Thursday, July 25, 2013

DOJ To Seek Bail-In Preclearance for Texas Under Voting Rights Act

AG Eric Holder announced today that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal district court in Texas to bail-in Texas for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.  The move, the Department's first after the Supreme Court struck the Section 4 coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County v. Holder, is part of Holder's announced strategy to use still-available portions of the Voting Rights Act (like bail-in and Section 2 litigation) to enforce voting rights.

If successful, bail-in would mean that Texas would be subject to the preclearance requirement, notwithstanding the Court's ruling in Shelby County.  That's because the Court in Shelby County struck the coverage formula for preclearance (in Section 4 of the VRA), but didn't touch other portions of the VRA, including the bail-in provision in Section 3(c).  (It also didn't touch Section 5, the preclearance provision.)  Under the bail-in provision in Section 3(c), the DOJ can seek continued federal court monitoring of an offending jurisdiction, a freeze on the jurisdiction's election laws, and a requirement that the jurisdiction get permission, or preclearance, from the court or the DOJ before it makes any changes to its election laws.

AG Holder cited the federal court's rejection of preclearance to Texas's redistricting, which the court said had both the purpose and effect of discriminating in the vote, as support for his action.  (Recall that the Supreme Court vacated that federal court's rejection of preclearance shortly after it handed down Shelby County.)

If successful, AG Holder will subject Texas again to preclearance.  This approach, seeking individual jurisdiction bail-in under Section 3(c) of the VRA, is a more tailored way to target particularly offending jurisdictions than the coverage formula in Section 4, struck by the Court in Shelby County.  Still, it may face some of the same problems that Section 4 faced in Shelby County--particularly, it may run up against the new "equal state sovereignty" doctrine that we wrote about here.

SDS

July 25, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

D.C. Circuit Strikes Congressional Attempt to Recognize Israeli Sovereignty Over Jerusalem

The D.C. Circuit struck a congressional act that required the State Department to include "Israel" on the passport of any U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem.  The court in Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State ruled that the law interfered with the President's exclusive power to recognize foreign countries.

The case will likely go (back) to the Supreme Court, this time on the merits.  This is a significant separation-of-powers case, with important implications, and even if the Court ultimately agrees with the D.C. Circuit, it'll almost certainly want to put its own stamp on the substantive questions.

The case was on remand, after the Supreme Court ruled last Term that it did not raise a nonjusticiable political question.  We posted on that case here; here's our argument preview in that case.

The problem was that long-standing State Department policy and practice did not recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel.  The Foreign Affairs Manual, the State Department regs, reflected this, saying that passports issued to U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem should use just "Jerusalem" as the place of birth, not "Jerusalem, Israel," or "Israel."

Congress moved to direct the State Department to use "Israel," however, as part of its broader effort in 2002 to change U.S. foreign policy and identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  President Bush signed the larger bill, but issued a signing statement on those portions of the bill, including the portion that required the use of "Israel" on passports of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem, saying that those portions interfered with the President's foreign affairs powers.

Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem to U.S. citizens.  His parents sought to designate his place of birth as "Jerusalem, Israel," on his passport, but the State Department refused.  The Zivotofskys sued, and after going up and back to the Supreme Court, the case landed again in the D.C. Circuit.

The D.C. Circuit started with the so-called recognition power--the power to recognize foreign countries.  The court reviewed the original intent, early and later practices, and Supreme Court rulings on the recognition power and found that it belonged to the President alone.  (It found original intent inconclusive, however.)

It said that Congress's attempt to require the use of "Israel" interfered with that power and thus struck the provision.

The court rejected Zivotofsky's argument that Congress has a "passport power" that it properly exercised here.  The court said that, whatever the extent of its passport power, Congress was quite obviously trying to do more than just regulate the contents of passports here: it was trying to set U.S. foreign policy.  The court said that this interfered with the President's power to recognize foreign countries.  

The court also rejected Zivotofsky's argument that the use of "Israel" didn't affect foreign affairs or recognition, because the State Department used the country-of-birth simply to identify the passport holder.  The court said that the State Department said that this would affect foreign affairs, and that it's not the court's place to second-guess the executive branch on this.

(The court also said that President Bush's signing statement was irrelevant to its analysis, and that Zivotofsky's argument that the State Department policy discriminates against supporters of Israel was waived.)

Judge Tatel, concurring, came to the same conclusion, but started with the passport power.  Judge Tatel argued that the passport power, whatever it is, can't interfere with the President's recognition power.

SDS

July 23, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

North Dakota Federal Judge Enjoins North Dakota's Abortion Restrictions

 

300px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitol
North Dakota State Capitol Building
Judge Daniel Hovland's opinion in MKB Management, Inc. v. Burdick grants a preliminary injunction against North Dakota House Bill 1456 passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, which would make it a criminal offense to perform an abortion if a “heartbeat” has been detected, thereby banning abortions beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions.  As the plaintiffs, who run the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, argued, abortions before six weeks are exceedingly rare, in part because a woman rarely knows she is pregnant before that time. 

 

A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has consistently been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in the forty years since Roe v. Wade. See e.g., City of Akron v. Akron Ctr. for Reprod. Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416, 420 (1983) (a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy) (overruled on other grounds); Casey, 505 U.S. at 846 (a woman has a right to an abortion before viability without undue interference from the state); Stenberg, 530 U.S. at 921 (a woman has the right to choose an abortion before viability); Gonzales, 550 U.S. 124 (the state may not prevent “any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy”).

Indeed, Judge Hovland stated:

It is crystal clear from United States Supreme Court precedent that viability, although not a fixed point, is the critical point.

(emphasis in original).  He characterized the Defendants’ arguments as "necessarily rest[ing] on the premise that every Court of Appeals to strike a ban on pre-viability abortion care has misread United States Supreme Court precedent."  He stated that "until" Roe v. Wade and Casey are "overturned by the United States Supreme Court, this Court is bound to follow that precedent under the rule of stare decisis."

After briefly assessing the traditional standards for a preliminary injunction, Judge Hovland enjoined North Dakota House Bill 1456 which was to become effective August 1. 

Where and on what basis the "viability" line can be drawn remains uncertain in the continuing abortion debates, but six weeks is certainly too early.

RR

July 23, 2013 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ohio Federal Judge Enjoins State-DOMA: More Aftermath of Windsor

332px-Flag_Map_of_Ohio.svgIn a fifteen page opinion, federal district judge Timothy Black enjoined the application of Ohio's state DOMA provisions - - - both statutory and the state constitutional amendment - - - to a same-sex couple married out of state.  In Obergefell v. Kasich, the judge adapted the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's June opinion in Court's United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA unconstitutional.  Judge Black's opinion is part of the aftermath of Windsor that we most recently discussed here.

Judge Black's opinion has a succinct discussion of equal protection doctrine and concludes,

Under Supreme Court jurisprudence, states are free to determine conditions for valid marriages, but these restrictions must be supported by legitimate state purposes because they infringe on important liberty interests around marriage and intimate relations.

In derogation of law, the Ohio scheme has unjustifiably created two tiers of couples: (1) opposite-sex married couples legally married in other states; and (2) same-sex married couples legally married in other states. This lack of equal protection of law is fatal.

Judge Black's opinion has a brief explicit mention of "animus," but the concept permeates the opinion.  For example, he notes that before the state enacted its DOMA provisions:

Longstanding Ohio law has been clear: a marriage solemnized outside of Ohio is valid in Ohio if it is valid where solemnized. This legal approach is firmly rooted in the longstanding legal principle of “lex loci contractus” -- i.e., the law of the place of the contracting controls. Ohio has adopted this legal approach from its inception as a State.

Thus, for example, under Ohio law, as declared by the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1958, out-of-state marriages between first cousins are recognized by Ohio, even though Ohio law does not authorize marriages between first cousins.

To be sure, the injunction is a limited one applicable to sympathetic facts.  One of the partners is a hospice patient and the relief requested regards the martial status and surviving spouse to be recorded on the death certificate.  Yet Judge Black's reasoning is not limited and opens the door to rulings that Ohio's DOMA provisions limiting state recognition of marriages to only opposite-sex marriages fails constitutional scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.

RR

July 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Divided Fourth Circuit Rejects Reporters' Privilege to Protect Sources

In its opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, a sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel declared there was no First Amendment right - - - or common law privilege - - - for a reporter to resist a subpoena to reveal the identity of a source.

State_of_War_James_RisenThe underlying controversy involves James Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration  and the prosecution of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling for various crimes related to his revealtions of classified information.   As Chief Fourth Circuit Judge William Traxler, writing for the panel majority on this issue, describes it,

Chapter 9 of the book, entitled “A Rogue Operation,” reveals details about Classified Program No. 1. J.S.A. 219-32. In the book, Risen entitled the program “Operation Merlin” and described it as a “failed attempt by the CIA to have a former Russian scientist provide flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran.” J.A. 722. Risen does not reveal his sources for the classified information in Chapter 9, nor has he indicated whether he had more than one source. However, much of the chapter is told from the point of view of a CIA case officer responsible for handling Human Asset No. 1. The chapter also describes two classified meetings at which Sterling was the only common attendee.

While the opinion involves two other issues, involving the suppression of the testimony of two other government witnesses and the withholding of the identities of several covert CIA operatives under the Classified Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), 18 U.S.C. app. 3 - - - issues on which Chief Judge Traxler wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion - - - the nonexistence of a reporters' privilege is the most central from a constitutional perspective.   The majority opinion was unequivocal:

There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source.

The majority reasoned that this result was mandated by the United States Supreme Court's 1972 opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes.  It did not credit the argument that Justice Powell’s concurring opinion in Branzburg made Branzburg's holding less clear.  Instead, it rejected Risen's contention that Powell's concurrence "should instead be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of Justice Stewart’s dissenting opinion, which argued in favor of recognizing a First Amendment privilege in criminal cases that could be overcome only if the government carries the heavy burden of establishing a compelling interest or need."  The majority stated that just as in Branzburg, Risen has

“direct information . . . concerning the commission of serious crimes.” Branzburg, 408 U.S. at 709. Indeed, he can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury –- the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government  to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead.

That the crime is the leak itself does not seem to be noteworthy.  The majority likewise rejected the notion that there was any common law privilege.

For Judge Robert Gregory, dissenting, principles of a free press as expressed in the First Amendment should include a reporter's privilege, that should then be evaluated under a balancing test:

Protecting the reporter’s privilege ensures the informed public discussion of important moral, legal, and strategic issues. Public debate helps our government act in accordance with our Constitution and our values. Given the unprecedented volume of information available in the digital age – including information considered classified – it is important for journalists to have the ability to elicit and convey to the public an informed narrative filled with detail and context. Such reporting is critical to the way our citizens obtain information about what is being done in their name by the government.

For Judge Gregory, Justice Powell's concurring opinion modifies the holding of Branzburg.  Recognizing that the "full import of Justice Powell’s concurrence continues to be debated," Judge Gregory notes that appellate courts have subsequently hewed closer to Justice Powell’s concurrence – and Justice Stewart’s dissent – than to the majority opinion, and a number of courts have since recognized a qualified reporter’s privilege, often utilizing a three-part balancing test."  He thus finds it "sad" that the majority "departs from Justice Powell’s Branzburg concurrence and our established precedent to announce for the first time that the First Amendment provides no protection for reporters."  Judge Gregory would also recognize a "common law privilege protecting a reporter’s sources pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 501."

While there are statutory proposals and provisions aplenty, the continuing confusion over the meaning of Branzburg and the existence of a reporter's First Amendment or even common right to retain confidentiality of sources does call for resolution.  The Fourt Circuit's divided opinion squarely presents the issue for the Supreme Court .

RR

July 22, 2013 in Books, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)