Friday, March 4, 2016
The Court issued an Order today in June Medical Services v. Gee involving Louisiana's abortion statute "The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, HB 388. The district judge had found the Louisiana's statute's admitting privilege provision was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction. The Fifth Circuit in a 15 page opinion granted the state's emergency motion to stay the district judge's preliminary injunction. Thus, the Court's Order essential reinstates the injunction against the Louisiana statute.
The Louisiana statute is similar to Texas's HB 2 at issue in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstdet (previously Cole), argued before the Court on Wednesday. In today's Order regarding the Louisiana statute, the Court referenced Whole Woman's Health:
Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, No. 14A1288 (June 29, 2015), the application to vacate the stay entered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on February 24, 2016, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, is granted and the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the district court’s injunction is vacated.
Justice Thomas would deny the application.
In the Whole Woman's Health oral argument, Justice Alito mentioned the Louisiana litigation twice, both times in regarding to the evidence in the case about the precise number of abortions that were being performed. But on the constitutional issues, it does seem as if the decision in Whole Woman's Health will be determinative regarding the Louisiana statute's constitutionality.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The Court heard oral arguments today in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstdet (previously Cole), the case being touted as the most important abortion rights case in many years. Recall that the Court granted certiorari to the Fifth Circuit's decision essentially upholding the bulk of the controversial HB2 statute passed in 2013 (despite the famous filibuster by Wendy Davis). A divided Supreme Court previously vacated 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.
The Fifth Circuit's most recent opinion, reversing the district judge, held that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, did not impose an "undue burden" on women and were thus constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Importantly, this is the decision that would stand should the Court split 4-4. The most likely scenario of such a split would be Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy on one side and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor on the other. The most likely scenario of a reversal of the Fifth Circuit and a finding that HB2's provisions are unconstitutional is generally considered to be Justice Kennedy joining the Justice Ginsburg group. Not surprisingly then, Justice Kennedy will be the focus of most any analysis of today's argument.
And indeed, Justice Kennedy took an active role in today's argument in which each of the advocates was accorded extra time in part because of the procedural issues involved regarding the challenge to HB2 as applied and what contentions may have been precluded by the previous facial challenge. While this issue did occupy the beginning of Stephanie Toti's argument on behalf of Whole Woman's Health, and questions regarding remand were raised - - - including by Justice Kennedy - - - it is unclear whether there is sufficient enthusiasm for deciding the case on procedural issues.
Instead, as Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing in support of Whole Woman's Health, phrased it, the question before the Court is whether the right to abortion "is going to retain real substance" and "whether the balance struck in Casey still holds." Justice Kennedy was in the majority in the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey authored by Justice O'Connor and which upheld the essential core of Roe v. Wade. Scott Keller, the Attorney General of Texas, not only accepted Casey in his argument but argued that it was the petitioners - - - Whole Women's Health - - - that were "trying to upset the balance that was struck in Casey."
The "balance" of Casey could be said to reside in the "undue burden" standard that the Court articulated, but today's argument displayed some of the ambiguities with that standard. On one view, which seemed to be the one Chief Justice Roberts was articulating, the statute has to pass "rational basis" and then it is measured again as to whether there is an undue burden. On the other view, the "undue burden" is measured with regard not only to the exercise of the right to an abortion but measured against the level of the state interests. Justice Breyer articulated this understanding, but importantly, in a colloquy with the Texas Attorney General after a question by Justice Alito, Justice Kennedy also seemed to adhere to this view:
JUSTICE ALITO: Would it not be the case that - - - would it not be the case - - - that a State could increase the the standard of care as high as it wants so long as there's not an an undue burden on the women seeking abortion? So, you know, if they could if they could increase the standard of care up to the very highest anywhere in the country and it wouldn't be a burden on the women, well, that would be a benefit to them. Would there be anything unconstitutional about that?
MR. KELLER: No. Provided that women do are able to make the ultimate decision to elect the procedure.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But doesn't that show that the undue burden test is weighed against what the State's interest is?
MR. KELLER: Justice Kennedy - - -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I mean, are they are these two completely discrete analytical categories, undue burden, and we don't look at the State’s interest?
On the question of the state's interest, Texas Attorney General Keller had a difficult time responding to the questions from Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Comparisons to dental procedures and colonoscopies prevailed, and on the issue of nonsurgical abortions requiring the taking of two pills which Texas law required be done at an ambulatory surgical facility, some Justices pressed especially hard. The "abortion is different" argument of Texas Attorney General Keller seemed especially unconvincing here.
The actual effect of the HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements on the closing of clinics was raised at numerous times, with Justice Kennedy interestingly interjecting the precise percentage - - - 20% - - - of the capacity of licensed facilities after the passage of HB2. Justice Ginsburg found it "odd" that Attorney General Keller pointed to the ability of women to go across state lines to New Mexico - - - which does not have similar restrictions - - - to support his contention that women were not substantially burdened.
The oral argument did little to upset the pre-argument predictions. Justice Alito was most hostile to the petitioners, and although Justice Thomas asked no questions today unlike Monday, his views on abortion do not seem in flux. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor did not seem to find the arguments on behalf of Texas credible. While the Chief Justice has known to be surprising and could possibly craft a narrow opinion, Justice Kennedy is occupying the center. It does seem, however, as if that center tilts slightly back toward Casey and away from HB2.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Federal District Judge Enters Preliminary Injunction Against Center for Medical Progress, Anti-Abortion Group
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) - - - including its founder David Daleiden, others (and their aliases) associated with the nonprofit, as well as "fake" companies - - - has been in the news a great deal of late.
Daleiden and employee Merritt have recently been indicted in connection with an “investigation” of Planned Parenthood and the publication of a “heavily edited” video charging Planned Parenthood with unauthorized selling of fetal tissue. The video has prompted some lawmakers to urge defunding of Planned Parenthood and, interestingly, the grand jury indictment of Daleiden and Merritt in Texas sprung from an inquiry into whether Planned Parenthood had violated any criminal laws. Planned Parenthood has recently sued CMP under RICO and for various tort-like claims.
Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California has issued a preliminary injunction that some might view as a prior restraint against CMP and its associates in an Order in National Abortion Federation v. Center for Medical Progress. In July, Judge Orrick issued a TRO. The discovery orders and motions were quite contentious, with CMP seeking relief from the Ninth Circuit, which was denied, and Justice Kennedy (in his role as Justice for the Ninth Circuit) refusing to intervene. The preliminary injunction prohibits:
(1) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party any video, audio, photographic, or other recordings taken, or any confidential information learned, at any NAF annual meetings;
(2) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the dates or locations of any future NAF meetings; and
(3) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the names or addresses of any NAF members learned at any NAF annual meetings.
This injunction relates primarily to the enforcement of a “confidentiality agreement” required by attendees of the NAF national conference, which Center for Medical Progress admitted violating, engaging in over 250 hours at each of two conferences (2014 and 2015), including of personal conversations, intended - - - as CMP founder Daleiden admits, to “trap people into saying something really messed up” and to say the words “fully intact baby.” Judge Orrick found that enforcement of the confidentiality agreement does not violate the First Amendment, citing Cohen v. Cowles Media (1991). Judge Orrick also found that this was not a “typical ‘newsgathering’ case” in which "prior restraints" would be disfavored, but instead had exceptional circumstances:
The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to a numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.
One of the cases that Judge Orrick's footnote distinguishes is Judge Winmill's decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter, finding Oregon's ag-gag law unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment, which is presently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Undoubtedly, Center for Medical Progress will eventually follow the path to the Ninth Circuit. Taken together, these cases raise controversial issues about the First Amendment's protection for what some might name "investigative journalism" and what others view as "illegal actions."
Friday, January 22, 2016
Kansas Appellate Court Affirms Finding That Kansas's "Dismemberment Abortion Act" is Unconstitutional under State Constitution
The Kansas Court of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court, has found that the Kansas Constitution includes a due process right applicable to abortion and that the Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act (SB95) violates that right in its opinion by Judge Steve Leben in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt.
Before the discussion of the constitutionality of the Act, there were some preliminary - - - and unusual - - - issues, including some noteworthy matters of procedure. Unusually, the Court of Appeals heard the case en banc rather in a panel of three. And presumably also unusual, the judges were "equally divided, seven voting to affirm the district court and seven voting to reverse." Thus, the trial court's ruling granting a preliminary injunction against the Act was affirmed.
Additionally, there were some state constitutional law issues. Importantly, the plaintiffs' argument that the Act is unconstitutional rests solely on the state constitution. As the Leben opinion stated, this was a case of first impression and a "plaintiff has the procedural right to choose the legal theories he or she will pursue; we cannot force the plaintiffs here to choose another legal avenue.") But the Kansas State Constitution does not include a due process clause - - - or even the words "due process" - - - unlike the United States Constitution's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, in which the right to an abortion has been anchored. Instead, plaintiffs argued, and the court found, that §1 and §2 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights include a due process right despite their explicit language:
§ 1. Equal rights. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
§ 2. Political power; privileges. All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and are instituted for their equal protection and benefit. No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted by the legislature, which may not be altered, revoked or repealed by the same body; and this power shall be exercised by no other tribunal or agency.
Judge Leben's finding was based in large part on previous decisions of the Kansas Supreme Court. Where the dissent differed was not on the matter of due process as a general matter but on the specific inclusion of "abortion." Indeed, as Judge Leben's opinion admitted "What the Kansas Supreme Court has not yet done is apply substantive-due-process principles in a case involving personal or fundamental rights, like the right to contraception, the right to marry, or the right to abortion." But as Judge Leben's opinion noted, "the Kansas Supreme Court has explicitly recognized a substantive-due- process right under the Kansas Constitution and has applied a substantive-due-process legal standard equivalent to the one applicable under the Fourteenth Amendment at the time of these Kansas decisions." This past practice was an embrace of the present, and Judge Leben's opinion interestingly quotes the Court's recent opinion by Justice Kennedy Obergefell as well as opinions from the Kansas Supreme Court. Judge Leben nicely sums up the position:
The rights of Kansas women in 2016 are not limited to those specifically intended by the men who drafted our state's constitution in 1859.
Having decided that the Kansas constitutional text merits a co-extensive interpretation with the federal constitution, Judge Leben's opinion for the Kansas Court of Appeal does not rest on "adequate and independent state grounds" under Michigan v. Long. Judge Gordon Atcheson's extensive and scholarly concurring opinion makes the case that §1 of the Kansas Bill of Rights provides "entirely separate constitutional protection without direct federal counterpart" for abortion and that such protection is greater under the Kansas state constitution than under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Under the co-extensive interpretation, Judge Leben's opinion thus confronted the constitutionality of the Kansas Act under the substantive due process "undue burden" standard. This entailed an application of the disparate Carhart cases: Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) and Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). In Stenberg, the Court concluded Nebraska's so-called "partial-birth abortion" statute was unconstitutional; in Gonzales, the Court concluded that the federal so-called "partial-birth abortion" statute was constitutional.
The Judge Leben opinion distinguished Gonzales:
But the circumstances here are quite unlike Gonzales. There, the Court considered a ban on an uncommon procedure and noted that the most common and generally safest abortion method remained available. Here, the State has done the opposite, banning the most common, safest procedure and leaving only uncommon and often unstudied options available.
Interestingly, Judge Atcheson's concurring opinion responded to the Justice Kennedy's language in Gonzales and the language of the Kansas Act:
The State's remaining argument rests on the unaesthetic description of a D &E abortion contained in Senate Bill 95 and in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). But aesthetics really cannot justify legislative limitations on safe medical procedures. The lack of justification is even more pronounced when the procedure is integral to a woman's constitutional right to self-determination and reproductive freedom. The government cannot impose upon an essential right because some exercise of the right may be unaesthetic or even repulsive to some people. That's all the more true when those people needn't see or participate in the protected activity.
The dissenting opinion concludes that there is "nothing in the text or history of §§1 and 2 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights to lead this court to conclude that these provisions were intended to guarantee a right to abortion."
This matter is surely going to the Kansas Supreme Court, as Judge Leben's opinion for the Kansas Court of Appeals acknowledged. Rendered on the 43rd anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade and as the Court prepares to consider its first abortion case in 8 years, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the Kansas Court of Appeals evenly split decision exemplifies how divided opinion on this issue can be.
January 22, 2016 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, International, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, January 7, 2016
The amicus brief of Anice MacAvoy, Janie Schulman, and Over 110 Other Women in the Legal Profession Who Have Exercised their Constitutional Right to an Abortion filed in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the abortion case before the United States Supreme Court regarding Texas's controversial HB2 statute, puts the emotions and stories of legal professionals whose abortions have played a positive role in their lives and careers.
Although the amicus does not cite the Court's most recent abortion decision, Gonzales v. Carhart (Carhart II), the import of the amicus is a challenge to some of the reasoning in that case. Specifically, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Carhart II stated that:
Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. The Act recognizes this reality as well. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision. Casey, supra, at 852–853 (opinion of the Court). While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. See Brief for Sandra Cano et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 05–380, pp. 22–24. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow. See ibid.
The dissenting opinion of four Justices, authored by Justice Ginsburg, responded to this passage at length:
Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from “[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.” Ante, at 29. Because of women’s fragile emotional state and because of the “bond of love the mother has for her child,” the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. Ante, at 28–29. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Cf. Casey, 505 U. S., at 873 (plurality opinion) (“States are free to enact laws to provide a reasonable framework for a woman to make a decision that has such profound and lasting meaning.”). Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.
This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution—ideas that have long since been discredited. Compare, e.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U. S. 412, 422–423 (1908) (“protective” legislation imposing hours-of-work limitations on women only held permissible in view of women’s “physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal funct[ion]”); Bradwell v. State, 16Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, J., concurring) (“Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. … The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”), with United States v. Virginia, 518 U. S. 515 , n. 12 (1996) (State may not rely on “overbroad generalizations” about the “talents, capacities, or preferences” of women; “[s]uch judgments have … impeded … women’s progress toward full citizenship stature throughout our Nation’s history”); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U. S. 199, 207 (1977) (gender-based Social Security classification rejected because it rested on “archaic and overbroad generalizations” “such as assumptions as to [women’s] dependency” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Though today’s majority may regard women’s feelings on the matter as “self-evident,” ante, at 29, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]he destiny of the woman must be shaped … on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 852. See also id., at 877 (plurality opinion) (“[M]eans chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.”); supra, at 3–4.
The brief of the attorneys who have had abortions and are legal professionals clearly supports the view that women must be able to exercise reproductive free choice. The stories of the women attorneys gathered in the amicus brief is a testament to the positive aspects of abortions - - - rather than the regrets - - - that women attorneys have experienced.
January 7, 2016 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Seventh Circuit Finds Wisconsin's Physician "Admitting Privileges" Abortion Requirement Unconstitutional
In its divided opinion in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Schimel, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's grant of a permanent injunction against the 2013 Wisconsin Statute, §253.095(2), that prohibits a physician from performing an abortion unless she or he has admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from the clinic in which the abortion is performed.
Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner (pictured) concluded that the state statute imposed an undue burden on women seeking abortions and focused on the statute's intent to "strew impediments to abortion" rather than achieve its stated purpose of protecting women's health.
Judge Posner first noted that the statute was signed into law on a Friday and required doctors comply with it by Sunday; this revealed the legislative intent to prevent abortions rather than protect women's health.
Additionally, Judge Posner concluded that any focus on women's health was spurious. First, "A woman who experiences complications from an abortion (either while still at the clinic where the abortion was per- formed or at home afterward) will go to the nearest hospital, which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doc- tor has admitting privileges," citing the brief by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the Wisconsin Medical Society. Second, citing the same brief, Judge Posner concluded that studies show that "complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous," and contended that this fact "further attenuates the need for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges." Third, Posner found it troublesome that abortion was singled out for such an admitting privileges law:
Wisconsin appears to be indifferent to complications of any other outpatient procedures, even when they are far more likely to produce complications than abortions are. For example, the rate of complications resulting in hospitalization from colonoscopies done for screening purposes is four times the rate of complications requiring hospitalization from first-trimester abortions.
As to the "continuity of care" justification, Posner noted that while the statute requires the physician to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, it does not require the physician to care for that patient at the hospital.
Judge Posner firmly rejected the argument that women in Wisconsin could exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Chicago - - - across state lines - - - and further found that there was an undue burden for women given that such a trip could be "prohibitively expensive" especially for women living below the poverty line.
In his inimitable style, Judge Posner also provided his views on the Fifth Circuit's decision regarding Texas's HB2 in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, to which the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari. Judge Posner distinguished the Fifth Circuit's conclusion on the admitting privileges provision, noting that the plaintiffs there did not satisfy the court that the statute would lead to a substantial decline in the availability of abortion. But Judge Posner also provided his opinion on the Texas statute's ambulatory surgical center requirements - - - notwithstanding the fact that a similar provision was not before the Seventh Circuit - - - noting that
The [Fifth Circuit] court remarked the absence of evidence that the remaining clinics could not expand their capacity to compensate for the closing of more than three-fourths of them, although one wouldn’t think it necessary to parade evidence that the remaining clinics would find it extremely difficult to quadruple their capacity to provide abortions, which would require, in the face of fierce opposition to abortion clinics and the difficulty of relocating abortion doctors from the closed clinics, extensive physical enlargement to house additional patients and doctors.
Judge Posner also responded to the Fifth Circuit's previous decision on HB2 in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott that "excoriated" the Seventh Circuit's opinion upholding the preliminary injunction against the Wisconsin statute for engaging in "empirical basis review." Judge Posner wrote:
But a statute that curtails the constitutional right to an abortion, such as the Wisconsin and Texas statutes, cannot survive challenge without evidence that the curtailment is justifiable by reference to the benefits conferred by the statute. The statute may not be irrational, yet may still impose an undue burden—a burden excessive in relation to the aims of the statute and the benefits likely to be conferred by it— and if so it is unconstitutional.
Judge Posner ultimately concluded that "We do not agree with the Fifth Circuit that evidence is irrelevant in a constitutional case concerning abortion."
Judge Daniel Manion's well-organized dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority at almost every turn. For example, Judge Manion finds that abortion is "subject to less regulatory oversight than almost any area of medicine." On the subject of state-lines, Judge Manion declares: "Consumers who live near the border of two states tend to shop at the closest destination, regardless of whether they reside in that state." Thus, the courts should consider "distance" rather than "the governor's mansion" to decide whether or not a regulation will constitute an undue burden. Instead, Wisconsin - - - or the courts - - -need not intervene if "the market fails to provide qualified abortionists within its boundaries."
For Posner, joined in the opinion by Judge David Hamilton, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a "steep uphill fight," so persons opposed to abortion "proceed indirectly" in the guise of protecting women's health and thereby pass unconstitutional laws. Whether or not Judge Posner's predictions will prove correct will be tested as the United States Supreme Court considers Whole Woman's Health this Term.
Friday, November 13, 2015
The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole to the Fifth Circuit's decision essentially upholding the bulk of the controversial HB2 statute passed in 2013 (despite the famous filibuster by Wendy Davis). Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated 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.
The Fifth Circuit's most recent opinion, reversing the district judge, held that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, did not impose an "undue burden" on women and were thus constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The Fifth Circuit did find that HB2 was unconstitutional as applied to the Whole Woman's Health facility in McAllen, Texas, but not as to the the Reproductive Services Facility in El Paso, Texas. The facility in McAllen is the only one in the "Rio Grande Valley." However, there is another facility close to the closed facility in El Paso - - - a mere 12 miles away - - - but importantly across the state line in New Mexico. The Fifth Circuit distinguished its own opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier regarding Mississippi's restrictive abortion law which had the effect of closing all the clinics in the state, by emphasizing the fact that even before HB2 "half of the patients at the St. Teresa [New Mexico] clinic came from El Paso which is in the same 'cross-border' metropolitan area as St. Teresa," and including a footnote that the court's analysis would be different "in the context of an international border." Thus, the court found it irrelevant that the nearest in-state facility was 550 miles away.
The United States Supreme Court's grant of certiorari means that the Court will consider direct abortion regulations - - - and thus the continuing precedential value of Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) - - - for the first time since Carhart v. Gonzales in 2007 in which the Court upheld the controversial federal so-called partial birth abortion ban. The Court's most recent foray into the abortion controversy was its 2014 opinion in McCullen v. Coakley finding Massachusetts' buffer-zone legislation protecting abortion clinics violative of the First Amendment.
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, June 10, 2015
The Fifth Circuit has issued its opinion in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, as the latest in the continuing saga regarding the constitutionality of HB 2.
Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated 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.
This opinion dissolves the district judge's opinion except as to one clinic in McAllen, Texas, holding that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements did not impose an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions as a facial matter (and relying in part on Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott as a basis for res judicata). As applied, the court distinguished McAllen from El Paso, which has another abortion clinic nearby, albeit across the Texas state border in New Mexico.
It is unlikely this latest opinion will be an end to the litigation regarding HB2.
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.