Saturday, April 20, 2013

Oral Arguments in Kebodeaux, the Sex Offender Registration Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in United States v. Kebodeaux, the case testing whether Congress can require a federal sex offender to register, when the offender served out his full sentence before Congress enacted the Sex Offender Registration Act.  

The arguments centered on just how far congressional authority extends under Congress's power to regulate the military (because Kebodeaux was convicted under the UCMJ) and the Necessary and Proper Clause (because he was required to register under SORNA only after he served out his full sentence).  That latter point, the key here, in turn largely centered on the reach and understanding of United States v. Comstock, the OT 2009 case holding that Congress could authorize a federal judge to order the civil commitment of a "sexually dangerous" person in federal custody even beyond the term of his sentence.

Comstock was a 7-2 ruling, with Chief Justice Roberts joining Justice Breyer's majority opinion.  Justices Kennedy and Alito concurred separately.  Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.  

Chief Justice Roberts sent strong signals during arguments in Kebodeaux that he sees this application of SORNA as beyond the pale.  Justices Kennedy and Alito were also critical of the government's position, but seemed slightly less firm in their positions, slightly more open.  Justice Sotomayor, too, pressed for limits on government authority.  If three of these switch from their positions in Comstock, Kebodeaux will go the other way.

My argument review at SCOTUSblog is here.

SDS

April 20, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, News, Oral Argument Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bradley Manning's "Secret" Trial

In its sharply divided opinion in Center for Constitutional Rights v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces rejected a claim that of public access to the trial and documents regarding the Bradley Manning court martial.

We've previously discussed the contentious Bradley Manning prosecution here, here, here, here, and here.

In this case, the appellants - - Center for Constitutional Rights, Glenn Greenwald, “Salon.com,” Jeremy Scahill, “The Nation,” Amy Goodman, “Democracy Now!,” Chase Madar, Kevin Gosztola, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks - - - sought press access.  The three-judge majority noted that the court "invited counsel for the accused to file a brief on the issues but they declined to do so."  It concluded that the court did not have the "jurisdiction" to grant the relief requested.

 

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning reading his plea statement in court, sketched by Clark Stoeckley via

 

The two dissenting opinions - - - each judge authoring an opinion that the other joined - - - reject the majority's disinclination to assert its own power.

A dissenting opinion, by Chief Judge Baker joined by Senior Judge Cox, begins by centering the First Amendment concerns:

The general public has a qualified constitutional right of access to criminal trials. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia , 448 U.S. 555 (1980) (plurality opinion). Public access to a criminal trial includes appropriate access to filings. Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns , Inc. , 435 U.S. 589 , 597 (1978) . “Congress intended that, to the extent ‘practicable,’ trial by court - martial should resemble a criminal trial in a federal district court.” United States v. Valigura , 54 M.J. 187, 191 (C.A.A.F . 2000). The right to a public trial is embedded in Rule for Court’s - Martial (R.C.M.) 806, which provides that “ [e]xcept as otherwise provided in this rule, courts - martial shall be open to the public.”

Judge Baker's opinion stops short of concluding that there should be press access to the proceedings and documents, but does conclude that the court should determine the specific contours of the First Amendment right.   

Judge Cox's dissenting opinion, joined by Baker, emphasized the court's role to assist the military trial judge, noting that the military judges " are in a better position to do that than is a federal district judge to solve the issues presented."

Thus, it seems as if it will continue to be difficult to determine what is happening in the court martial of Bradley Manning.

RR

April 18, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Spindelman on Carpenter on Lawrence

Integral to the same-sex marriage cases of Perry and Windsor argued before the Court last month is the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas.  Although the Court's opinion specifically excluded marriage in its caveat paragraph, the declaration that sodomy laws were unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause is generally considered a linchpin of recognizing any constitutional right to same-sex marriage under the Equal Protection Clause. 

Spindelman_marcProfessor Marc Spindelman (pictured) reviews Professor Dale Carpenter's book Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas in a trenchant essay entitled Tyrone Gardner's Lawrence v. Texas appearing in Michigan Law Review.  Spindelman acknowledges the contribution of the book even as he uses it as a springboard to reach different conclusions about the potential of the case to achieve equality or civil rights.  Spindelman focuses on Tyrone Gardner, who along with John Geddes Lawrence was arrested for sodomy, as a lens for exploring the reach of Lawrence v. Texas.  

Refering to Gardner, Spindeleman asks, "How could Lawrence v. Texas, this great victory for lesbian and gay civil rights, have done and meant so very little to the life of one of the two men most central to it?"  Spindelman's answers explore the status-quo bias and moral conservatism of Lawrence, connecting the case to affirmative action decisions as well as to the "Obamacare" case, Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius.

Every ConLawProf teaching Lawrence v. Texas would do well to read Spindelman's essay. 

RR

April 18, 2013 in Books, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, History, Race, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Party's Non-Settlement Moots "Similarly Situated" Labor Case

A sharply divided Supreme Court (5-4, along conventional ideological lines) ruled on Tuesday that when a lone plaintiff sues under the Fair Labor Standard Act on behalf of herself and all others "similarly situated," but then declines to answer a defendant's settlement offer in the case, the case--the entire thing--becomes moot.  

The ruling in Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk deals a significant blow to the FLSA's provision that allows an employee to sue on behalf of all others "similarly situated."  That's because the ruling allows a defendant to moot an entire case by offering complete settlement to a lone lead plaintiff--whether the plaintiff accepts it, rejects it, or ignores it.  But if the dissent is right, this is a one-off that should never happen again.

Symczyk sued Genesis Healthcare under the FLSA for backpay after Genesis docked its employees' pay for a half-hour lunch each day, even when employees worked through lunch.  She sued on behalf of herself and all others "similarly situated."  (The FLSA specifically provides for this class-action-like mechanism.)  Genesis offered to settle for the full amount of monetary damages, but put a deadline on its offer of 10 days.  Symczyk didn't respond, and the trial court dismissed her case.  The Third Circuit reversed, but only as to the collective action.  The Third Circuit said that the settlement offer mooted Symczyk's individual claim, but that it didn't moot her collective claim on behalf of others "similarly situated."

The Supreme Court ruled the entire case moot.  The majority, by Justice Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito, assumed, but did not decide, that the Third Circuit was right about Symczyk's individual claim, but it reversed on her collective claim.  The Court said that once it assumed that Symczyk's individual claim was moot, the ruling on the collective-action allegations turned on a "straightforward application of well-settled mootness principles."  Basically: "the mere presence of collective-action allegations in the complaint cannot save the suit from mootness once the individual claim is satisfied."  The Court distinguished the "relation back" cases under Rule 23 class-action doctrine, saying that here "[t]here is simply no certification decision to which resondent's claim could have related back."  It also distinguished the "inherently transitory" cases under class-action doctrine, saying that unlike those cases, which were for injunctive relief challenging ongoing conduct, this case was about monetary damages for past conduct.  And it said that its ruling wouldn't undermine the purpose of the FLSA's collective-action provision, because the purpose of that provision is different than the purpose of class actions (on which Symczyk relied): the FLSA works differently than class certification--FLSA "conditional certification" simply isn't class certification--and that difference matters.

Justice Kagan wrote an animated dissent for herself and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.  She took aim at the majority's assumption that the settlement mooted Symczyk's claim and wrote that if the lower courts could get that right (that is, that Symczyk's claim wouldn't go moot just because she ignored a settlement offer) this case should never happen again.  Here's just one among many gems in her dissent:

So a friendly suggestion to the Third Circuit: Rethink your mootness-by-unaccepted-offer theory.  And a note to all other courts of appeals: Don't try this at home.

If the lower courts, which are currently split on the question, can work this out as Justice Kagan did, this case will, indeed, never happen again.  But in the meantime, the Court's ruling deals a significant blow to FLSA plaintiffs who bring collective action claims in those circuits where a settlement offer moots an individual claim.  Even more generally, it's yet another blow to access to justice.

SDS

April 18, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Argument Review: Does a Port's Enforcement Have the Force and Effect of Law?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, the case asking whether federal law preempts the Port of Los Angeles's "concession agreement" that it requires of all drayage truck operators.  Our argument preview is here.

Two points got the Court's attention.  First, the justices tested whether the Port was acting in a proprietary way in enforcing the concession agreement, thus triggering the market participant exception.  This question turns on whether the Port's enforcement of the agreement had "the force and effect of law"--language from the preemption clauses in the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act that means that enforcement by a state as state is preempted, but enforcement by a state as market actor is not.  Here, the Port's concession agreements are contracts with drayage truck operators (making the Port look like a market actors), but they are ultimately backed by criminal penalties, even if not for breach of the contract, and the whole operation relates to regulation of public land (making the Port look like the state).  Take a look at this exchange with the attorney for the Port:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You are saying that you can do by contract what you cannot do by regulation.  And I don't understand that argument when there are criminal penalties that attach to the breach of the contract.

MR. ROSENTHAL: But, Justice Kennedy, let me say again, there are no criminal penalties that attach to the breach of the contract.  It is purely a contract.  The remedies are purely civil.  Even our other side in their argument has conceded there are no criminal penalties to the breach of the concession agreement.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I'm not sure that's crucial.  You think a state can say nobody's going to come on our highways until it signs a contract?  Okay?  These highways belong to us, they are State land, and anybody who wants to ride on the highways, you have to enter a contract with the State.  And that's going to get around this Federal statute?

Others, too, asked about the criminal penalties and the scope of the Port's regulatory authority--all to the end of determining whether the Port looks more like the state, or more like a market actor, when it enforces its concession agreement.

Next, the Court pressed on the scope of Castle, the case overturning Illinois's punishment of a carrier's repeated violations of the state's freight-weight restriction by completely suspending the carrier's right to use Illinois state highways for certain periods.  Here, the arguments turned on whether the Port's enforcement mechanism was a punishment for prior violations (as in Castle), or whether it simply operated to ensure that only currently compliant trucks had access to the Port.  There's also an issue about the continued vitality of Castle, given that the federal regulatory scheme that governed at the time has since been superceded.

The Port seemed to have the tougher time at arguments, but that's no (necessary) bellweather.  There were plenty of open questions to suggest that there are no easy answers here.  As a practical matter, if the Court rules against the Port, it would undo years of litigation and negotiation between the Port and the surrounding community related to environmental and health concerns and send those paties back to the drawing table.  That, in turn, could impact both community health and the environment, and the Port's plans for even more expansion.

SDS

April 17, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Resnik on Equality's Frontiers

What do our visual images of justice tell us?  Judith Resnik with her co-author Dennis E. Curtis, provide ample, exciting and complex answers to that question in their marvelous book, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms, published in 2011.

Resnik's 2013 essay, Equality’s Frontiers: Courts Opening and Closing, adapted from remarks at an event celebrating Justice Ginsburg’s gender-equality jurisprudence and drawing on the book, is a brief but evocative look at how justice and equality are - - - and were - - - portrayed.  Two images Resnik includes and analyzes from WPA murals in courthouses are particularly salient.

First, there is an image of Justice as Protector and Avenger in a South Carolina courtroom.

Resnik figure 1aa
Not particularly remarkable, one might think, until one reads about the objections to "justice" looking like a “barefooted mulatto woman wearing bright-hued clothing.”

Second, there is an image in a Idaho courthouse:

Resnik figure 2a

Should this be removed as offensive?  Or displayed as an accurate part of the history of justice and equality?  Resnik shares the decisions of state officials, ultimately made in consultation with Native tribes.

Resnik contends that such images, including these from courthouses in South Carolina and Idaho,

make a first point—that courts were one of equality’s frontiers. The conflicts about what could or could not be shown on courthouse walls mirrored conflicts about what rights people had in court.

A terrific read - - - and look - - - as well as a reminder of the richness of the Representing Justice book.

RR
[images via]

April 17, 2013 in Books, Equal Protection, History, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Daily Read: Albany Law Review Symposium on Free Speech

Now in print is the Fall 2012 Albany Law Review Symposium “What Are We Saying? Violence, Vulgarity, Lies . . . And The Importance Of 21st Century Free Speech."

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 8.40.55 PM

Here's the TOC of the issue with links to pdfs of the articles, essay, and discussions:

ARTICLES:
-- Ronald K.L. Collins......Foreword: Exceptional Freedom—The Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the New Absolutism
 -- Robert M. O'Neil........Hate Speech, Fighting Words, and Beyond--Why American Law is Unique
 -- Rodney A. Smolla........Categories, Tiers of Review, and the Roiling Sea of Free Speech Doctrine and Principle: A Methodological Critique of United States v. Alvarez
 -- Jeffery C. Barnum.........Encouraging Congress to Encourage Speech: Reflections on United States v. Alvarez
 
-- Marjorie Heins..........The Supreme Court and Political Speech in the 21st Century: The Implications of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project
 -- R. George Wright.........Are There First Amendment “Vacuums?”: The Case of the Free Speech Challenge to Tobacco Package Labeling Requirement
 -- Robert D. Richards & David J. Weinert.........Punting in the First Amendment’s Red Zone: The Supreme Court’s “Indecision” on the FCC’s Indecency Regulations Leaves Broadcasters Still Searching For Answers
 -- Marvin Ammori & Luke Pelican.........Media Diversity and Online Advertising
 
-- Martin H. Redish & Michael J.T. Downey.........Criminal Conspiracy as Free Expression

ESSAY:
-- Owen Fiss........The Democratic Mission of the University
 
TRANSCRIPTS:
-- Welcome & Opening Remarks.......Benjamin P. Pomerance
-- Debate on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.......Floyd Abrams and Alan B. Morrison, moderated by Ronald K.L. Collins
 -- Panel Discussion on Recent U.S. Supreme Court Free Speech Cases and Their Implications......Adam Liptak (moderator), Ronald K.L. Collins, Susan N. Herman, Alan B. Morrison, Robert M. O'Neil, Robert D. Richards

 

RR

April 16, 2013 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Argument Preview: Can Congress Penalize a Pre-SORNA Sex Offender for Failure to Register?

The Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in U.S. v. Kebodeaux, a case testing whether Congress can penalize a sex offender for failure to register, when the offender was convicted and released before Congress enacted the penalty in the Sex Offender Registration Act.

In short, Kebodeaux's theory is that he was "unconditionally" released from federal custody before Congress required him to register through SORNA.  Thus, he was outside of federal authority when Congress "reasserted" authority over him.  He says that this exceeds congressional power.

The government claims that Kebodeaux was still subject to federal authority after his release but before SORNA, through a federal penalty for failing to register in the Wetterling Act, SORNA's precusor.  And it says that even if he weren't, it could later penalize his failure to register through SORNA. 

The case tests the limits of congressional authority, but just barely.  That's because the facts are narrow and limited--dealing only with congressional authority to penalize a pre-SORNA offender for failure to register.  It's not a full-throated challenge to congressional authority to require registration. 

Moreover, both parties give the Court a non-constitutional option.  The government says that the Court could simply rule that Congress still exercised authority over Kebodeaux after his release, and remand for further proceedings consistent with that holding.  Kebodeaux argues in the alternative that SORNA doesn't even apply to him.

Still, we're likely to at least hear robust discussion tomorrow about the scope of congressional authority under U.S. v. Comstock, the OT '09 case holding that Congress can authorize, under the Necessary and Proper Clause, the civil detention of federal prisoners who are "sexually dangerous" even beyond their original sentence.  Both parties put the case front-and-center in their arguments.

For more, here's my argument preview at SCOTUSblog.

SDS

April 16, 2013 in Congressional Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ICWA, Baby Girl (Veronica), Race and Fatherhood at the Supreme Court

Today's oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which we previewed yesterday, were indeed a mix of statutory interpretation and application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and constitutional issues, with a dose of family law. 

Veronica
Image of Baby Veronica from NCAI

 

Arguing for the adoptive couple, Lisa Blatt described the biological father as equivalent to "a sperm donor," causing Justice Scalia to counter with an assertion of fatherhood ("He's the father. He's the father.") to which Blatt replied, "And so is a sperm donor under your definition. He's a biological father and nothing else in the eyes of State law."   By this description, Blatt not only argued that the biological father was not a parent under ICWA, but also tended to erode any constitutional rights that the father might have.  Blatt also took on the constitutional argument more directly, arguing that ICWA would "raise grave constitutional concerns" if "Congress presumptively presumed that a non-Indian parent was unfit to raise any child with any amount of Indian blood."

The "amount of Indian blood" was an issue that attracted the attention of Chief Justice Roberts, who has been attentive racial identities in the affirmative action cases, including Fisher argued earlier this Term. During Charles Rothfeld's argument on behalf of the biological father, Roberts posed a "hypothetical" about an Indian tribe that had a "zero percent blood requirement"  and enrolled members who "think culturally they're a Cherokee."  Justice Ginsburg objected that this was not the ICWA definition and Justice Scalia agreed that Roberts' hypothetical would be a "null set," but Roberts posed the query again.  Rothfeld replied that such "wild hypotheticals" would "present political questions to be addressed by Congress or addressed by the executive branch."

Arguing between Blatt and Rothfeld, Paul Clement, on behalf of the child's law guardian - - - asserting the child's best interests as assumed by the guardian - - - also contended that ICWA was constitutionally suspect.  The "Indian child" is a racial classification:

And as a result of that her whole world changes and this whole inquiry changes. It goes from an inquiry focused on her best interests and it changes to a focus on the birth father and whether or not beyond a reasonable doubt there is a clear and present danger.

Clement's characterization of ICWA's standard was somewhat hyperbolic, although the statute does require the high standard and does have a "substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger" exemption.  This resonated with Blatt's rebuttal, expressing the dangers of a Court affirmance of the South Carolina Supreme Court's opinion in favor of the biological father:

And you're basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." This case is going to affect any interracial adoption of children.

It is highly unlikely that the Court will address the lurking equal protection racial classification issue, however its importance was revealed in Paul Clement's colloquy with Justice Kennedy about "constitutional avoidance."  Justice Breyer essentially asked Clement how to remedy the situation and Clement responded that because ICWA provides "extraordinary" protections that "it only makes sense to prove something more than bare paternity."

It is more likely that the Court's usual conservative/liberal dichotomy will not be apparent in the ultimate opinions.

RR
[image via]

April 16, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Family, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Second Circuit Second Amendment Case

In a closely watched petition for certiorari in  Kachalsky v. Cace, the Supreme Court declined an opportunity to review the Second Circuit's upholding of NY's "concealed carry" law. 

Recall that the Second Circuit in Kachalsky v. County of Westchester applied intermediate scrutiny 
New York's requirement that applicants prove “proper cause” to obtain licenses to carry handguns for self-defense under New York Penal Law.

Non_violence_sculpture_by_carl_fredrik_reutersward_malmo_sweden

RR
[image via]

April 15, 2013 in Second Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oral Argument Preview: Does Federal Law Preempt LA Port's Drayage Agreement?

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in American Trucking Association v. Los Angeles, testing whether the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act preempts certain provisions of the "concession agreement" that the Port of Los Angeles requires of all Port drayage service providers, as part of the Port's efforts to reduce drayage truck emissions.  

Here's my ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases article on the case, reprinted here with permission:

FACTS

 The Port of Los Angeles (POLA, or the Port) is an independent division of the City of Los Angeles. That is, it raises and manages its own revenue, independent of the City, by leasing its terminal facilities to shipping lines and stevedoring companies, which load and unload cargo from docking ships.

Drayage trucks are an integral part of the operations at the Port. They transport cargo from the Port’s marine terminals directly to customers, or to off-Port long-distance trucks or railroads for further transport. But POLA does not contract for any drayage services. Instead, cargo owners, ocean carriers, railroads, and other transportation providers arrange for drayage services through Licensed Motor Carriers (LMCs). Most LMCs, in turn, contract with independent truck owners and operators to provide drayage services.

In 2008, the Port adopted a “concession agreement” system for drayage service providers. The system was part of an earlier-adopted “Clean Action Plan” designed to address community opposition to Port expansion and to reduce air pollution produced by Port activities. Under the system, the Port requires any drayage service provider seeking access to the Port’s premises to enter into a standard-form “concession agreement” with the Port. That agreement grants the concessionaire “a non-exclusive license to access [the] Port property for the purpose of transporting containers and/or other cargo to and from marine terminals.” In exchange, the concessionaire agrees to comply with several requirements. In particular, the concessionaire must (1) submit an off-street parking plan for all of its permitted trucks, (2) display placards on its trucks that provide a phone number for reporting environmental or safety concerns, (3) demonstrate that it has sufficient financial resources to perform its obligations under the agreement, and (4) ensure that vehicle maintenance is conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

The standard-form agreement also lists penalties for failure to comply with these requirements. The penalties for a default, if not timely cured, include suspension or revocation of the concession agreement and the right of the concessionaire to use the Port’s facilities. In other words, the Port could altogether exclude a drayage service provider for significant noncompliance with the agreement—what the agreement calls a “Major Default.”

Moreover, violation of the agreement can result in criminal penalties. This is because the Port incorporates the concession agreement system into the preexisting tariff that governed Port operations. A violation of the tariff constitutes a misdemeanor subjecting the violator to a $500 fine and imprisonment up to six months.

American Trucking Associations, Inc. (the ATA), a trucking-industry trade group, sued the City and the Port in federal court, arguing that certain concession agreement requirements were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA). The district court found none of the requirements preempted. A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit largely affirmed, reversing the district court only as to a requirement that is not relevant here. This appeal followed. The federal government petitioned to participate as amicus in support of reversal.

 CASE ANALYSIS

This case raises two distinct issues of federal preemption of state law. The first issue, an express preemption issue, involves two sections of the FAAA. The first section, 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), covers general state regulation of motor carriers, like the concession agreement’s off-street parking requirement. It provides that:

a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of 2 or more States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.

This first section exempts “the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles.” 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(2)(A).

The second section, 49 U.S.C. § 14506(a), specifically addresses vehicle identification requirements, like the concession agreement’s placard requirement. It provides that:

[n]o State, political subdivision of a State, interstate agency, or other political agency of two or more States may enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law that requires a motor carrier . . . to display any form of identification on or in a commercial motor vehicle . . ., other than forms of identification required by the Secretary of Transportation.

The first issue asks whether the concession agreement’s off-street parking and placard requirements “hav[e] the force and effect of law” under these sections so that the requirements are preempted by the sections. That question, in turn, depends on whether the concession agreement looks more like a state regulation or more like an ordinary commercial contract. If the concession agreement looks more like a state regulation, it is covered by these sections, and it is preempted. On the other hand, if it looks more like an ordinary commercial contract, it is not covered by these sections, and it is not preempted.

A related question is whether the market participant doctrine applies. The market participant doctrine says that the FAAA preempts only state regulation, not actions a state takes as a market participant. The parties and the federal government disagree about whether the market participant doctrine applies in this case—in particular, whether it applies when the FAAA does not contain an explicit market participant exception.

The second issue involves the application of a 1954 Supreme Court case on preemption, Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc. In Castle, the Court considered an Illinois statute that limited the weight of freight that could be carried in commercial trucks registered under the federal Motor Carrier Act. The Illinois law punished a carrier’s repeated violations by suspending the carrier’s right to use Illinois state highways for periods of ninety days and one year. The Court said that the Motor Carrier Act left regulation of the size and weights of trucks to the states. But it also held that Illinois’s law forbidding an offending carrier from using all of the state’s highways was “equivalent to a partial suspension of [the carrier’s] federally granted certificate” and was therefore preempted.

The parties and the federal government disagree about the meaning, the scope, and even the continued vitality of Castle. For example, they disagree about whether Castle prohibits the Port from punishing drayage service providers by banning them merely from the Port, even if not from the entire state highway system (as in Castle). The parties also disagree about which concession agreement requirements might be covered by Castle. Finally, they disagree about whether Castle remains good law. The government, for its part, is unsure whether the Port will punish only past, cured violations (as in Castle), and thus whether the punishment even falls under Castle.

The ATA argues first that the plain language of the FAAA expressly preempts the off-street parking and placard provisions of the concession agreement. It says that the parking provision regulates drayage trucks’ “price, route, or service” in violation of § 14501(c)(1), and that the placard provision requires drayage trucks “to display any form of identification . . . other than forms . . . required by the Secretary of Transportation” in violation of § 14506(a). Moreover, it claims that the concession agreement amounts to a “comprehensive licensing scheme” that is “penally enforceable” through the tariff and thus have “the force and effect of law.”

The ATA argues that the market participant exception does not apply. It says that because Congress enacted the FAAA, and because it does not contain a market participant exception, there is no market participant exception to the Act’s provisions. But the ATA claims that even if the FAAA contains an implicit market participant exception, it does not apply here. According to the ATA, that is because the parking and placard requirements are not aimed at the efficient procurement of goods and services or at the use of state-allocated funds, the purposes of the exception; instead, the provisions are aimed at a traditional regulatory goal, to reduce air pollution. Moreover, the ATA contends that the Port is not even a direct participant in the drayage market; instead, it is a regulator of drayage services.

Next, the ATA argues that Castle bars the Port from enforcing even non-preempted regulations on drayage service providers by suspending or revoking their access to the Port. The ATA says that the concession agreement permits the Port to deny a drayage service provider “any and all access” to the Port for certain defaults of the concession agreement, and that this penalty is directly at odds with the Court’s holding in Castle. It claims that Castle forbids even a partial suspension of a drayage operator’s federally licensed activities, even though a denial of access to the Port may not rise to the level of the comprehensive ban at issue in Castle. Finally, the ATA contends that Castle is still good law, and that Congress has only reaffirmed the federal government’s exclusive authority to issue interstate-commerce permits, and to revoke them.

The federal government supports the ATA, but takes a more nuanced tack. It says that the FAAA does not naturally preempt all arms-length commercial agreements between the government and motor carriers. But it says that the Port’s concession agreement looks more like a regulatory scheme than an arms-length commercial agreement between market participants. In particular, the government points to four features of the Port’s agreement and its operations that together suggest that the agreement is really a regulation (and not a commercial agreement): the criminal sanctions that back the agreement; the public ownership of the Port; the generally regulatory character of the agreement’s provisions; and the fact that the government generally does not contract with drayage service providers. For these reasons, the government claims that the FAAA preempts the off-street parking and placard requirements.

Next, the federal government says that it is unclear whether the concession agreement provisions at issue here would contravene Castle. The government argues that Castle prevents the Port from barring a motor carrier’s access to the Port only for a past, cured infraction, and not for the carrier’s current failure to comply with otherwise non-preempted state safety regulations. In other words, it says that nothing in Castle prevents the Port from prohibiting a carrier’s truck from operating at Port facilities until it complies with non-preempted regulations. Given that we do not know whether the Port might punish past, cured violations of the agreements by barring Port access, the government urges the Court to remand the case for a determination on that question.

The Port argues first that the market participant exception shields the off-street parking and placard provisions from preemption. It claims that the Court’s precedents and related acts suggest that the market participant exception applies to the FAAA, even with its express preemption clauses. Moreover, the Port claims that its adoption of the concession agreements fall within the market participant exception. In particular, the Port claims that the concession agreements do not have the “force and effect of law,” because they are contractual in nature, not regulatory in nature. (It claims that under the terms of the tariff and the concession agreement, the criminal sanctions under the tariff do not apply to LMCs.)

Next, the Port claims that Castle does not bar the concession agreements’ safety-based restrictions on access to the Port. The Port says that Castle only prohibits a ban on using all of a state’s freeways, not a ban on a single Port, as here. But even aside from the Ninth Circuit’s approach, the Port claims that the ATA’s argument that Castle prevents the Port from suspending or revoking a motor carrier’s access for safety-related violations would improperly read the safety exception out of § 14501(c)(2)(A). Finally, the Port contends that Castle is no longer good law with respect to the concession contract requirement. That is because Castle arose under an earlier, and superseded, regulatory regime.

SIGNIFICANCE

The Port of Los Angeles is the largest container port in the United States in terms of both shipping container volume and cargo volume. In 2007, it was the thirteenth busiest port in the world, and the fifth busiest in the world when combined with the cargo volume at the adjacent Port of Long Beach. In both 2007 and 2008, the Port handled more than $240 billion in cargo. The Port’s activities are connected with over 900,000 jobs in the greater Los Angeles region. As big as it is, however, the Port projects that increased global trade and larger ships will double the demand for its cargo handling capacity over the next decade. To meet demand and stay competitive, the Port seeks to expand.

At the same time, Port activities produce pollution that significantly affects the air quality of the surrounding area and the health of local residents. Community and environmental groups tied up Port expansion plans in court for years because of these concerns. (They continue to oppose expansion efforts, for example, by protesting the Port’s plan to develop a new rail yard, approved just last month.) The Port’s Clean Action Plan, including the concession agreements, was designed to address these kinds of environmental concerns.

In this way, the case is a classic conflict between economic growth and environmental justice. If the Court reverses the Ninth Circuit and holds that the FAAA preempts some or all of the Port’s concession agreement requirements, the ruling will frustrate the Port’s efforts to reduce pollution in order to address the concerns of community and environmental groups. This could lead community and environmental groups to redouble their efforts to halt expansion and thus deal a significant set-back to Port expansion efforts. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, as amicus in support of affirming the Ninth Circuit, put it this way: “If the Port is not permitted to take such modest and reasonable steps as those represented by the off-street and placard provisions, its ability to adopt limited measures tailored to specific, local issues arising from Port activity will be compromised, which may result in additional litigation and delays.”

On the other hand, if the Court affirms the Ninth Circuit and holds that the FAAA does not preempt the concession agreement requirements, the Port’s efforts will stay on the books. This may be a victory for community and environmental groups, and for the Port itself. But given the issues that have come to a head just recently with the rail yard project, it is safe to say that this case will certainly not resolve all the problems or in any way mark the end of this ongoing dispute.

SDS

 

April 15, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oral Argument Preview: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and the Constitutional Issues

The oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, on certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court will be held on April 16.  The case, also known as “Baby Veronica,” is an emotional struggle over custody of a small child.

On one view, the Court’s task is a relatively simple one of statutory interpretation, including the definition of “parent” in the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA.  The petitioners, the adoptive couple, articulate the questions presented as:

(1) Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.

(2) Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.

The questions presented by the respondent birth father, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and by the respondent Cherokee Nation, and by the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent, all likewise focus on ICWA, albeit with a different persuasive cadence.   These articulations stress the positive acts of the biological father.  For example, as the biological father phrases the parenting definition question:

Whether an Indian child’s biological father who has expressly acknowledged that he is the child’s father and has established that he is the father through DNA testing is the child’s “parent” within the meaning [of ICWA].

The Brief of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent father and tribe has a similar issue statement, asking whether the state courts properly applied ICWA

 to award custody of an Indian child to her biological father over an adoptive couple, where the father acknowledged and established his paternity and no remedial measures had been taken to avoid termination of his parental rights.

However, the case is not merely one of statutory interpretation, but raises important, if not always obvious, constitutional issues.

First, Congressional intervention in child welfare must rely on a particularly enumerated power of Congress, the usual one being the Spending Clause.  For Native Americans, however, Congressional power is often labeled “plenary,” although it is grounded most specifically in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I §3 cl. 8.   ICWA was intended to prevent the removal of Native children from their parents - - - as well as their tribes - - - a history that many of the amicus briefs discuss in depth. 

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Second, and relatedly, this Congressional power over Native children raises federalism issues, especially given that child custody and adoption are generally within the state’s police powers.  In the case of Baby Veronica, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s application of ICWA to deny the adoption and award custody to the Native father. Yet the very existence of ICWA arguably intrudes upon state police powers.

Third, and most stealthily, the case may present issues of due process and equal protection.  In the brief on behalf of Baby Veronica through her Guardian ad Litem authored by Paul Clement, the arguably “erroneous interpretation” of ICWA “raises serious constitutional issues.”  In this argument, the best interests of the child standard - - - the usual touchstone in child adoption and custody - - - aspires to a constitutional right of the child.  Moreover, the state court’s decision violated the baby’s equal protection and due process rights.

For example, the brief analogizes to the equal protection case of Palmore v. Sidoti:

In Palmore, this Court struck down the use of racial classifications to remove a child from an appropriate custody placement. This case is no different. Baby Girl’s Indian blood quantum was the sole reason the lower court ordered her removed from the loving, stable home she had lived in since birth and placed with a biological father whose failure to timely care for her extinguished any parental rights he might otherwise have had under state law or the Constitution.

Less successfully, the brief attempts to articulate a liberty interest of the child:

And “to the extent parents and families have fundamental liberty interests in preserving such intimate relationships, so, too, do children have these interests, and so, too, must their interests be balanced in the equation.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 88 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting).

Yet ultimately, the brief argues that there is an (unconstitutional) racial classification if ICWA is applied too broadly.  Clement argues that ICWA should be interpreted to limit "its application to adoption and custody proceedings involving children who are either domiciled on a reservation or have some other tribal connection beyond biology."  

These limitations are crucial to preserving the Act’s constitutionality, ensuring that the Act’s differential treatment of Indians operates only to promote tribal sovereignty and the unique interests of Indians as tribal citizens, and not as invidious racial discrimination that arbitrarily trumps Baby Girl’s liberty interests.  [ICWA's] definition of parent, properly interpreted, avoids these difficulties by declining to give an unwed Indian father rights based on biology alone that no non-Indian unwed father enjoys. 

Moreover, ICWA's constitutional interpretation rests upon limiting its "application to children in the pre-existing custody of an Indian parent or other circumstances in which there is a distinct connection to tribal interests."

Clement - -  who so recently represented BLAG supporting the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor - - - here has quite a different view of equality and federal power.  

While it is unlikely that these constitutional arguments assume center stage, they may infuse the statutory interpretation of ICWA so squarely before the Court.

RR
[image circa 1890 via]

April 15, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, History, Interpretation, Race, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Linda Sugin on the Constitutional Tax Avoidance of the Roberts Court

The Roberts Court majority is avoiding taxes: not the income taxes revealed by the returns due today, April 15, but the constitutional scrutiny that taxes deserve.

LsuginLaw Prof Linda Sugin (pictured left), in her article The Great and Mighty Tax Law: How the Roberts Court Has Reduced Constitutional Scrutiny of Taxes and Tax Expenditures, draft available on ssrn, analyzes two cases that are not typically paired. 

First, she considers National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, in which, as she describes it, Justice Roberts' "newly muscular tax law saved Obamacare from near death at the hands of the Commerce Clause." 

Second, she examines Arizona Christian Schools v. Winn, in which, as dhe describes it, the majority   "adopted a novel judicial approach to targeted tax benefits" and denied standing in an Establishment Clause challenge.

Sugin argues that these two cases, taken together, "challenge the revenue-raising role of the tax law, and give it tremendous potential to overcome constitutional obstacles that legislatures face," including state legislatures.  She contends that the cases "introduce confusion into the law of taxation by incentivizing the adoption of more non-revenue policy in the tax law, and blurring the conceptual structure of taxation."  She claims that "these decisions undermine the important work on tax reform and fiscal responsibility that other branches of government are doing."  Ultimately, she argues that these decisions portend that "policies administered through the tax law" will be deemed constitutional "even where those same policies would be unconstitutional if administered as either direct regulation or appropriated spending."

Worth a read and not only on "tax day."

RR

April 15, 2013 in Commerce Clause, Current Affairs, Recent Cases, Religion, Scholarship, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)