Friday, May 3, 2013

New York's Highest Court on the Constitutionality of Force-Feeding Hunger Striking Prisoners

The hunger strike amongst prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has led to force-feeding, a situation prompting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN to issue a statement reiterating the disapproval of Guantanamo and remind the United States that:

in cases involving people on hunger strikes, the duty of medical personnel to act ethically and the principle of respect for individuals’ autonomy, among other principles, must be respected. Under these principles, it is unjustifiable to engage in forced feeding of individuals contrary to their informed and voluntary refusal of such a measure. Moreover, hunger strikers should be protected from all forms of coercion, even more so when this is done through force and in some cases through physical violence. Health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike. Nor is it acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have voluntarily decided to go on a hunger strike.

New York's highest court, in its opinion in Bezio v. Dorsey regarding a state prisoner on a hunger strike reached an opposite conclusion.  The court's majority stated:

The issue before us is whether Dorsey's rights were violated by a judicial order permitting the State to feed him by nasogastric tube after his health devolved to the point that his condition became life-threatening. We answer that question in the negative.

450px-Galler,_Hornsgatan_2012aYet the question of Dorsey's "rights" that were properly before the court occupied the bulk of the majority and dissenting opinions.  The state Department of Corrections and Correctional Services (DOCCS) had originally sought the judicial order relating to Dorsey, a "serial hunger striker," which Dorsey resisted with pragmatic rather than constitutional arguments.  But the state relied heavily on previous New York law - - - including a case involving Mark Chapman, the man convicted of murdering John Lennon - - - to support the constitutionality of forced-feeding. 

Chief Judge Lippman, dissenting (and joined by Judge Rivera) argued that there were too many factual distinctions, including any finding that the prisoner or the institution was actually in danger.

As noted, DOCCS's own consulting psychiatrist stated flatly in his assessment that Mr. Dorsey was not suicidal. He was undoubtedly manipulative [as the doctor had stated], but all civil disobedience is manipulative. Manipulativeness, obviously, is not a sufficient predicate for forced feeding by the State.

While concluding that the issues are not properly before the court, and that the case is moot under state constitutional doctrine, the dissenting judges nevertheless concluded

The right to refuse treatment, we have held, is a kind of liberty interest within the protective ambit of the Due Process Clause of the State Constitution. While the right may be overcome in compelling circumstances justifying the state's resort to its police power and the state may thus intervene to prevent suicide, the individual's basic prerogative to make decisions affecting his or her own personal health and right to be left alone, i.e. to personal privacy, ordinarily will trump even the best intended state intervention.  

For the majority of the court, however, the balance articulated in Turner v. Safley (1987) was easily resolved in favor of the legitimate penological interests of the prison, including the risk of a "significant destabilizing impact on the institution" by an inmate hunger strike, to allow force feeding an inmate.

RR
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May 3, 2013 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, International, Medical Decisions, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Congressional Research Service on Obama's Federal Court Nominees

The general perception that Congress has been recalcitrant regarding President Obama's nominees to the federal bench can be tested against the Congressional Research Service report, President Obama’s First-Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan, authored by Barry J. McMillion.

CRSRegarding Circuit judgeships, the report concludes:

During the first terms of the five most recent Presidents (Reagan to Obama), the 30 confirmed Obama circuit court nominees were tied with 30 Clinton nominees as the fewest number of circuit nominees confirmed. The percentage of circuit nominees confirmed during President Obama’s first term, 71.4%, was the second-lowest, while the percentage confirmed during G.W. Bush’s first term, 67.3%, was the lowest.

For district judges, the report declares:

President Obama’s first term, compared with the first terms of Presidents Reagan to G.W. Bush, had the second-fewest number of district court nominees confirmed (143 compared with 130 for President Reagan) and the second-lowest percentage of district court nominees confirmed (82.7% compared with 76.9% for President G.H.W. Bush).

As to the timeliness of the process, the report states:

President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).

 

The 31 page report has many specific details and statistics.  It's definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the federal judiciary.

RR

 

May 3, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kansas Outlaws Federal Gun Laws

Kansas thumbed its nose at the federal government and its current and future gun laws recently in SB 102, the Second Amendment Protection Act, which declares federal gun laws unenforceable in the state.  

In particular, SB 102 says that the state legislature "declared" that firearms and accessories "manufactured commercially or privately and owned in Kansas and that remain within the borders of Kansas . . . have not traveled in interstate commerce" and therefore are not subject to federal regulation, including any federal registration requirement, under the Commerce Clause.  In short, the law seeks to insulate firearms and accessories that are made and kept only within the state from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause.  This reading of the Clause would deny the federal government authority to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce--a well settled congressional authority.  (The law also says that component parts imported from other states don't transform an otherwise Kansas-made firearm into an item in interstate commerce.)  To that extent, the law seems well tailored to test this long-standing aspect of congressional Commerce Clause authority--the power to regulate intrastate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.  If so, that's unlikely to go anywhere.  (Even in last summer's ACA/individual-mandate case, the Court gave no indication that it would wholly reconsider Congress's power to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.)

More, SB 102 outlaws enforcement of federal law--even by federal law enforcement.  Enforcement of federal law is a felony in Kansas, but the legislature gave federal law enforcement officials this gift: Kansas won't arrest or detain them prior to, or during the pendancy of, any trial for a violation.  In other words, the charge, trial, and conviction are all just part of the political theater surrounding this obviously invalid law.

(In addition to the substantive portions of the law, SB 102 also includes the usual statements for this kind of law--statements about the Tenth Amendment (in support of a robust idea of states' rights) and the Second Amendment (as an absolute bar to any gun regulation).  It also has a section on the Ninth Amendment.)

Attorney General Eric Holder shot back, reminding the state of the Supremacy Clause, and concluding that "the United States will take all appropriate action, including litigation if necessary, to prevent the State of Kansas from interfering with the activities of federal officials enforcing federal law."

Governor Brownback responded, arguing that the measure enjoyed wide bi-partisan support in the state.  He said that this meant that "[t]he people of Kansas have clearly expressed their sovereign will.  It is my hope that upon further review, you will see their right to do so."

SDS 

May 3, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Preemption, Second Amendment, Supremacy Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Daily Read: Retired Justice O'Connor on Bush v. Gore

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reportedly stated that the Court took the case of Bush v. Gore

"and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue. Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'" 

The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation."

"Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision," she said. "It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day."

This falls far short of a statement that O'Connor regretted her decision in the infamous Bush v. Gore, as some have concluded.

 

400px-George_W._Bush_speaks_to_Sandra_O'Connor_on_phone
President George W. Bush speaks via phone to Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Friday, July 1, 2005, shortly after she submitted her letter of resignation citing personal reasons. The letter sits on the desk. White House photo by Paul Morse.

RR
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April 29, 2013 in Elections and Voting, History, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

States Can Restrict FOIA Laws to Own Citizens, Court Says

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in McBurney v. Young that a state can restrict its own freedom of information law to its own citizens without violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause or the dormant Commerce Clause.  We covered oral arguments here.

The ruling puts an exclamation point behind the idea that there's no fundamental right to public records.  If there were any doubt going into the case, this ruling settled the matter: Our Constitution doesn't require freedom of information.  If you want it, take it up with your legislature.

The case arose out of two out-of-state claimants' efforts to get Virginia state records through the state FOIA.  One of those claimants, McBurney, sought records related to the state's 9-month delay in enforcing a child support order that he had against his ex-spouse, a Virginia resident.  The other, Hurlbert, sought state real estate tax records on half of his clients.  The state didn't provide the requested records pursuant to its FOIA, however, because its FOIA extends only to state citizens.  (It did provide most of the records through other means.)  Both McBurney and Hurlbert sued, arguing that the FOIA violated the Article 4 Privileges and Immunities Clause and the dormant Commerce Clause.  

The Court disagreed.  In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court said that the FOIA doesn't interfere with a fundamental right in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause.  It said that the FOIA doesn't violate the opportunity to pursue a common calling, because the law wasn't designed to provide a competitive advatage for Virginia citizens.  It doesn't violate the right to own or transfer property in Virginia, because Virginia makes the necessary records available through the clerks of its circuit courts (even if not through its FOIA).  The FOIA doesn't violate the right to gain equal access to Virginia courts, because its citizens-only application leaves open "reasoanble and adequate" access to the courts (because state procedure allows discovery and subpoenas, which would provide noncitizens with any relevant and nonprivileged information, and state law allows equal access to judicial records).  And it doesn't violate a claimed right to gain access to public information on equal terms, because, well, there is no such right.

The Court also rejected Hurlbert's dormant Commerce Clause claim, ruling that Virginia's FOIA neither regulates nor burdens interstate commerce.  "[R]ather, it merely provides a service to local citizens that would not otherwise be available at all."  Op. at 13.

Justice Thomas joined the opinion but wrote separately to remind us of his view that "[t]he negative Commerce Clause has no basis in the text of the Constitution."  

SDS

April 29, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Peter Sagal's Constitution USA

Peter Sagal (of NPR's Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!) took to the road on his Harley to talk about the Constitution with everyone from scholars to regular folk.  His question: Does the Constitution have what it takes to keep up with modern America?  His result: a four-part series on PBS, premiering next Tuesday, May 7, titled Constitution USA.  Here's the promo:

Watch A More Perfect Union - Preview on PBS. See more from Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.

 

Constitution USA also has its own web-site, with links, text, video clips of Sagal's interviews, and even constitutional games (yes, games!).  Check it out.

SDS

April 29, 2013 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)