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.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
In a 5-4 decision in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, the United States Supreme Court has refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of the abortion restriction law known as Texas HB 2, that had been the subject of the well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis.
The Court's Order was accompanied by two opinions. In the first, a concurring opinion authored by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, the four factors for a stay are laid out:
(1) whether the State made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits,
(2) whether the State would have been irreparably injured absent a stay,
(3) whether issuance of a stay would substantially injure other parties, and
(4) where the public interest lay.
Justice Scalia's relatively brief opinion is primarily a refutation of the dissenting opinion, arguing that the
dissent would vacate the Court of Appeals’ stay without expressly rejecting that court’s analysis of any of the governing factors. And it would flout core principles of federalism by mandating postponement of a state law without asserting that the law is even probably un- constitutional. Reasonable minds can perhaps disagree about whether the Court of Appeals should have granted a stay in this case. But there is no doubt that the applicants have not carried their heavy burden of showing that doing so was a clear violation of accepted legal standards— which do not include a special “status quo” standard for laws affecting abortion.
The dissent, written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, argued that the Fifth Circuit's issuance of the stay was "demonstrably wrong" in its application of the standards for issuing a stay based on six reasons:
- the district judge's order maintained the status quo that existed in Texas prior to the hospital admitting privileges requirement;
- the Fifth Circuit's stay disrupted that status quo, so that a "significant number of women seeking abortions" will be affected and that the "longer a given facility remains closed, the less likely it is ever to reopen even if the admitting privileges requirement is ultimately held unconstitutional;"
- the Fifth Circuit agreed to expedite its consideration, again favoring the status quo;
- the balance of harms tilts in favor of the applicants;
- the "underlying legal question—whether the new Texas statute is constitutional—is a difficult question" that at least four Members of this Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit's ultimate decision;" and
- there was not a significant public interest consideration.
Given the four Justices who joined the dissent, it is clear that the decision not to vacate the stay was 5-4, although Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts did not join Justice Scalia's concurring opinion.
The restrictive abortion statute passed by Texas has been deeply divisive and the Court's decision demonstrates that the members of the Court are likewise deeply divided.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
What is the government interest?
This simple query, even before one evaluates the interest (is it compelling? or even merely legitimate?), can be a vexing one for students, professors, litigators, and courts. Legislative listing of such interests - - - whether in preambles, legislative history, or litigation - - - provides language but not necessarily meaning.
In his terrific article, "Interest Creep," (available on ssrn), Professor Dov Fox (pictured left) analyzes government interests in an array of constitutional cases. His argument that the way that courts characterize government interests often shapes how cases are decided will hardly be surprising. His contribution, however, is in his own characterizations and categorizations of the types of interests and their deployment. His specific discussion of the government's interest in "potential life," expressed by the Court in Roe v. Wade, in contemporary abortion regulations about "fetal pain" and "sex/race selection" is stellar.
Ultimately, he argues that
Casual reliance on underspecified interests like potential life, national security, or child protection frustrates a constructive struggle about how best to make sense of the various plausible but distinct concerns that those shibboleths are invoked to capture over time and across contexts Interest creep erodes adjudicative norms by impeding the capacity of litigants, judges, advocates, lawmakers, and citizens “to debate and to criticize the true reasons for [judicial] decisions."
Especially worth a read for anyone teaching or writing in the areas of reproductive rights.
The United States Supreme Court routinely rejects petitions for writs of certiorari, so today's denial in Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems is not especially noteworthy. Nevertheless, given the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision in 2012, which we discussed here, holding that Oklahoma's abortion law requiring an ultrasound was unconstitutional because of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), does seem meaningful.
Its meaning is compounded by the Court's dismissal of the writ as improvidentally granted in Pruitt's companion case, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in which the Court certified a question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding the interpretation of the abortion statute.
Thus, it seems as if the Court presently has no inclination to reconsider Casey.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
A Fifth Circuit panel has entered its opinion staying the injunction pending a full consideration of the merits, concluding that there is "a substantial likelihood that the State will prevail in itsargument that Planned Parenthood failed to establish an undue burden on women seeking abortions or that the hospital-admitting-privileges requirement creates a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion." The panel also concluded that "the State has made a strong showing of likelihood of success on the merits" on its appeal on the partial injunction pertaining to medication abortions.
As to mandated hospital admitting provisions, the panel observed that the district judge's finding that the requirement failed a rational basis standard "overlooks substantial interests of the State in regulating the medical profession and the State’s interest in “‘protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession." Further, the panel held that the district judge's finding of an undue burden did not apply to "a large fraction" of the women seeking abortions in Texas.
Regarding the partial injunction on medical abortions, the Fifth Circuit panel found it is was overbroad, except in a single respect in which the injunction will remain in effect:
the district court’s injunction continues to apply pending appeal with respect to a mother who is 50 to 63 days from her last menstrual period if the physician who is to perform an abortion procedure on the mother has exercised appropriate medical judgment and determined that, due to a physical abnormality or preexisting condition of the mother, a surgical abortion is not a safe and medically sound option for her.
Otherwise, HB 2, the subject of the well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis in now in effect.
Monday, October 28, 2013
In his opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, Judge Lee Yeakel has enjoined portions of Texas HB 2, passed in July (despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis) and slated to become effective October 29, 2013.
The judge found unconstitutional the "admitting privileges provision" that provided:
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
He concluded that the provision placed a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion and failed the rational basis test. As to the substantial obstacle, the judge noted that hospital admitting privileges for physicians performing abortions can be difficult to obtain; for example a physician performing low-risk abortions may simply not have sufficient surgeries to qualify. Moreover, many physicians are not within the 30 mile limit. Regarding a rational relationship, the judge found that hospital emergency rooms admitting a patient and hospitals subsequently treating her do not disfavor a patient whose physician does not have admitting privileges.
Judge Yeakel did not declare unconstitutional HB 2's revision of physician prescription of abortion-inducing medications such as RU-486. HB 2 essentially mandates following the FDA protocol, a protocol that is not usually followed and about which there is substantial disagreement. Judge Yeakel, however, found that HB 2 did not impose an undue burden because the physician could perform a surgical abortion. An exception, however, must be added if the physician determines that the health or life of the woman is at stake.
Texas is reportedly already appealing the decision. It is not the first time that Judge Lee (Earl Leroy) Yeakel has rendered an opinion declaring portions of a Texas statute restricting abortion unconstitutional and been appealed. Last year in Planned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo Cty. v. Seuhs, a panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed Judge Yeakel's preliminary injunction involving a Texas regulation that expanded the Texas Women's Health Program prohibition of funding for health care not merely to abortions, but to any organization affiliated with abortion.
October 28, 2013 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
The Feminism and Legal Theory Project at 30: A Workshop on Sex and Reproduction: From Privacy and Choice to Resilience and Opportunity?
EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
November 15-16, 2013
more information here
Friday, November, 15th
3-4 pm RECEPTION IN MACMILLAN LAW LIBRARY (location TBA)
Celebrating the formal opening of the Catherine G. Roraback (pictured in watercolor left) Archive at Emory Law School .The workshop will be dedicated to Katie and her pioneering work on behalf of reproductive rights and justice.
Amy Kesselman (SUNY New Paltz), Vanessa King (Emory University School of Law)
4:30 - 6:30 pm History of Sex and Reproduction
Bleeding Across Time: First Principles of US Population Policy | Rickie Solinger
Women versus Connecticut: Insights from the Pre-Roe Abortion Battles | Amy Kesselman (SUNY New Paltz)
Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roe: Ammi Rogers and the Legal History of Anti-Abortion Norms | Lolita Buckner Inniss (Hamilton College, Cleveland Marshall College of Law)
6:30 - 8 pm DINNER
Saturday, November 16th
8:30 - 9:00 am CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST
9:00 - 11:30 am Discourses Surrounding Sex and Reproduction Issues: Law, Religion and Medicine
Medical, Scientific, and Public Health Evidence in Supreme Court Jurisprudence: Reimagining the Feminist Health Movement | Aziza Ahmed (Northeastern University School of Law)
Abortion Law and Medical Practices | Sheelagh McGuinness (School of Law, University of Birmingham) and Michael Thomson (School of Law, University of Leeds)
The Role of 'Nature' in Debates about Sex and Reproduction | Sean Coyle (School of Law, University of Birmingham)
Abortion Liberalization Policies around the World: Hidden Differences in the Diffusion Process | Elizabeth Heger Boyle (University of Minnesota), Minzee Kim (Ewha Women's University, South Korea), and Wesley Longhofer (Goizueta Business School, Emory University)
(University of Florida)
11:30 am - 12:30 pm LUNCH
12:30 - 2:45 pm Feminist Discourses: Sex, Reproduction and Choice
Infertility, Adoption, Alternative Reproduction, and Contemporary Legal Theory | April L. Cherry (Cleveland-Marshall School of Law)
Reproductive Rights and the Right to Reproduce: Is there a Place for the Non-Marital Mother? | Twila L. Perry (Rutgers University School of Law-Newark)
Choices Under the Shadow of Population Policy: Compuslory motherhood Challenged and Remade in Taiwan (1970s-2000s) | Chao-ju Chen (National Taiwan University)
Testing Sex: Non-invasive Prenatal Genetic Testing and Sex Selection | Rachel Rebouche (University of Florida, Levin College of Law)
3:00 - 5:15 pm Regulating Sex and Reproduction
Markets and Motives for Sex and Reproduction | Mary Ann Case (University of Chicago Law School)
A Fiduciary Theory of Health Entitlements | Margaux Hall (Columbia Law School)
Schrodinger's Child: Identity and Non-Identity in Reproductive Decision-Making | Jennifer S. Hendricks (University of Colorado Law School)
Procreative Pluralism | Kimberley Mutcherson (Rutgers Law School, Camden)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
opinion in MKB Management, Inc. v. Burdick grants a preliminary injunction against North Dakota House Bill 1456 passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, which would make it a criminal offense to perform an abortion if a “heartbeat” has been detected, thereby banning abortions beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. As the plaintiffs, who run the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, argued, abortions before six weeks are exceedingly rare, in part because a woman rarely knows she is pregnant before that time.
A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has consistently been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in the forty years since Roe v. Wade. See e.g., City of Akron v. Akron Ctr. for Reprod. Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416, 420 (1983) (a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy) (overruled on other grounds); Casey, 505 U.S. at 846 (a woman has a right to an abortion before viability without undue interference from the state); Stenberg, 530 U.S. at 921 (a woman has the right to choose an abortion before viability); Gonzales, 550 U.S. 124 (the state may not prevent “any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy”).
Indeed, Judge Hovland stated:
It is crystal clear from United States Supreme Court precedent that viability, although not a fixed point, is the critical point.
(emphasis in original). He characterized the Defendants’ arguments as "necessarily rest[ing] on the premise that every Court of Appeals to strike a ban on pre-viability abortion care has misread United States Supreme Court precedent." He stated that "until" Roe v. Wade and Casey are "overturned by the United States Supreme Court, this Court is bound to follow that precedent under the rule of stare decisis."
After briefly assessing the traditional standards for a preliminary injunction, Judge Hovland enjoined North Dakota House Bill 1456 which was to become effective August 1.
Where and on what basis the "viability" line can be drawn remains uncertain in the continuing abortion debates, but six weeks is certainly too early.
July 23, 2013 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
The Fourth Circuit en banc today issued its opinion in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore reversing the district court's granting of a preliminary injunction against the ordinance requiring a limited-service pregnancy center "provide its clients and potential clients with a disclaimer substantially to the effect that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services." Essentially, the city's concern is that certain pregnancy centers can be mistaken (or even masquerade as) reproductive medical centers but only offer specific counseling that women not terminate their pregnancies.
The challengers argued that the ordinance was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor. For the en banc majority, however, "the summary judgment decision was laden with error, in that the court denied the defendants essential discovery and otherwise disregarded basic rules of civil procedure."
The majority opinion, authored by Judge King, in which Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Motz, Duncan, Keenan, Wynn, Floyd, and Thacker joined, stressed that its conclusion was procedural and that it did not express a view on the ultimate merits. Nevertheless, as in most cases, the merits and procedural issues are intertwined. For example, one of the crucial issues here is whether the speech being regulated is commercial or not. As the majority stated,
The district court’s denial of discovery and failure to adhere to the summary judgment standard marred its assessment of, inter alia, the City’s contention that the Ordinance targets misleading commercial speech and thus is subject to rational basis (rather than strict) scrutiny. While the strict scrutiny standard generally applies to content-based regulations, including compelled speech, see Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 641-42 (1994), less-demanding standards apply where the speech at issue is commercial. Disclosure requirements aimed at misleading commercial speech need only survive rational basis scrutiny, by being “reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.” Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985) (explaining that, “because disclosure requirements trench much more narrowly on an advertiser’s interests than do flat prohibitions on speech, warnings or disclaimers might be appropriately required in order to dissipate the possibility of consumer confusion or deception” (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted)); accord Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A. v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1324, 1339-40 (2010).
There are two dissenting opinions. The first, by Judge Wilkinson, derides the majority for failing to acknowledge "the dangers of state-compelled speech." He notes that the Supreme Court "only recently reiterated" the importance of the doctrine in Agency for Int’l Development v. Alliance for Open Society Int’l, Inc., the prostitution pledge case. Wilkinson accuses the majority of being enchanted with "extended procedures" and argues that it only authorizes a "fishing expedition" against the plaintiffs. The second dissent, authored by Judge Niemeyer, and joined by Judges Shedd, and Agee, as well as Wilkinson, contends that the ordinance governs noncommercial speech, mandates specific speech, and should be subject to strict scrutiny.
The judges did agree - - - amongst themselves and with the district judge - - - that St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation Incorporated and Archbishop William E. Lori lacked standing to be co-plaintiffs, but this issue is a divisive one. Indeed, there is an overdue Second Circuit panel opinion in the appeal of a district judge's conclusion that NYC's similar Local Law 17 was unconstitutional.
Moreover, the First Amendment challenges to pregnancy center "disclosures" as compelled speech mirror the First Amendment challenges to abortion provider "disclosures" as compelled speech, as in statutes from Kansas and South Dakota. The government's interest in preventing "misleading" speech or in providing full disclosure is exceedingly similar in both situations.
For scholars (including student scholars) looking for a terrific topic combining the First Amendment and reproductive rights, theses cases offer much.
Kansas' new abortion law that took effect July 1 - - - running 70 pages and known as Kansas HB 2253 - - - has already been the subject of a constitutional challenge. HB 2253 seeks to restrict abortion and other reproductive services in numerous ways in accord with the legislative finding that "the life of each human being begins at fertilization." The Complaint filed by the local Planned Parenthood organization, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid- Missouri, Inc. (CHPPKM) specifically challenges two provisions of the law on First Amendment grounds.
Planned Parenthood v. Rounds. Even though there was some "uncertainty" as to the reliability of the studies purporting to show a link between abortion and suicide ideation - - - including the very meaning of the word "risk" - - - the majority in Rounds found that the provision survived by giving great deference to South Dakota. One question will be whether the Tenth Circuit will be as deferential as the majority in its sister circuit or be as rigorous as the dissenting judges in Rounds.
Second, the complaint challenges the provision that compels CHPPKM "to place on the homepage of its public website both a hyperlink to a government website that contains the government’s viewpoint on abortion, and a scripted message of endorsement of the content on the government’s website, even where CHPPKM disagrees with the message." In light of last month's decision by the United States Supreme Court in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., - - - the prostitution pledge case - - - invalidating a requirement that organizations that received direct funding could not be compelled to espouse views that were not their own, this claim seems on firm First Amendment footing. The distinction is a factual one - - - the hyperlink - - - although interestingly CHPPKM contends in its complaint this further complicates the matter because it cannot be expected to constantly monitor the government site. Certainly, however, much of the language and reasoning in Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion for the Court solidifies compelled speech doctrine. And interestingly, compelled speech doctrine is being argued by anti-abortion organizations to challenge laws requiring "pregnancy crisis centers" to disclose the fact that they are not medical facilities. ( For example, a district judge held NYC's Local Law 17 unconstitutional in 2011; an opinion from the Second Circuit has been anticipated since oral argument over a year ago). UPDATE: The Fourth Circuit's en banc opinion July 3 on a Baltimore ordinance.
A popular discussion of the controversy, including some of my own thoughts, is available on "KC Currents" broadcast by KCUR, a local NPR station.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
In the latest chapter of McCormack v. Hiedeman, District Judge Lynn Winmill issued a 42 page opinion (Memorandum Decision and Order) yesterday holding various provisions in Idaho's abortion law unconstitutional, including the 20 week pregnancy ban unconstitutional.
Recall that the Ninth Circuit last year found that Idaho's prosecution of McCormack for "self-abortion" constituted an undue burden and was unconstitutional. McCormack, who purchased abortion "medications" over the internet, was the subject of an excellent indepth article which we discussed here. At that time, it seemed as if the case was concluded.
However, Judge Winmill rejected the prosecutor's argument that the case was moot, noting that a party "cannot conjure up mootness by ceasing the challenged conduct only for practical or strategic reasons - - - such as avoiding litigation." The judge further held that the prosecutor's promise not to prosecute would not bind his successors and that his subsequent offer of transactional immunity to McCormack was not timely or binding. Further, the judge noted that pregnancy is "capable of repetition yet evading review."
Judge Winmill also held that the physician in the case had standing, including to assert his patients' constitutional claims.
On the merits, Judge Winmill held that the self-abortion provision is a substantial obstacle and therefore unconstitutional, adopting the Ninth Circuit's reasoning.
Judge Winmill also held unconstitutional the provisions imposing criminal liability on abortion providers who perform first trimester abortions outside a hospital or a properly staffed and equipped office or a clinic and requires that “physicians have made satisfactory arrangements” for emergency hospital care. The judge accepted the physician's argument that the terms “properly” and “satisfactory” are unconstitutionally vague therefore placing an undue burden on women seeking first trimester abortions. There is some confusion in the judge's reliance on Gonzales v. Carhart in this passage, but the judge finds that the Idaho statute is not sufficiently specific.
Additionally, the judge found unconstitutional the Idaho provisions banning abortions at twenty weeks in PUCPA, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He reasoned that PUCPA does not contain mention the health or safety of the pregnant woman, that its only purpose was to limit the available options for the woman, and that the legislature cannot place viability at a set point.
Given this opinion, it is likely that McCormack v. Heidman will be returning to the Ninth Circuit.