just as the driver of a getaway car has no expectation of privacy in the particular combination of colors of the car's paint.
Op. at 7.
The court distinguished U.S. v. Jones--the OT11 case holding that the placement by law enforcement of a GPS tracking device on the defendant's car violated the Fourth Amendment--saying that this case involved no trespass by police. Instead, the court aligned the case with U.S. v. Knotts, which held that placement by law enforcement of a beeper in a five-gallon drum of chloroform, with the consent of a chemical company, in order to track the movements of the defendant did not violate the Fourth Amendment because "[t]he governmental surveillance conducted by means of the beeper . . . amounted principally to the following of an automobile on public streets and highways. . . . A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another."
The court rejected Skinner's argument that the DEA agents never established visual surveillance of his movements, didn't know his identity, and didn't know the make or model of the vehicle he was driving. It said that Skinner's movements could have been observed by any member of the public--and that he therefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy--even if they weren't actually observed by DEA agents.
August 13, 2012
House Committee Sues AG Holder for Fast and Furious Docs
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed its anticipated complaint today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking a declaration that AG Holder's assertion of executive privilege is without merit and that his failure to turn over certain documents to the Committee was without justification, and requiring AG Holder to turn over certain "obstruction" documents.
The complaint seeks a mere subset of the larger body of documents originally sought by the Committee--the so-called "Obstruction Component" documents, relating to DOJ's alleged obstruction of the Committee's investigation into the Fast and Furious program. (The Committee does not seek other documents covered in its earlier subpoena--the "Operations Component" documents, related to the operations of the program--although it maintains its right to seek and to receive those documents.) The Committee explains, in paragraph 62 of the complaint:
The Department's and the Attorney General's response to the Committee's investigation has been woefully inadequate in every respect. However, notwithstanding their lack of cooperation, the Committee has managed to obtain sufficient facts--principally through the aid of DOJ whistleblowers--to begin reporting to the American people on the Operations Component of its investigation. Accordingly, although the Committee has a legal and constitutional right to obtain from the Attorney General all documents responsible to the Holder Subpoena not already produced, the Committee chooses in this action to seek only a limited subset of such responsive but unproduced documents, namely, those documents that are relevant to the Obstruction Component of the Committee's investigation which the Committee cannot obtain from any other source. To that end, the Committee here seeks to compel the Attorney General to produce those documents dated or that were created after February 4, 2011, that are responsive to Categories 1, 4, 5, and 10 of the Holder Subpoena [attached to the complaint]. In the Committee's judgment, this limited subset of responsive documents--referred to herein as the "Post-February 4 Subset"--includes or constitutes the documents most likely to be relevant to the Obstruction Component of the Committee's investigation and, when produced, most likely to enable the Committee to complete its investigation.
Here's what the Committee thinks of the administration's executive privilege claim:
The principal legal issue presented here is whether the Attorney General may withhold that limited subset on the basis of "Executive privilege" where there has been no suggestion that the documents at issue implicate or otherwise involve any advice to the President, and where the Department's actions do not involve core constitutional functions of the President.
No Court has ever held that "Executive privilege" extends anywhere near as far as the Attorney General here contends that it does. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Attorney General's conception of the reach of "Executive privilege," were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure. Accordingly, the Committee asks this Court to reject the Attorney General's assertion of "Executive privilege" and order him forthwith to comply with the Committee's subpoena, as set forth below.
Compl. at page 3.
Recall that AG Holder urged the assertion of the privilege based on "executive branch deliberative communications"--supported, AG Holder argued, by several DOJ and OLC opinions (including DOJ advice, authored by Paul Clement, in the Bush administration relating to the assertion of executive privilege in the congressional investigation on the politicization of the Justice Department). See Holder Memo at 2-3.
The privilege dispute thus centers on whether the President himself had to be part of the communications--or whether the communication had to be in relation to advice to the President--or whether the privilege applies more broadly over "executive branch deliberative communications" that did not involve the President directly.
In the D.C. court's last foray into this and similar issues, in a similar case involving above-mentioned congressional investigations into the politicization of the Justice Department, Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers, Judge John D. Bates ruled that the Committee jumped the several significant hurdles to get the case into court and that White House Counsel Harriet Miers did not have absolute immunity from testifying before Congress. (The case was stayed pending appeal and resolved itself by agreement of the parties in January 2009.)
But while Judge Bates's opinion dealt at length with (and ultimately rejected) the defendants' claimed barriers to the Committee's suit, it did not resolve the executive privilege issues presented in this case.
Miers may provide useful guidance, though, for a more pragmatic reasons: The D.C. Circuit in that case declined to put the appeal on the fast track, suggesting that the case could become moot when the 110th Congress, along with its subpoenas, expired.
This case, like that one, will not reach final judicial resolution (and maybe even not a district court ruling) before the end of the current Congress. The case could fizzle out--that is, moot out, because the subpoena will have expired with the current Congress--when the new Congress comes in . . . unless the new House reauthorizes it.
August 13, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Fisher v. UT - Amicus from Constitutional Accountability Center
Joined by ConLawProfs Bruce Ackerman, Vikram Amar, Jack Balkin, Burt Nueborne, James Ryan, and Adam Winkler, the Constitutional Accountability Center has filed an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas, the "reverse discimination" case set for oral argument in the United States Supreme Court on October 10.
Dissenting from the denial of en banc review in the Fifth Circuit, Judge Edith Jones highlighted the panel decision's deviations from Grutter v. Bollinger. The Constitutional Accountability Center brief argues that UT's policy is constitutional under Grutter, but also makes the wider claim that the "text and history" of the Fourteenth Amendment allows governments to "enact race-conscious measures to ensure equality of opportunity."
ConLawProfs finalizing their syllabi for the semester might consider integrating the amicus brief, other briefs, or one of the scholarly discussions from Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc for the Equal Protection discussion.
August 12, 2012
Senior Federal District Judge Rejects Challenge to Hawai'i Opposite-Sex Only Marriage Statute
In in an opinion exceeding 100 pages, Judge Alan Kay, Senior District Judge for the District of Hawai'i, upheld the Hawai'i marriage scheme in Jackson v. Abercrombie. The plaintiffs had argued that Hawai'i Constitution Article 1, Section 23 stating that “[t]he legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite- sex couples,” and Hawaii Revised Statutes § 572-1, which states that marriage “shall be only between a man and a woman,” violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution. Governor Abercrombie's Answer agreed with the plaintiffs' constitutional arguments. However, Defendant Fuddy, Hawai'i Director of Health, and Intervenor Hawai'i Family Forum, opposed the plaintiffs, and the Judge resolved the case on Summary Judgment.
Those conversant with same-sex marriage jurisprudence in the United States will recall that Hawai'i is a landmark in the second-generation litigation: In Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44 (Haw. 1993), the Hawai'i Supreme Court found the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the state constitution. This decision prompted the state constitutional amendment, Article I, Section 3, referenced above (and interestingly in terms of judicial review, not prohibiting same-sex marriage but allocating that power only to the legislature and not to the courts). It also prompted Congress to pass DOMA - - - the Defense of Marriage Act - - - constitutionally suspect at present.
Judge Kay rehearses these histories at length. However, he rests his rejection of the plaintiffs' constitutional challenges on a "decision" of the first-generation of same-sex marriage litigation: The United States Supreme Court’s summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972) (mem.). For Judge Kay: "Baker is the last word from the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of a state law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples and thus remains binding on this Court." (Opinion at 46).
Most courts considering the issue have rejected the 1972 summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson as binding precedent. Thus, Judge Kay also provides an "alternative analysis" under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. He applies rational basis review, concluding that "marriage" can be reserved to opposite-sex couples because the legislature can rationally choose to encourage the stability of relationships that have the ability to "procreate naturally" and choose to promote the raising of children by "a mother and a father." Judge Kay also credits the legislature's rational choice to "proceed with caution" in an area of social change:
Hawaii could rationally conclude that by enacting the reciprocal beneficiaries act, followed years later by the civil unions law, and retaining the definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman, it is addressing a highly-debated social issue cautiously. By doing so, it may observe the effect of the reciprocal beneficiaries and civil unions laws before deciding whether or not to extend the title marriage, along with the already conferred legal rights, to same-sex couples.
Yet Judge Kay's ultimate rejection goes further. He writes that "to suddenly constitutionalize the issue of same-sex marriage “would short-circuit” the legislative actions that have been taking place in Hawaii." (Opinion at 118). Certainly, the judicial restraint arguments are familiar by now, but to write in 2012 that the plaintiffs seek to "suddenly constitutionalize the issue of same-sex marriage" is odd. Indeed, it is undermined by Judge Kay's own opinion with its careful history of second-generation litigation since 1990 and his reliance on a summary dismissal in 1972.
The plaintiffs are doubtless preparing their appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
August 12, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack