Tuesday, September 1, 2015
District Judge Finds "Obamacare" Contraception Mandate Unconstitutional as applied to "March for Life"
In an opinion that essentially extends religious protections to a nonreligious organization, Judge Richard Leon has ruled in March for Life v. Burwell that the so-called contraceptive mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare") cannot constitutionally be applied to a nonprofit anti-abortion employer. While portions of Judge Leon's opinion predictably relied upon the Supreme Court's closely divided 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Judge Leon notably found that the contraception mandate's exclusion of religious organizations - - - but not other organizations - - - violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.
Judge Leon applied rational basis review, but declared that
Were defendants to have their way here, rational basis review would have all the bite of a rubber stamp!
Defendants contend that March for Life is not “similarly situated” to the exempted organizations because it “is not religious and is not a church.” Rational basis review is met, they argue, because the purpose served, “accommodating religious exercise by religious institutions,” is “permissible and legitimate.” This not only oversimpliﬁes the issue—it misses the point entirely! The threshold question is not whether March for Life is “generally” similar to churches and their integrated auxiliaries. It is whether March for Life is similarly situated with regard to the precise attribute selected for accommodation. For the following reasons, I conclude that it most assuredly is.
In short, Judge Leon found that "March for Life" was similarly situated to religious organizations given the HHS rationale for excluding religious organizations from the contraception mandate:
HHS has chosen to protect a class of individuals that, it believes, are less likely than other individuals to avail themselves of contraceptives. It has consequently moored this accommodation not in the language of conscientious objection, but in the vernacular of religious protection. This, of course, is puzzling. In HHS’s own view, it is not the belief or non-belief in God that warrants safe harbor from the Mandate. The characteristic that warrants protection——an employment relationship based in part on a shared objection to abortifacients—is altogether separate from theism. Stated differently, what HHS claims to be protecting is religious beliefs, when it actually is protecting a moral philosophy about the sanctity of human life. HHS may be correct that this objection is common among religiously-affiliated employers. Where HHS has erred, however, is in assuming that this trait is unique to such organizations. It is not.
In other words, the HHS's rationale - - - the government interest - - - was not specifically religious and thus should not be limited to religious organizations in keeping with principles of equal protection. Some of this reasoning is reminiscent of Hobby Lobby, of course, but there the level of scrutiny under RFRA was strict (or perhaps even stricter than strict) scrutiny, while Judge Leon is applying rational basis scrutiny.
Interestingly, Judge Leon states that "'religion' is not a talisman that sweeps aside all constitutional concerns," and quotes the classic conscientious objector case of Welsh v. United States (1970) for the "long recognized" principle that “[i]f an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content . . . those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that individual a place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons.” Taken to its logical conclusion, this reasoning has the potential to eliminate - - - or at least ameliorate - - - the "special" protection of religious freedom.
In his application of RFRA, Judge Leon's opinion is on more well-plowed ground. He notes that while "March for Life is avowedly non—religious, the employee plaintiffs do oppose the Mandate on religious grounds." This brings the case within the purview of Hobby Lobby. As Judge Leon phrases it:
The ﬁnal question the Court must ask under RFRA is whether the current Mandate is the least restrictive means of serving this governmental interest. Assuredly, it is not!
While Judge Leon dismissed the free exercise claim, based upon the DC Circuit's opinion and denial of en banc review in Priests for Life v HHS, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the Equal Protection and RFRA claims (as well as a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act).
When this case reaches the DC Circuit, it will be interesting to see how the court - - - as well as religious organizations and scholars - - - views Judge Leon's potentially destabilizing equal protection analysis.
September 1, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
A unanimous panel of the Eighth Circuit, affirming the district judge, found that North Dakota's abortion regulation based on a "detectable heartbeat" is unconstitutional in its opinion in MKB Management Corp. v. Stenehjem.
North Dakota's 2013 House Bill 1456, codified at N.D. Cent. Code § 14-02.1, mandates physicians determine whether the "unborn child" has a "detectable heartbeat," and if so, makes it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion. The medical evidence submitted was that a "detectable heartbeat" occurs when a woman is about six weeks pregnant.
The court held that a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability is binding United States Supreme Court precedent, quoting language from Gonzales v. Carhart (2007): "Before viability, a State 'may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy.'”
However, the Eighth Circuit opinion noted that while it could not depart from the current state of protection of the right to abortion, the United States Supreme Court should reconsider the issue. Essentially, the Eighth Circuit opinion argues that "developments in the unborn" should shift the balance to the ability of the states - - - and not the courts - - - to protect the unborn and assert the interest in "potential life." The court's opinion also discussed the controversial findings that women who have had abortions suffer from emotional ills including regret, as well as repeating evidence that "some studies support a connection between abortion and breast cancer." The court thus concludes, "the continued application of the Supreme Court’s viability standard discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children."
Nevertheless, the opinion clearly finds the North Dakota law unconstitutional.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
In its divided opinion in Children First Foundation v. Fiala, the Second Circuit held that the Commissioner of Motor Vehicle's rejection of "Choose Life" license plates for the state's specialty plate program is constitutional. Judge Pooler, joined by Judge Hall, reversed the district judge's conclusion that the rejection violated the First Amendment.
The Second Circuit's divided opinion enters the fray of what might be called the developing doctrine of license plates, be they state-mandated, vanity, or as here, "specialty" plates issued by the state as a means of raising revenue. As we've discussed, the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld.
The progenitor of this doctrine is the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard (1977) involving compelled speech. This Term the Court heard oral arguments in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans; a divided Fifth Circuit had held that the rejection of the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate (featuring the Confederate flag) was a violation of the First Amendment as impermissible content and viewpoint discrimination. The Second Circuit stayed the mandate of its decision pending the outcome of Walker.
The specialty license plate litigation involves the intersection of a number of First Amendment doctrines. As Judge Pooler's opinion in Children First Foundation expressed its holding:
We conclude that the content of New York’s custom license plates constitutes private speech [rather than government speech] and that the plates themselves are a nonpublic forum. CFF’s facial challenge fails because New York’s custom plate program did not impermissibly vest the DMV Commissioner with unbridled discretion in approving custom plate designs. Furthermore, that program, as applied in this case, was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires of restrictions on expression in a nonpublic forum.
Judge Pooler's well-structured opinion supports this conclusion. First, the court considers whether the license plate is government speech or private speech. If the speech is government speech, then the First Amendment has little application. (Recall that this was the position of the dissenting judge in the Fifth Circuit's decision in Sons of Confederate Veterans). Agreeing with other circuits, the court reasons that an application of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum (2009) and Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n (2005) leads to " little difficulty concluding that such an observer would know that motorists affirmatively request specialty plates and choose to display those plates on their vehicles, which constitute private property."
bringing to justice individuals who have attacked police officers cannot reasonably compare—either by its very nature or by the level of contentiousness that surrounds it—to the issue of abortion. With respect to the decision to issue a “Union Yes” plate, while the myriad issues pertaining to organized labor in the United States are social and political in nature, there is no basis to conclude that the Department failed to apply the policy against creating plates that touch upon contentious political issues as opposed to having applied the policy and merely reaching a different result than it did with the “Choose Life” plate.
May 27, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 22, 2014
Fourth Circuit Finds North Carolina's Anti-Abortion "Right to Know" Statute Violates First Amendment
In the unanimous panel opinion today in Stuart v. Camnitz, authored by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, the court agreed with the district judge that North Carolina's "Woman's Right to Know Act" violates the First Amendment. The Act required a physician "to perform an ultrasound, display the sonogram, and describe the fetus to women seeking abortions."
The Fourth Circuit ruled that the statute is
quintessential compelled speech. It forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose and anticipated effect of the Display of Real-Time View Requirement is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions.
The court rejected the state's contention that the statute was merely a regulation of professional speech that should be subject to the low standard of rational basis review. Instead, the court reasoned that because the statute was a content-based regulation of speech, it should be evaluated under an intermediate scrutiny standard akin to that of commercial speech.
Importantly, the court also acknowledged its specific disagreement with the Eighth Circuit's en banc opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds (2012) and the Fifth Circuit's opinion in Tex. Med. Providers Performing Abortion Servs. v. Lakey (5th Cir. 2012). The Fourth Circuit states that its sister circuits were incorrect to reply on a single paragraph in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, and "read too much into Casey and Gonzales [v. Carhart]," neither of which, the court points out, were First Amendment cases.
As the court stated,
In sum, though the State would have us view this provision as simply a reasonable regulation of the medical profession, these requirements look nothing like traditional informed consent, or even the versions provided for in Casey and in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.82. As such, they impose an extraordinary burden on expressive rights. The three elements discussed so far -- requiring the physician to speak to a patient who is not listening, rendering the physician the mouthpiece of the state’s message, and omitting a therapeutic privilege to protect the health of the patient -- markedly depart from standard medical practice.
Abortion may well be a special case because of the undeniable gravity of all that is involved, but it cannot be so special a case that all other professional rights and medical norms go out the window. While the state itself may promote through various means childbirth over abortion, it may not coerce doctors into voicing that message on behalf of the state in the particular manner and setting attempted here.
Most likely North Carolina will seek en banc review or petition for certiorari based on the conflicting opinions in the Fifth and Eighth Circuits.
UPDATE: On June 15, 2015, the United States Supreme Court's Order denied certiorari in the case now styled Walker-McGill v. Stuart, with a notation "justice Scalia dissents," but with no accompanying opinion.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The controversial Texas law limiting abortion access known as HB 2, which began law despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, is now effectively enjoined - - - in part - - -by the United States Supreme Court in its Order in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.
Here's the entire text:
The application to vacate stay of final judgment pending appeal presented to Justice Scalia and by him referred to the court is granted in part and denied in part. The Court of Appeals’ stay order with reference to the district court’s order enjoining the admitting-privileges requirement as applied to the McAllen and El Paso clinics is vacated. The Court of Appeals’ stay order with reference to the district court’s order enjoining the ambulatory surgical center requirement is vacated. The application is denied in all other respects.
Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito would deny the application in its entirety.
To recap: the United States Supreme Court is vacating the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.Recall also that this is an as-applied challenge. A panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
In Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey, the Fifth Circuit today issued a stay of the majority of the district judge's injunction against portions of Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis. A panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
This newest round of opinions consider the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement.
In the stay opinion, authored by Judge Jennifer Elrod (pictured below) the majority states that there is some confusion concerning whether the district judge's opinion is actually limited to the as-applied challenge or whether it goes further.
The majority interjects some confusion of its own with its statement that the district judge was wrong to conclude that "the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them" because
In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes.
The Fifth Circuit's majority opinion states that
the district court’s approach ratchets up rational basis review into a pseudo-strict-scrutiny approach by examining whether the law advances the State’s asserted purpose. Under our precedent, we have no authority by which to turn rational basis into strict scrutiny under the guise of the undue burden inquiry.
It is this point on which Judge Stephen Higginson, concurring in part and dissenting in part, disagrees. He states that he does not read the earlier HB 2 case, Abbott, "to preclude consideration of the relationship between the severity of the obstacle imposed and the weight of the State’s interest in determining if the burden is 'undue.'" And that consistent with the correct analysis, "the district court considered the weight of the State’s interest in its undue-burden review."
With one small exception - - -the district court’s injunction of the physical plant requirements of the ambulatory surgical provision remaining in force for El Paso - - - the Fifth Circuit stayed the district judge's injunction. While the court states that the merits panel is not bound by its determination, it will certainly be persuasive when the Fifth Circuit considers the next round in the saga of the constitutionality of HB2.
Monday, September 1, 2014
The latest installment in the continuing saga of HB 2, Texas' restrictive abortion law, occurred late Friday with Judge Lee Yeakel enjoining the admitting privileges requirement and the ambultory-surgical-center requirement in his 21 page opinion in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.
Recall that a panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision of controversial Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
This new opinion considers the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement.
In considering the testimony and evidence in the bench trial, Judge Yeakel found that the "experts’ testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposing conclusions," noting that this is "the nature of expert testimony." But the judge did use some of that testimony, as well as carefully considering the parties' stipulations.
The court concludes that the act’s ambulatory-surgical—center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles erected for these women are more significant than the “incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.” [citing Casey]. The court concludes that the overall lack of practical access to abortion services resulting from clinic closures throughout Texas as a result of House Bill 2 is compelling evidence of a substantial obstacle erected by the act.
The judge also concluded "that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them." And, perhaps most interestingly, the judge explicitly considered the legislative intent of HB2:
An abortion regulation is also violative of a woman’s right to an abortion if it was adopted with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle to a woman’s ability to choose a previability abortion. [citing Gonzales v Carhart]. Because the act’s two requirements have the effect of creating an undue burden, an additional ﬁnding that the act was passed with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle is not required in order to declare the act unconstitutional. However, the court concludes, after examining the act and the context in which it operates, that the ambulatory-surgical- center requirement was intended to close existing licensed abortion clinics. The requirement’s implementing rules speciﬁcally deny grandfathering or the granting of waivers to previously licensed abortion providers. This is in contrast to the “frequent” granting of some sort of variance from the standards which occur in the licensing of nearly three-quarters of all licensed ambulatory surgical centers in Texas. Such disparate and arbitrary treatment, at a minimum, suggests that it was the intent of the State to reduce the number of providers licensed to perform abortions, thus creating a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking to access an abortion. This is particularly apparent in light of the dearth of credible evidence supporting the proposition that abortions performed in ambulatory surgical centers have better patient health outcomes compared to clinics licensed under the previous regime.
Thus, the judge enjoined the enforcement of HB2.
The Attorney General of Texas is sure to appeal.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Eleventh Circuit: No Preliminary Injunction for Ordinance Aimed at Curbing Loud Sounds Outside Abortion Clinics
In its opinion in Pine v. City of West Palm Beach, a unanimous Eleventh Circuit panel affirmed the district judge's refusal to enjoin the enforcement of § 34-38 of the Code of the City of West Palm Beach which bans amplified sound within 100 feet of the property line of any health care facility.
The court held that the Sound Ordinance survived the First Amendment challenge as a valid time, place, or manner restriction on speech that is content-neutral, is narrowly tailored to advance the City’s substantial interest in protecting patients, and leaves open ample alternative avenues of communication, and further that it was not unconstitutional as applied to the abortion protesters.
The court relied upon Ward v. Rock Against Racism, which upheld a sound amplification regulation. It distinguished the Court's recent declaration of unconstitutionality of an abortion clinic buffer zone in McCullen v. Coakley:
This case raises issues sharply different from those addressed recently by the Supreme Court in McCullen. There, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibited activists from standing within thirty-five feet of the driveway or entrance of a reproductive health care facility. For a number of reasons, the Court held that the restriction was not narrowly tailored to the government’s interest in preventing obstructions and congestion outside of abortion clinics. The Court explained that the Massachusetts law “unnecessarily swe[pt] in innocent individuals and their speech” by “categorically exclud[ing] non-exempt individuals from the buffer zones.” Notably, Massachusetts had failed to pursue a variety of available, less-restrictive solutions for congestion problems. Finally, the law barred access to public sidewalks and ways, “areas historically open for speech and debate.” Massachusetts had taken “the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers.”
These considerations cut the other way in this case. Instead of casting a wide net that captures innocent speech, the Sound Ordinance targets only actions near health care facilities that produce types of noise that can endanger patients. In addition, here there are no less restrictive means: because the heart of the problem is loud, raucous, or disturbing noise, a restriction on that sound is narrowly tailored. Unlike in McCullen, the record here contains no evidence of feasible alternatives that protect patient health from such sound. Finally, the Sound Ordinance in no way prevents Petitioners from accessing public ways and sidewalks near the Center. They simply cannot create loud, raucous, or unreasonably disturbing noise while there.
[citations omitted]. The court had made clear that "the City’s noise control regulations indicate that the Sound Ordinance restriction on amplified sound applies only to 'loud and raucous noise, or any noise which unreasonably disturbs, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace, or safety' of others within a health care facility quiet zone." The court stated it the Sound Ordinance was not intended to have the "absurd" result that would prohibit "any electronic equipment that uses or produces amplified sound, from paging systems to administrators’ telephones to patient monitoring devices."
Thus construed, the court found that the Ordinance was not being enforced based on viewpoint when it was not enforced against "drive-through loudspeakers within the quiet zone by quick-service restaurants Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical." Instead, the protestors use of bullhorns was directly within the "loud and raucous noise" prohibition.
The court ended by emphasizing that the opinion was limited to the "extraordinary" remedy of a preliminary injunction and they plaintiffs were free to pursue a permanent injunction. But given that the court found that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate they had a likelihood of success on the First Amendment merits, the prospects for prevailing on those same First Amendment arguments are slight.
Monday, August 4, 2014
United States District Judge Myron Thompson, in a lengthy opinion in Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, concluded that the staff-privileges requirement of Alabama’s Women’s Health and Safety Act of 2013, 1975 Ala. Code § 26-23E-4(c), is unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs.
In considering whether the hospital admitting privileges requirement, especially given that hospitals were not deeming physicians eligible to apply, Judge Thompson found it constituted an undue burden. He did note and rely on last week's Fifth Circuit decision in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier in which the appellate court concluded that the admitting privileges requirement that would operate to close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi was an undue burden, in part because a state could not shift its responsibilities to other states.
The Alabama situation, however, was different as Judge Thompson noted:
This court does not need to resolve the legal issue of whether to consider out-of state clinics because, even if this court were to consider those clinics, it would reach the same conclusion. The out-of-state clinic nearest to any of the three cities at issue in this case is in Pensacola, Florida, approximately 50 miles away from Mobile. The Columbus, Georgia clinic is approximately 80 miles away from Montgomery. A woman in Mobile traveling to Pensacola or in Montgomery traveling to Columbus would still face the same threshold difficulties related to losing an abortion clinic in her home city; she would still have to overcome the challenges of the first 50 miles. Furthermore, the record does not support the conclusion that the Pensacola and Columbus clinics could actually accommodate an influx of patients from Alabama, and, in fact, the evidence from the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa clinics, discussed below, shows that it is not always easy for a clinic to increase capacity and suggests that the out-of-state clinics may not be able to treat large numbers of new women from Alabama.
The court also observed that if it looked outside the state's borders, it should not only look south and east but west as well. West of Alabama is Mississippi, and the court duly cites Jackson Women's Health Organization.
As the judge clarifies, he "reaches no conclusions on these matters, but hastens to point out that an out-of- state analysis is both much more complicated than the State suggests and potentially harmful, on balance, to the State’s case."
Moreover, the judge refused to deem the Fifth Circuit's decision in Abbott (on Texas's HB 2) as setting a per se rule that 150 miles of travel was not an undue burden. Instead, he found that the consideration of undue burden should be very specific and focused on the undue burden that the Alabama regulation would have on urban women rather than rural women.The court carefully considered the state's two proffered interests, the relationship of those interests, and then considered the undue burden, and anchored the conclusions in the testimony that is extensively discussed.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Divided Fifth Circuit Upholds Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi's Restrictive Abortion Law HB 1390
A panel of the Fifth Circuit in its opinion today in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier upheld the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of a restrictive abortion statute known as Mississippi HB 1390.
The statute required physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital. As the court noted, a similar provision in Texas (HB 2) was recently upheld by the Fifth Circuit in Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott. As to the rational basis of such a law, the panel stated it was "bound" by Abbott as precedent to accept that the Mississippi statute survives a constitutional challenge.
Regarding undue burden, however, the panel majority, in an opinion by Judge E. Grady Jolly (who interestingly hails from Mississippi) and joined by Judge Stephen Higginson, the effects of HB 1390 were relevant in this as-applied challenge. In assessing the undue burden, the court found it highly relevant that “if enforced, the admitting privileges requirement would likely require JWHO, the only currently licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, to lose its license.” The panel rejected the State's attempt to "walk back" this statement - - - which is actually a quote from the State's opening brief - - - as "too little, too late." Additionally, the majority found it important that the hospitals had rejected the physicians' applications for admitting privileges based on the fact that the physicians performed abortions.
The central - - - and exceedingly interesting - - - question of the undue burden analysis is the relevance of the clinic's status as the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi. The State argued that there is no undue burden because women could travel to another state and many of these distances would not be unduly burdensome in and of themselves. Recall that in Planned Parenthood of S.E. Penn. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) the plurality opinion rejected the contention that traveling long distances constituted an undue burden. But, as Judge Jolly notes, there was no suggestion that women should have to go to neighboring states in Casey or in any other opinion, and there is at least one circuit court opinion that finds it "dispositive" that women had to leave the state to exercise their constitutional right.
Additionally - - - and this is the interesting part - - - the court relies upon State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938) in the United States Supreme Court rejected Missouri's argument that its failure to admit an African-American man to its law school was essentially cured by its offer of a tuition stipend to allow Mr. Gaines to attend law school in another state. Here's the passage from Gaines that Judge Jolly finds worthy of quoting at length:
[T]he obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. . . . That obligation is imposed by the Constitution upon the States severally as governmental entities, —each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. It is an obligation the burden of which cannot be cast by one State upon another, and no State can be excused from performance by what another State may do or fail to do. That separate responsibility of each State within its own sphere is of the essence of statehood maintained under our dual system.
Id. at 350. Judge Jolly admits that Gaines can be distinguished, but finds Gaines nevertheless determinative: " a state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights."
In a lengthy and somewhat vehement dissent - - - complete with quotations from Albert Camus - - - Senior Judge Emilio Garza finds many things to criticize in the majority's opinion, including the majority's failure to recognize there is not sufficient state action for a constitutional claim (it is the hospitals denying admitting privileges rather than the statute that are the cause); the majority's failure to honor the distinction between equal protection (as in Gaines) and due process (in the abortion context); the majority's belief that there is relevance to crossing state lines (given the constitutional right to travel across state lines articulated in Saenz v. Roe); the majority's failure to recognize that Casey is nothing more than a "verbal shell game" (quoting Justice Scalia's dissent in Casey); the majority's recognition of the "liberty" interest (quotes in original) in the Due Process Clause; and the majority's participation in "aggrandizement of judicial power."
But the central issue of federalism including not only states' rights but states' responsibilities raised by this opinion and litigation is one that merits close consideration.
July 29, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 30, 2014
Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"
On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage? Here's our primer on the issues for more detail. Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results.
The oral arguments in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim. The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.
The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.
Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong. However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.
Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion. As we discussed, Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.
The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg, joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons). The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs." Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:
And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.” I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.
Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.” Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.
[citations and footnotes omitted].
Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."
However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.
June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 26, 2014
United States Supreme Court Declares Massachusetts' Buffer Zone Unconstitutional in McCullen v. Coakley
A unanimous Court, albeit in separate opinions, found the Massachusetts statute imposing a 35 foot buffer zone around places where abortions are performed violates the First Amendment in its opinion in McCullen v. Coakley, reversing the First Circuit.
Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts - - - who, unusually, did not ask any questions during the oral argument - - -found that the statute was not subject to strict scrutiny because it was content and viewpoint neutral, despite arguments to the contrary. However, the Court found that the statute failed the so-called "time, place, and manner" test articulated in Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781 (1989). The Court's opinion - - - joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan - - - concluded that the statute burdened more speech than necessary and was not sufficiently closely tailored. In large part, this was based on the statute's exceptional coverage of public streets and sidewalks. It was also based on the specific petitioners in the case, who are not "protesters," but people who "attempt to engage women approaching the clinics in what they call 'sidewalk counseling,' which involves offering information about alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options." Further, the Court articulated other less restrictive means available to Massachusetts, including targeted injunctions, and found that the record did not support the need for Massachusetts' sweeping approach. As the Court concluded:
Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks—sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history. Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.
Justice Scalia's concurring opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas, criticizes the Court's opinion as one
that has Something for Everyone, and the more significant portion continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence. That is the first half of the Court’s analysis, which concludes that a statute of this sort is not content based and hence not subject to so-called strict scrutiny. The Court reaches out to decide that question unnecessarily—or at least unnecessarily insofar as legal analysis is concerned.
Justice Alito, wrote separately but briefly to express his belief that the statute discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.
The takeaway is this: In a unanimous opinion, the Court ruled that Massachusetts went too far in seeking to protect the reproductive rights of women seeking abortions and infringed the First Amendment rights of those who seek to counsel them to change their minds. The Court's opinion approves more narrow methods governments might use to protect the reproductive rights of women entering clincs. But four Justices seem inclined to find a violation of the First Amendment in even more narrow government attempts.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Last week's oral arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and the companion case of Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. v. Sebelius saw discussions about the substantial burden on the companies regarding providing contraceptive coverage and included Chief Justice Roberts noting that Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs included the provision of health insurance and Justice Kennedy specifically asking about why the company could not simply pay any fines or taxes.
According to an article by Molly Redden in Mother Jones magazine today, Hobby Lobby does not exercise its religion in quite the same way when in comes to its 401(K) retirement plans. Based on corporate disclosures, three-quarters of the funds (73 million) have holdings that "clashed" with the owners of Hobby Lobby's stated religious principles. The corporation apparently did not avail itself of the faith-based investing that is often available.
Under First Amendment free exercise doctrine as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), questioning sincerity is difficult and adherents to a religious belief need not be consistent in their beliefs. Seemingly the only case in which a "contraceptive mandate" challenge suffered on these grounds is Eden Foods v. Sebelius.
Nevertheless, this scenario could have served as the basis of an interesting hypothetical regarding the "substantial burden" on its religious beliefs the company and owners claim.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
A panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld the restrictive abortion law of Texas in its opinion in Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott.
Authored by controversial conservative Judge Edith Jones, the unanimous panel opinion upholds positions of equally controversial Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis. The district judge's decision had enjoined the "admitting provisions of HB 2 as unconstitutional:
A physician performing or inducing an abortion:
(1) must, on the date the abortion is performed or induced, have active admitting privileges at a hospital that:
(A) is located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced; and
(B) provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services
The Fifth Circuit quickly stayed the injunction. In today's panel opinion, Judge Jones wrote that the the district judge's opinion "applied the wrong legal standards under rational basis review and erred in finding that the admitting–privileges requirement amounts to an undue burden for a 'large fraction' of the women that it affects."
As to rational basis, Judge Jones highlighted the highly deferential standard, its place in a democracy, its practicality (if the legislature doesn't think a law is working, it can change it), and its application to HB2:
Viewed from the proper perspective, the State’s articulation of rational legislative objectives, which was backed by evidence placed before the state legislature, easily supplied a connection between the admitting–privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients’ health.
As to the undue burden, Judge Jones noted that the Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey,
counsels against striking down a statute solely because women may have to travel long distances to obtain abortions. The record before us does not indicate that the admitting–privileges requirement imposes an undue burden by virtue of the potential increase in travel distance in the Rio Grande Valley.
The narrow exception of the Fifth Circuit's reversal if that the admitting privileges requirement "may not be enforced against abortion providers who timely applied for admitting privileges under the statute but are awaiting a response from the hospital."
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Justice Kennedy and the Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Mandate Oral Arguments: Is it Simply Administrative Law?
The arguments in the consolidated cases of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities v. Sebelius displayed Justices sharply divided on the issues as we discussed. Whether Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote in the cases is sure to be the subject of much speculation. What, if anything, might be derived from his expressions at oral argument?
He began, relatively early in the oral argument, by making space for Paul Clement to elaborate on his "framework" and by posing a question about RFRA:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: You were beginning by giving us a framework for your argument. Do I think of this as a statutory case? Of course, the First Amendment is on the stage at some point here, but I take it you can prevail just on the question of statutory interpretation, and if that is so, are there any statutory rules that work in your favor, that is to say, avoiding a constitutional question or how do we think about this case, primarily as a statutory case?
Justice Kagan thereafter pointed out that RFRA was a "special kind of statute" that "specifically refers back to a "body of constitutional law."
Justice Kennedy also asked about the relative substantial burden of paying any fines: "Let's assume that the cost of providing insurance is roughly equivalent to the $2,000 penalty. How how is the employer hurt? He can just raise the wages."
Clement eventually answered that “If they take away the health care insurance, they are going to have to increase the wages to make up for that. And they're going to have to pay the $2,000 penalty on top of it, plus they're going to have to violate their their own interest which is, we actually we believe it's important to provide our employees with qualified health care.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Okay, the last is important. But just assume hypothetically that it's a wash, that the employer would be in about the same position if he paid the penalty and the employer pardon me, an employee went out and got the insurance and that the employee's wages were raised slightly and then it's and that it's a wash so far as the employer are concerned, other than the employer's religious objection, but just on the financial standpoint. Can we assume that as a hypothetical. Then what would your case be?
MR. CLEMENT: I think my case would be that in that case the government might be able to sort of support itself on the compelling interest. I think there would still be a substantial burden on their exercise. But again, this all turns on issues that the government hasn't put in issue.
Toward the end of Clement's time, Kennedy posed a different type of query:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Just before your time starts to go too fast, how would you suggest that we think about the position and the rights of the of the employees? And you can have hypotheticals about the employer makes them wants to make them wear burkas and so forth. That's not in this case.
But in in a way, the employees are in a position where the government, through its healthcare plans, is is, under your view, is is allowing the employer to put the employee in a disadvantageous position. The employee may not agree with these religious religious beliefs of the employer. Does the religious beliefs just trump? Is that the way it works?
In Kennedy's extensive colloquy with Solicitor General Verrilli, the subject veered from compelling governmental interest back to the status of RFRA:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Is it your position that part of the compelling interest here is that you have to protect the integrity the operational integrity of the whole Act?
GENERAL VERRILLI: It is part of our argument, absolutely. And but it but there is in addition to that, much more
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Does that mean the constitutionality of the whole Act has to be examined before we accept your view?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I think it has been examined, Your Honor, is my recollection.
GENERAL VERRILLI: But but with respect to but with respect to the there is a particularized interest here in that what we are talking about is a question of whether 14,000 employees and their families get access to this contraceptive coverage.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: You you have exempted a whole class of corporations and you've done so under your view not because of RFRA.
GENERAL VERRILLI: So let me let me go to that
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Now, what what kind of constitutional structure do we have if the Congress can give an agency the power to grant or not grant a religious exemption based on what the agency determined? I recognize delegation of powers rules are somewhat more abundant insofar as their enforcement in this Court.
But when we have a First Amendment issue of of this consequence, shouldn't we indicate that it's for the Congress, not the agency to determine that this corporation gets the exemption on that one, and not even for RFRA purposes, for other purposes.
Kennedy later continued on the issue of compelling governmental interest:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I still don't understand how HHS exercised its judgment to grant the exemption to nonreligious corporations if you say it was not compelled by RFRA.
GENERAL VERRILLI: I don't think
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Then it must have been because the health care coverage was not that important.
GENERAL VERRILLI: It didn't grant an exemption to any nonreligious organizations, Justice Kennedy. It granted an exemption to churches, and that was it. . . .
And later, Justice Kennedy, whose opinions on abortion are certainly complex, asked Verrilli what seemed a version of a particular "slippery slope" that had not been extensively considered:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Under your view, a profit corporation could be forced in principle, there are some statutes on the books now which would prevent it, but could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.
GENERAL VERRILLI: No. I think, as you said, the law now the law now is to the contrary.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But your reasoning would permit that.
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I think that you know, I don't think that that's I think it would depend on the law and it would depend on the entity.
Finally, during Verrilli's argument, Justice Kennedy expressed interest in a hypothetical posetd by Justice Alito about a law requiring humane treatment of animals and therefore prohibiting kosher and halal slaughter.
Justice Kennedy asked no questions during Clement's rebuttal, but Clement gave the last word to Kennedy:
. . . . If I could have just one second more to say that the agency point that Justice Kennedy has pointed to is tremendously important, because Congress spoke, it spoke in RFRA. Here the agency has decided that it's going to accommodate a subset of the persons protected by RFRA. In a choice between what Congress has provided and what the agency has done, the answer is clear.
Certainly Clement's articulation is simplistic, but it could satisfy Kennedy's initial search for some statutory construction principles that might make the answer to the divisive issues also seem simple.
[image: Justice Kennedy by Donkey Hotey via]
Saturday, March 15, 2014
In an opinion in Edwards v. Beck, a federal judge permanently enjoined portions of Arkansas' Act 301, which imposed regulations on the performance of abortions in Arkansas.
Judge Wright considered the Act's three provisions: a heartbeat testing requirement; a disclosure requirement; and a ban on abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected and the fetus has reached twelve weeks’ gestation.
She found that the 12 week ban prohibits pre-viability abortions and "thus impermissibly infringes a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."
Yet Judge Wright concluded that the disclosure and heartbeat testing could be severed from the unconstitutional 12 week provision, because they are
independently capable of furthering the stated purpose of Act 301, to protect unborn children, and that they are severable from the unconstitutional twelve-week ban and the requirement of license revocation for a physician who performs an abortion banned under the Act. The State, from the inception of a pregnancy, maintains its own interest in protecting the life of a fetus that may become a child, and the Supreme Court has recognized that the disclosure of truthful information about fetal development is relevant to a woman’s decision- making process and is rationally related to the State’s interest in protecting the unborn.
The judge's analysis on the severability issue is relatively slight and she could easily have reached the opposite conclusion under her articulated rationales. But she decided that only the ban on 12 week abortions was declared unconstitutional.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
In its unanimous opinion today in ACLU of North Carolina v. Tata a panel of the Fourth Circuit has concluded that North Carolina's specialty license plate "Choose Life" is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Recall that in December 2012, Senior United States District Judge James Fox found that while the the "choose life" specialty license plate was offered by the government, it was not the type of "government speech" to which the First Amendment would not apply.
As the Fourth Circuit explained:
The Supreme Court and this Court have recognized individual speech interests in license plate messages. And in this case, too, the specialty plate speech at issue implicates private speech rights, and thus First Amendment protections apply.
But this did not mean the state had no responsibility. Indeed, the court concluded:
North Carolina invites its vehicle owners to “[m]ake a statement” and “promote themselves”—but only if they are on the government’s side of a highly divisive political issue. This, North Carolina may not do. Because the specialty plate speech at issue implicates private speech rights and is not pure government speech, North Carolina’s authorizing a “Choose Life” plate while refusing to authorize a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.
The court's opinion is an excellent rehearsal, in less than 30 pages, of what might be called the First Amendment doctrine of license plates, following from the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard. We recently discussed the Native American image on the Oklahoma license plate and Michigan's refusal of specific letters on a vanity license plate.
Friday, January 24, 2014
In its overdue opinion in The Evergreen Association, Inc. d/b/a Expectant Mother Care Pregnancy Centers v. City of New York, a divided panel of the Second Circuit ruled that only one of the three major provisions of NYC's Local Law 17 seeking to mandate disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers was constitutional.
Recall that in July 2011, a federal district judge enjoined all of Local Law 17 finding that the disclosure provisions did not survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment, and the Second Circuit heard oral arguments in the appeal 16 months ago. Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit considered two similar laws seeking to compel disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers, issuing two en banc opinions in 2013. The en banc Fourth Circuit in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore reversed the granting of a preliminary injunction finding fault with the application of the summary judgment standard by the district judge. The en banc Fourth Circuit in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, 722 F.3d 184 (4th Cir. en banc), affirmed a finding that one of the mandated disclosures was constitutional and the other was not.
The underlying problem that the local laws intended to address is the existence of "crisis pregnancy centers" that arguably appear to be medical offices but are anti-abortion counseling centers. The solutions that the local laws proposed were various "disclosures" by the centers. In the case of Local Law 17, the disclosures were three:
- whether or not they have a licensed medical provider on staff (the “Status Disclosure”);
- whether or not they provide or provide referrals for abortion, emergency contraception, or prenatal care (the “Services Disclosure”);
- that “the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider” (the “Government Message”)
The Second Circuit upheld only the first, the "Status Disclosure."
The Second Circuit's opinion declined to decide whether the disclosures merited strict scrutiny or the lesser standard of intermediate scrutiny, stating - - - not altogether convincingly - - - that its conclusions were the same under both standards.
The panel opinion did find that the government had a compelling interest for Local Law 17 and thus for all three disclosure provisions: protecting public health and protecting a woman's access to reproductive health care. But the panel found that only the status disclosure was "sufficiently tailored" to these interests. In finding that the status disclosure was narrowly tailored, this certainly met both strict and intermediate scrutiny standards.
As to the services disclosure, the panel considered the "context" of the mandated disclosure regarding whether the facility provides or provides referrals for abortion, emergency contraception, or prenatal care to be the "public debate over the morality and efficacy of contraception and abortion." Given this context of "public issues," the burden to justify the compelled speech is high. Not surprisingly, the panel found that the mandated services disclosure did not survive. However, the intermediate scrutiny analysis is less satisfying. Here's the entirety of the analysis:
Finally, we consider whether a different answer would obtain under intermediate scrutiny, which looks to whether the regulation at issue is not more extensive than necessary to serve a substantial governmental interest. While it is a closer question, we conclude that it would not, considering both the political nature of the speech and the fact that the Status Disclosure provides a more limited alternative regulation.
The panel's analysis on the government speech analysis is less explicit regarding the standard of review, emphasizing that the government message could be conveyed in many different ways.
In addition to the specific disclosures, the district judge had found that Local Law 17's definition of "pregnancy services centers" was unconstitutionally vague; a conclusion with which the Second Circuit panel majority disagreed. However, dissenting in part, one judge would have found all three provisions unconstitutional, arguing that the law is a "bureaucrat’s dream" containing "deliberately ambiguous set of standards guiding its application, thereby providing a blank check to New York City officials to harass or threaten legitimate activity."
The Second Circuit opinion largely agrees with the 2013 en banc Fourth Circuit's Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, but the constitutional doctrine remains unclear. Given the complexities, and judicial decisions upholding other mandated disclosures in the reproductive rights realm, this remains a great subject for some scholarly intervention.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
In her opinion in Stuart v. Loomis, United States District Judge Catherine Eagles held the "speech and display" provisions of North Carolina's "The Woman‟s Right to Know Act" unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Recall that Judge Eagles entered a preliminary injunction against the statute's enforcement in October 2011.
The speech and display provision, North Carolina statute §90-21.85, passed by the legislature over the governor's veto, generally provided
that a woman undergo an ultrasound at least four hours before an abortion
that the physician or qualified technician working with the physician display the images produced from the ultrasound “so that the [patient] may view them,”
that the providers give “a simultaneous explanation of what the display is depicting, which shall include the presence, location, and dimensions of the unborn child within the uterus,” and
that the providers give “a medical description of the images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.”
In a nutshell, Judge Eagles ruled:
The Supreme Court has never held that a state has the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state‟s ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term, and this Court declines to do so today. To the extent the Act is an effort by the state to require health care providers to deliver information in support of the state‟s philosophic and social position discouraging abortion and encouraging childbirth, it is content- based, and it is not sufficiently narrowly tailored to survive strict scrutiny. Otherwise, the state has not established that the speech-and-display provision directly advances a substantial state interest in regulating health care, especially when the state does not require the patient to receive the message and the patient takes steps to avoid receipt of the message. Thus, it does not survive heightened scrutiny.
One interesting aspect of Judge Eagles' opinion is her discussion of the Ninth Circuit's 2013 opinion in Pickup v. Brown, holding constitutional California's prohibition of sexual orientation change efforts (also known as sexual conversion or reparative therapy). Judge Eagles uses Pickup's analysis of medical speech, although noting that the court in Pickup ultimately concluded that the therapy in Pickup was conduct rather than speech. Here, North Carolina was "seeking to compel “doctor- patient communications about medical treatment,” in distinction to Pickup.
Judge Eagles also discusses the other claims, including due process and the state's request to sever the statute (which she finds untimely). It's a well-reasoned opinion that should survive if it is appealed.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in McCullen v. Coakley regarding a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts statute creating a fixed thirty-five-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of medical facilities, including abortion clinics. Recall that the First Circuit had rejected both a facial and as-applied challenge to the statute. While the statute is a "time, place, manner" statute similar to others that had been upheld, throughout the arguments it often seemed as if the statute was being more than strictly scrutinzed.
The oral arguments evidenced several definitional disagreements. A pronounced dispute was the characterization of the actors and actions covered by the statute. Throughout his argument on behalf of the petitioners, Mark Rienzi described the activity as "peaceful, consensual conversations" and as "counseling." When Jennifer Grace Miller, representing the state of Massachusetts opened her argument by characterizing the activities of the petitioners as "protest" or abortion, Justice Scalia quickly interrupted, accusing her of distortion. Instead, he insisted, the petitioners "want to talk to the women who are about to get abortions and try to talk them out of it." For Scalia, the case is a "counseling case, not a - - - not a protest case." Later in the argument, he came back to the point:
I -- I object to you calling these people protestors, which you've been doing here during the whole presentation. That is not how they present themselves. They do not say they want to make protests. They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protestors?
This definitional disagreement arose a number of times, implicating the issue of whether the state had other, less restrictive, means to accomplish its goals. Justice Kennedy asked Ian Gershengorn, Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, supporting the state of Massachusetts, how many federal prosecutions there had been in Massachusetts, to which Gershengorn replied that the federal FACE Act is a "very different statute" aimed at "murder, arson, and chaining to doorways." Such definitional issues also implicated the activity being regulated by the statute as speech based on content or even viewpoint.
Importantly, the state action before the Court is a statute rather than an injunction, a point made apparent several times. The record before the Massachusetts legislature as well as analogies to other types of buffer zones - - - Justice Alito seemed especially preoccupied with labor - - - was an important focus. Justice Kagan raised protests around slaughterhouses by animal rights activists, noting to Mark Rienzi that it was raised in his brief for Petitioners, and saying that while he might have meant it to be "terrible," her reaction was that it might be sensible: "Just have everybody take a step back."
But how far back? The question of "why 35?" was explicitly asked by Justice Kagan of Jennifer Miller arguing for the state. Comparisons to the courtrrom space littered the arguments. Justice Ginsburg translated the distance into time, asking Mark Reinzi how long is one in the buffer zone. He replied, about "7 to 10 seconds":
JUSTICE GINSBURG: There's not much you're going to be able to do to have a conversation that will persuade people in 7 to 10 seconds.
MR. RIENZI: I respectfully disagree on that last point, Your Honor. The evidence in this record is that the -- the inability to speak with people close to the clinic has a dramatic effect on the Petitioners' ability to reach their audience. So if someone happens to be walking from the same side of the zone that you're standing on, you may have a shot.
Not surprisingly, Justice Thomas maintained his usual practice of foregoing verbalizing questions. More surprisingly, perhaps, Chief Justice Roberts did not ask any questions. His final "Thank you, counsel," provided no clues to his future deliberations on the case.