Friday, April 24, 2015
Before 2011, Arizona law required that voter registration forms include a blank space for the registrant’s party preference. But a 2011 law required the voter registration form distributed by the Arizona Secretary of State to list the two largest parties (as measured by number of registered voters) on the form, as well as provide a blank line for “other party preferences.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-152(A)(5).
In response to the amendment, the Arizona Secretary of State revised box 14 on the Registration Form, and the opinion includes this illustration:
Minority parties Arizona Green Party and the Arizona Libertarian Party challenged the new law as violative of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In its opinion in Arizona Libertarian Party v. Bennett, the Ninth Circuit upheld the statute as constitutional.
The panel majority opinion by Judge Tashima noted the intertwining of the equality and First Amendment claims:
“Restrictions on voting can burden equal protection rights as well as ‘interwoven strands of liberty’ protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments—namely, the ‘right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs, and the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively.’”
It stated that the party challenging the law bears “the initial burden of showing that [the state’s] ballot access requirements seriously restrict the availability of political opportunity" and that here any burden was de minimis. The panel thus applied rational basis scrutiny which the new form easily passed.
Concurring, Judge McKeown argued that the rational basis review burden-shifting standards derived from Ninth Circuit precedent and which the majority applied were "inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges." Instead, the court should apply the balancing tests articulated in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) and reiterated in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), although Judge McKeown acknowledged that the "semantic distinction between the balancing test and the rational basis standard" may make little difference in most cases. Indeed, here Judge McKeown recognized that Arizona's asserted interests in reducing printing costs and easing administrative efficiency are “sufficiently weighty to justify” the speculative burden on the plaintiff minority parties' rights.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
The Fourth Circuit ruled in Greenville County Republican Party v. Greenville County Election Commission that various challenges to South Carolina's municipal election procedures lacked justiciability and dismissed the case.
South Carolina law required municipalities to adopt by ordinance either a partisan or nonpartisan way of nominating candidates for public office in municipal elections. If a municipality selected the partisan method, South Carolina law allowed a certified political party to select one of three procedures: a party primary, a party convention, or a petition. Nomination by party primary required an open primary. Nomination by convention required a 3/4 super-majority vote of the party membership.
The Greenville County Republican Party Executive Committee, an affiliate of the state Republican party but not itself a certified political party, challenged these procedures under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The Committee sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and monetary damages for having to implement the procedures in prior elections.
As the case worked its way up and down, Greenville changed its ordinance to nominate candidates using a nonpartisan procedure.
The Fourth Circuit ruled that this mooted the Committee's claims for prospective relief. In particular, the court said that the County's decision was not capable of repetition but evading review, because the Committee didn't satisfy its burden of establishing "a reasonable expectation" that it wouldn't go back to the partisan method of nominating candidates for future elections.
As to the surviving claims, the court held that the Committee lacked standing. The court said that the Committee didn't suffer any harm from the super-majority requirement for convention-nominated candidates; instead, the state party suffered that harm--making the Committee's claim a nonjusticiable third-party claim. The court also held that the Committee couldn't satisfy the traceability prong of standing, because it was the state party, not Greenville, that elected to use the open primary system. (The state Republican Party was at one time party to the suit, but withdrew.)
The ruling ends this suit, and, in the wake of Greenville's decision to use a nonpartisan nominating process, almost certainly ends any challenges to Greenville's old partisan process.
March 18, 2015 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Over at the Los Angeles Times in an Op-Ed, ConLawProf Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr. argues that present First Amendment doctrine would preclude the famous Selma march being commemorated on its 50th anniversary today.
Krotoszynski contends that it would now be "impossible to obtain a federal court order permitting a five-day protest march on a 52-mile stretch of a major U.S. highway" and that under "contemporary legal doctrine, the Selma protests would have ended March 8, 1965."
He faults the reshaping of public forum doctrine and time, place or manner restrictions so that "protests" are now relegated to "designated speech zones." He highlights the recent litigation regarding the First Amendment rights of protestors in Ferguson, which, although successful on behalf of the protestors, was a success that was both delayed and partial.
Krotoszynski's op-ed is an important reminder that while voting rights and equality are integral to the remembrance of Selma as President Obama elucidated in his speech, "Selma's main lesson" might also be that "taking to the streets and other public spaces in protest is central to our democracy."
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Newly elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) late yesterday issued an executive order that halted enforcement of the fair share provisions in state union contracts with state employees. At the same time, he filed a preemptive federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that his EO was constitutional.
The pair of moves (especially the unusual lawsuit) can only be understood as a full frontal assault on whatever is left of public sector fair share under the First Amendment after last Term's ruling in Harris v. Quinn. (And there's not much left.) Indeed, the lawsuit seems specifically engineered only to put Abood, the 1977 case upholding public sector fair share requirements, before the Court again and to topple it once and for all.
"Fair share" fees are those fees charged to nonunion members in a union shop. They're designed to cover union expenses that benefit all employees (union or not), like collective bargaining. The Supreme Court ruled in Abood in 1977 that fair share fee requirements do not violate the First Amendment (as compelled speech and association), because they are justified in order to avoid free-riding by nonunion members (that is, nonunion members who benefit from the union's activities, but fail to pay union dues) and to promote labor peace. Without fair share fee requirements, public sector unions could be hard-pressed to gain membership or collect any fees. That's because without fair share requirements every individual employee might rationally think that he or she could duck out of union membership and fees and free-ride on the union's bargaining. If enough employees think this, the unions could disappear.
The Supreme Court in recent years has chipped away at Abood, first in Knox v. Service Employees (2012) and then in Harris v. Quinn (2013). Abood's definitely holding on by just a string, but the Court hasn't specifically overruled it.
Governor Rauner's actions seem designed to do just that. Rauner's EO, halting fair share enforcement, is based on his worry that "the collective bargaining agreements force some employees to subsidize and enable union activities that they do not support," and "Illinois state employee unions are using compelled "fair share" fees to fund inherently political activities to influence the outcome of core public sector issues."
But Illinois law permits the collection of fair share fees only for nonunion members' "proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment . . . ." 5 ILCS 315/6. It does not permit collection of fair share fees for other activities, like political advocacy. Thus, Illinois law is fully constitutional and comports with Abood. (Again, even if Abood is on its way out, it's still the law of the land.) Still, Governor Rauner's EO takes it head-on.
To punctuate the EO, Governor Rauner then filed a preemptive suit against the unions in federal court seeking declaratory relief that his EO is constitutional. This sounds like a nonjusticiable political question, or like Rauner lacks standing, or like the whole thing isn't yet ripe. (Shouldn't the unions be suing?) But Rauner has an answer for this (strange as it sounds): The EO renders null and void the fair share provisions in the state's collective bargaining agreements, thus creating a controversy between the Governor and unions.
The aggressive EO and the strangeness of the suit can only mean that Governor Rauner is taking on public sector fair share and Abood full force--that he's doing it because he wants his name on the case overturning Abood.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that the Saskatchewan Public Service Essential Services Act (PSESA), which limited the ability of public sector employees who perform essential services to strike, violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the same time, the court upheld an act that increased the level of required written support, and reduced the time period for receiving support, to certify a union.
In striking the PSESA, the court held that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2(d), free association, protects a fundamental right to strike, and that the PSESA wasn't saved by Section 1, the "reasonable limits" provision. The court wrote that the right to strike is "an indispensable component of" the right to bargain collectively, and "essential to realizing" the values of "human dignity, equality, liberty, and respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy." The court also noted that "international obligations also mandate protecting the right to strike . . . ."
The court said that the breach of Section 2(d) wasn't justified by Section 1, which "guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in [the Charter] subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." The court wrote that the maintenance of essential public services is obviously "pressing and substantial," but that the PSESA wasn't sufficiently tailored. In particular, the court said that the PSESA allows too much given in defining "essential services" and the employees who perform them.
Two justices dissented, arguing that the political branches should have the flexibility to determine the scope of workers' ability to strike.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson today ordered police to warn crowds before the police use tear gas and to provide "reasonable" time for people to disperse, according to the St. Louis Post-Dipatch. The temporary restraining order comes in a case filed Monday that alleged that police intimidated demonstrators, assaulted them with tear gas and pepper spray, arbitrarily labeled peaceful protestors as unlawful assemblies, and refused to wear name tags--all of which had a chilling effect on the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.
Judge Jackson reportedly expressed concern that police failed to distinguish between peaceful protestors and criminals.
We previously posted on a federal court temporary injunction in another against the police move-along rule in Ferguson.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
The Ninth Circuit yesterday upheld Arizona's reciprocal bar licensing rule against a host of federal constitutional claims. The ruling means that Arizona's rule stays in place.
At issue was Arizona's Rule 34(f), which permits admission to the state bar on motion for attorneys who are admitted to practice in states that permit Arizona attorneys to be admitted on a basis equivalent to Arizona's, but requires attorneys admitted to practice law in states that don't have such reciprocal admission rules to take the bar exam.
According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the ABA, just less than half the states and jurisdictions offer reciprocal admissions under this kind of rule.
Plaintiffs challenged the rule under the Equal Protection Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment Privileges or Immunities Clause, Article IV Privileges and Immunities, the Dormant Commerce Clause, and the First Amendment. The court rejected all of these claims.
As to equal protection, the court applied rational basis review and said that the state had legitimate interests in regulating its bar and in ensuring that its attorneys are treated equally in other states.
As to Article IV Privileges and Immunities and the Dormant Commerce Clause, the court said that the rule didn't discriminate against out-of-state attorneys--that it was a neutral rule that treated all attorneys alike--and that it advanced substantial state interests (the same as those above). The rule's neutrality also drove the result in the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment privileges or immunities claim, because the right to travel isn't implicated (it can't be, if everybody is treated alike).
As to the First Amendment, the court applied the time-place-manner test and upheld the rule. The court flatly rejected the plaintiffs' right of association and right to petition claims.
December 9, 2014 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) this week rejected a non-profit's challenge to the disclosure provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The ruling was unsurprising, even if the case may be noteworthy, as it represents a next wave of challenges to campaign finance regulation.
The Independence Institute, a Colorado non-profit, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against FEC enforcement of BCRA's disclosure requirement as applied to a specific radio ad that the Institute planned to run before the fall elections. The Institute argued that the requirement was overbroad as applied, because the planned ad was genuine issue advocacy, and not express advocacy.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly was blunt in rejecting this argument:
This dispute can be distilled to the application of the Supreme Court's clear instructions in Citizens United: in no uncertain terms, the Supreme Court rejected the attempt to limit BCRA's disclosure requirements to express advocacy and its functional equivalent. Plaintiff in this case seeks the same relief that has already been foreclosed by Citizens United.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly then rejected the Institute's attempts to distinguish Citizens United, ruled in favor of the FEC, and upheld the disclosure requirement.
This ruling was hardly surprising: if a court is going to overturn disclosure requirements, it'll have to be the Supreme Court. Still, the case should get our attention as a next-wave challenge to campaign speech regulation--the challenge to disclosure requirements.
Monday, April 7, 2014
"The amount of data available to law enforcement creates a type of honey pot—a trap that lures and tempts government to use data without limits." What should the constitutional limits be? And what is their source? In a new article, Constitutional Limits on Surveillance: Associational Freedom in the Age of Data Hoarding, available on ssrn (and forthcoming in Notre Dame Law Review) Law Prof Deven Desai (pictured) argues that constitutional protections for association - - - rooted in the Fourth Amendment as well as the First - - - is a method for disciplining governmental access to both forward and backward-looking surveillance in our current age of "data hoarding."
The mechanisms for information gathering have taken different forms at different times in history, but regardless of the precise method or when the acts occur, we can see the goal: suppression of association. Mail has been read, student speech and political actions watched, library records obtained, membership in the Communist Party scrutinized, a list of individuals to detain in case of a national security emergency created, a fifteen year program to gather information about “the Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, antiwar groups, civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, and gay rights groups” created, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King threatened depending on various perceived threats and surveillance programs. These practices now include the FBI’s gathering of publicly available information “directly,” through third parties, or if handed over “voluntarily” by third parties. The NSA’s recent activities map to the same behaviors that threaten and attack associational freedom. The NSA has targeted online activities of alleged Muslim radicalizers—those who offer troubling speeches—to secure information, such as about viewing pornography online, to discredit or embarrass the speakers. That tactic is not about law enforcement. Just as those in power have gone after the Democratic-Republican Societies, war protestors, civil rights activists, and others questioning the government, the tactic is about intimidation and suppression. One might try and argue that all this activity is only for national security and anti-terror investigations and thus permitted under current laws. But NSA activities have not been cabined to national security interests. The NSA is not allowed to spy on domestic targets. It has done so anyway. The NSA’s “Associational Tracking Program” has collected purely domestic communication information including from and to whom a call is made, the length of the call, and when the call is made, on a daily basis for later analysis by the NSA. This data has come directly from telecommunication providers such as Verizon, which complied with a court order. 165 In addition, the NSA has hacked telecommunication lines to gain access to communications and metadata passing through Google and Yahoo data centers.
Ultimately, Desai contends that "pervasive surveillance turns us into sheep." But the First Amendment has not been sufficient to protect against surveillance because a "mypoic" view of the First Amendment as requiring expressive speech misses the associational aspects at stake. Additionally, the associational aspects of the Fourth Amendment are often neglected, but should be considered "core."
Given the continuing revelations about widespread surveillance, Desai's intervention and suggested reorientation of doctrine is certainly worth a serious read.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Writing for a unanimous Court in 1995, Justice Souter in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group held that the First Amendment rights of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council (and its individual member John "Wacko" Hurley) allowed the exclusion of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group (GLIB) from the St. Patrick's Day Parade, despite the Massachusetts' public accommodation law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Justice Souter famously opined that although the parade might seem not to have a particularized message that would be inconsistent with GLIB, its message was as particularized as "the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schonberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll."
Some St. Patrick's Day parades continue to exclude identified sexual minority groups, including the Boston one - - - in which Boston's mayor will reportedly not participate this year, and the New York City one - - - in which NYC's mayor will likewise reportedly not participate this year. Other St. Patrick's Day parades do not ban LGBT groups.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
In its opinion in Wilkins v. Daniels, a panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district judge and affirmed the constitutionality of the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act, which became effective January 1, 2014. The Act prohibits possession of dangerous wild animals - - - including tigers, lions, bears, alligators, and pythons 12 feet or longer - - - without a permit. The permit requirements include the implantation of a microchip under the animal's skin. The Act includes an exemption for individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).
The exemption in the Act's scheme and the "chipping" requirement give rise to the constitutional challenges.
First, and perhaps most creatively, the challengers argued that the exemption for "individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA)" constituted compelled speech prohibited by the First Amendment. This compelled speech argument had two "distinct but interrelated" parts: a compelled association claim because the Act "forces" them to join either the AZA or ZAA and a compelled speech claim because the Act requires them to "subsidize the speech of their purely private political and ideological rivals,” the AZA or ZAA.
The panel briefly and accurately set out the doctrine and classic First Amendment cases, but the court's analysis is digestable to its conclusion that there was no compulsion, by association or subsidy: "There are fifteen ways appellants can comply with the Act: the permitting requirement and fourteen exemptions." As the panel concluded, "[m]ere unwillingness to conform their conduct to the permitting requirements or the other thirteen exemptions does not mean that the Act compels appellants to join the AZA or ZAA."
Second, the challengers argued that microchipping requirement violated the Takings Clause. The panel found the challenge not ripe because there was no pursuit of state compensation. But, on the merits, the panel found that there was not a taking, stressing the physical taking (rather than the regulatory taking) aspect that seemed to be the central argument. The court analogized to other types of "property," accepting the State's argument that if the Act’s microchipping requirement to be ruled a taking, “laws requiring license plates on cars, warning labels on packaging, lighting on boats, handrails in apartment buildings, and ramps leading to restaurants” would be suspect.
The court rejected these constitutional challenges that, while innovative, seemed to have little support in the doctrine. The arguments also had little political appeal - - - the court notes in its opinion that the Ohio Act was prompted by an incident in which "an Ohio man released over fifty exotic animals before committing suicide."
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Catherine Fisk and Erwin Chemerinsky (both of Cal Irvine) published an American Constitution Society Issue Brief last week that boldly sets out the implications of Harris v. Quinn, on public employee fair-share fees, and blows a hole (or three) in the Court's First Amendment jurisprudence as it continues its attacks on unions. We posted on Harris here and here; we posted on Knox most recently here.
The Brief, titled Unequal Treatment? The Speech and Association Rights of Employees: Implications of Knox and Harris, pulls no punches in setting out the implications of those cases, starting with the doctrinal time-bombs that Justice Alito planted in Knox, which fed the petitioners' arguments in Harris:
In colloquial terms, the petitioners in Harris seek to have the Supreme Court declare that, as a matter of the First Amendment, all government employment must be on a "right-to-work" basis.
The petitioners' argument in Harris went beyond simply the payment of the employees' fair share of the cost of contract negotiation and administration. They argued that bargaining on behalf of employees is petitioning the government and "political in nature" even when it addresses wages, and it violates the First Amendment to require dissenting employees to support the union's bargaining. As the Justices recognized at oral argument, the logical extension of the petitioners' argument is that the First Amendment invalidates any statute allowing employees to bargain collectively on the basis of exclusive representation.
Fisk and Chemerinsky also carefully describe how the Court's approach in Knox, and the petitioners' arguments in Harris, cut against the Court's approaches to compelled speech, associational rights, and speech of government employees in other areas.
The conclusion: The implications are serious, and Court's approach to fair share union fees is just the opposite of its approach in other cases, suggesting that the Court is just baldly beating up on unions.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
First Amendment Issues with New York Bill Prohibiting University Support of Entities that Support Boycotts of Other Universities or Nations
New York Senate Bill 6438-2013 passed today and now moves to the Assembly, taking its First Amendment problems with it.
The bill, in section 2 provides:
No college in this state may use state aid provided directly to such college to: fund an academic entity, provide funds for membership in an academic entity or fund travel or lodging for any employee to attend any meeting of such academic entity if such entity has issued a public resolution or other official statement or undertaken an official action boycotting a host country or higher education institutions located in such country.
Section 3 extends the penalty to a deprivation of all funds:
Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, no college shall be eligible for state aid during the academic year that such college is in violation of subdivision two of this section.
Like many laws, Bill S6438-2013 little sense without understanding its context. In December, the American Studies Association membership adopted a Resolution stating that it
endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The resolution was widely reported, with an excellent piece by Elizabeth Redden on Inside Higher Ed; an article concentrating on the reactions by Peter Schmidt, and nuanced posts by "Claire Potter on Tenured Radical" discussing her own changing views, most recently here.
In any discussion of the bill's constitutionality, proponents will most likely be relying on Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2006. Rumsfeld v. FAIR involved the "Solomon Amendment" passed by Congress requiring law schools to allow the military to recruit for lawyers the same as any other employers, a statute thought to be necessary because a number of law schools prohibited employers from recruiting unless the employers had a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation. Like S6438-2013, the federal Solomon Amendment specified "that if any part of an institution of higher education denies military recruiters access equal to that provided other recruiters, the entire institution would lose certain federal funds." The law schools challenged the Solomon Amendment arguing that it infringed their First Amendment freedoms of speech and association. The law schools lost - - - unanimously (Justice Alito recused himself; the 8 other Justices joined the opinion by Chief Justice Roberts upholding the constitutionality of the law).
Importantly, in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, the Court rejected the notion that the doctrine of "unconstitutional conditions" applied. On the Court's view, the universities were not faced with an untenable choice - - - surrending their free speech and association rights in exchange for funding - - - because the government could directly mandate that the universities allow the military to recruit on the same terms as other employers. The Solomon Amendment, according to the Court, "neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything."
In the Court's most recent unconstitutional conditions case, Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society, the Court did declare unconstitutional a Congressional statute requiring funding recipients to have an "anti-prostitution pledge." Again, the opinion was authored by Chief Justice Roberts, but this time over a dissent by Justice Scalia (joined by Thomas). The fact that the pledge was compelled speech was central.
In arguments surrounding the constitutionality of the NY Bill under the First Amendment, challengers would most likely rely upon NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., in which the Court in 1982 held that damages for a boycott of white merchants in Mississippi could not be awarded against the NAACP consistent with the First Amendment. Claiborne recognized that the "peaceful" aspects of the boycott were a form of speech or conduct that is ordinarily entitled to protection under the First Amendment.
Thus, it would seem that the state could not directly prohibit a boycott. The argument would then be that because the state could not directly prohibit participation in a boycott, it would be an unconstitutional condition to make recipients forgo a constitutional right as a condition of receiving funding.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Last Term, the United States Supreme Court's First Amendment docket was decidedly light. This Term, there are many First Amendment (and quasi-First Amendment) issues before the Court.
Recall last Term's First Amendment case - - - Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society - - - the "prostitution pledge" case - - - which we discussed here. The relatively brief 15 page majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts over a dissent by Justice Scalia (joined by Thomas). The opinion resolved a split in the circuits and added a doctrinal clarification (or perhaps merely a wrinkle) to compelled speech/ unconstitutional conditions doctrine, but cannot fairly be called a landmark case.
This Term, there is a bounty of First Amendment cases before the Court.
In alphabetical order, they include:
- Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Sebelius & Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Perhaps the most contentious cases this Term are these religious-based challenges to the contraception “mandate” of the Affordable Care Act. The cases (and similar cases pending throughout the federal courts) involve the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is intertwined with First Amendment Free Exercise principles and doctrine. Our discussion of the grant of certiorari is here, with links to the circuit court opinions; and a survey of recent commentaries is here. Oral argument is scheduled for March 25.
- Harris v. Quinn
The well-established rule that non-union public employees can be compelled to pay union dues for the union's collective bargaining activities (but not the union's political activities) is the subject of this First Amendment challenge in the employment context of home health care providers. Our extensive coverage of the issues is here. Oral arguments were held January 21 and our analysis is here.
- Lane v. Franks
The Eleventh Circuit summarily applied Garcetti v. Ceballos in this First Amendment challenge to an alleged retaliatory termination of a public employee for revealing misconduct and testifying at the criminal trials of a former state senator. Our discussion of the grant of certiorari January 17 is here.
- McCullen v. Coakley
This is 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. The First Circuit had rejected both the facial and as-applied challenges. Oral arguments were held January 15 and our analysis is here.
- McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
This campaign finance case is a First Amendment challenge to the aggregate limits under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, which cap the total amount that a contributor can give to candidates, political parties, and political committees. Oral arguments were held October 8, 2013 and our analysis is here.
- Susan B Anthony List v. Driehaus
This case is a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements. As we explained when the Court granted certiorari earlier in January, the case involves both the First Amendment and Article III, with the Sixth Circuit having determined that the case was not ripe and thus not reaching the First Amendment challenge.
- Town of Greece v. Galloway This case is an Establishment Clause challenge to New York town's practice of opening its council meetings with prayers, the large majority of which have been Christian. The Second Circuit had held that the town council's practice "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity." The Solicitor General filed a brief supporting the town. Oral arguments were held in early November and our analysis is here.
- United States v. Apel
Whether or not the First Amendment is relevant in this case involving a protest outside military installation is part of the issue. The Ninth Circuit did not reach the First Amendment issue, but decided the case on the particularities of statutory interpretation and the property in question, reversing the defendant's conviction. At the oral argument in early December, ConLawProf Erwin Chemerinsky, arguing for Apel, consistently raised the First Amendment and was consistently rebuffed, as we discussed here.
- Wood v. Moss
Whether or not the First Amendment is relevant in this case (as in Apel, above) is also an issue. The central arguments involve qualified immunity, but questions of viewpoint discrimination arise given that there were different "protest zones" for pro-Bush and anti-Bush demonstrators. Oral argument is scheduled for March 26, 2014.
ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment this semester have much that could be incorporated in their courses regarding this Court's Term. And First Amendment watchers, scholars, and practitioners may see some important changes.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Harris v. Quinn, the case testing whether fair-share fees for non-union in-home care providers in the Illinois Medicaid program violate the First Amendment. (Our argument preview is here.) The Court in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education previously upheld public-sector fair-share fees to support a union's collective bargaining activities in the interests of preventing free-riders on a union's activities and promoting workplace peace. But this case put Abood directly in the Court's cross-hairs, as the petitioners argued to overturn the decades-old case.
If today's arguments are any indication, that seems an unlikely result.
Still, it's not entirely clear what the Court will do with the case. For one thing, there was just a lot of confusion about it. For example, on the question whether the union's work here (in the state's Medicaid program) represented advocacy on a public matter (thus strengthening the non-members' claims), no clear position emerged. Here's an exchange between Justice Kagan and the attorney for the petitioners (the home-care workers):
Justice Kagan: But you're not objecting, I think, to the union as a whole. What you're objecting to is an individual employee having to support that activity. The scale is no different. It's an individual employee.
Mr. Messenger: Yes, it's an individual employee being forced to support that expressive activity. So the question becomes: What expressive activity are they being forced to support? And when you're speaking of changing an entire government program, for example, Medicaid rates across the board, that is a matter of public concern. That is a matter of lobbying or political --
Justice Kagan: But that's exactly what the individual employee in Justice Scalia's hypothetical is arguing for. He wants wage rates to be changed across the board. He knows they're not going to be changed just for him. He wants higher wage rates.
Mr. Messenger: But, again, under this Court's private--under the public conern test, an individual simply speaking to that usually does not rise to a matter of public concern.
Chief Justice Roberts jumped in during the respondents' argument to underscore the problem. He made a point that under the state's position one union's advocacy for increased Medicaid rates might be an issue of public concern (as in a teacher's union), but another union's advocacy for the same incrased Medicaid rates is a private employment issue (as here), suggesting that that can't be.
Justice Breyer quickly rescued the respondents and outlined the opposite position--"Collective bargaining with any employer, meat packers, hours, safety depends on hours, always can involve public interest questions"--arguing that the Court shouldn't be in the business of this kind of line-drawing.
The one to watch here may be Justice Kennedy. He suggested at one point that nearly all of this union's activities were public matters, but at a different point that the Court's jurisprudence provides (at least) a partial solution: non-members can be compelled to pay fair-share fees for those activities that might involve free-riding, but not for other activities for which they don't receive a benefit. (Justice Scalia piped in to remind us that under the Court's jurisprudence non-members can opt-out of fees for benefits that they don't enjoy.) The problem here may be sorting out which kind of benefit is which.
Justice Alito underscored this problem when he pressed the state on a hypothetical non-union teacher who has to pay a fair-share fee to support the union's advocacy of the tenure system. But the teacher disagrees with the union's position on this, so has to pay another organization an equal amount to represent his or her views--just to counteract the advocacy supported by his or her compelled fair-share fee. Justice Kennedy posed a similar hypo. The state responded that here the fair-share fee supports union activity that benefits all workers, but it's not clear that a majority bought it, or, if they did, that they weren't also thinking beyond the narrow facts of this case.
The case also involved several puzzles, both practical and jurisprudential, that seem to put the petitioners' positions at odds with common sense and doctrine. Here's Justice Sotomayor raising one with the petitioners:
Justice Sotomayor: Is there a problem for the State to say--the union, to organize has a certain amount of costs. So putting aside fair representation laws, could the State say, this is what we're going to pay police officers, 100 dollars, but we're going to pay union members 110 to reimburse them for the cost of negotiation. Would that be OK?
Mr. Messenger: Yes.
Here's Justice Kagan raising another:
Justice Kagan: Because here's the thing: That in the workplace we've given the government a very wide degree of latitude and there's much that the government can do. It can fire people. It can demote people for things that they say in the workplace, not for things that they say as a citizen . . . .
So you're saying, well, the government can punish somebody for saying something, but the government in the exact same position cannot compel somebody to say something they disagree with. And I want to know what's the basis for that distinction, which it seems to me is just as hard as -- as if you were answering under the petition clause.
There was also significant confusion about whether the state's flexibility in negotiating wages--and therefore why the union's participation is necessary. (If the wages are set--by the Medicaid program, for example--what benefit does the union bring?)
Justices Scalia and Alito both expressed some skepticism over the state's intent in requiring fair-share, Justice Alito suggesting that it was Governor Blagojevich's reward to the union for a huge campaign contribution.
In rebuttal, Justice Scalia pressed the petitioners about free-riding and what their position could do to unions; Justice Kagan pressed them about what their position would do to "thousands and thousands" of public contracts that include fair-share provisions. Justice Kagan earlier put a finer point on the case's significance and with the help of respondents' counsel told us just what's at stake:
Justice Kagan: So, Mr. Messeenger, even on the compulsory fees, I mean, what strikes me is that this is -- I'm just going to use the word here, it is a radical argument. It would radically restructure the way any workplaces across this country are -- are run.
And let me just put it to you this way and ask if you agree with this -- with this statement. Since 1948, since the Taft-Hartley Act, there has been a debate in every State across this country about whether to be a right-to-work State and people have disagreed. Some States say yes, some States say no. It raises considerable heat and passion and tension, as we recently saw in Wisconsin. And -- but, you know, these are public policy choices that States make.
And is it fair to say that what you're suggesting here, your argument, is essentially to say that for 65 years, people have been debating the wrong question when they've been debating that, because, in fact, a right-to-work law is constitutionally compelled?
Mr. Messenger: In the public sector, yes . . . .
Sunday, January 19, 2014
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in Harris v. Quinn, the case testing whether a state law requiring non-union homecare personal assistants to pay union dues for the assistants' union's colleective bargaining activities violates the First Amendment. The case threatens the decades-long rule that non-union public employees can be compelled to pay union dues for the union's collective bargaining activities (but not the union's political activities), under Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The Court presaged this threat two Terms ago in SEIU v. Knox.
Here's a selection from my preview in the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
The Illinois Department of Human Services operates two Medicaid-waiver programs that subsidize the costs of home-based assistants for disabled individuals or patients who might otherwise face institutionalization. The programs allow Medicaid patients to live in their own homes with the help of personal assistants. One of these programs, the Home Services Program, is administered by the Division of Rehabilitative Services; the other program, the Home Based Support Services Program, is administered by the Division of Developmental Disabilities. The lower court and the parties call these programs the “Rehabilitation Program” and the “Disabilities Program,” respectively.
Under the Rehabilitation Program, a patient works with a counselor to develop an individual service plan. The plan specifies “the type of service(s) to be provided to the patient, the specific tasks involved, the frequency with which the specific tasks are to be provided, the number of hours each task is to be provided per month, [and] the rate of payment for the service(s).” The service plan must be certified by the patient’s physician and approved by the state. The patient is then free to select almost any personal assistant who meets the qualifications related to work experience, training, and skills set by the state. The personal assistant signs an employment agreement directly with the patient, but the terms of the agreement are set by the state. The state also sets wages and pays the personal assistant, withholding Social Security and federal and state taxes. (Personal assistants are also sometimes called homecare providers.)
The Disabilities Program functions similarly, although the record is less developed as to the specific relationship between a personal assistant and the state.
In the mid-1980s, personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program sought to unionize and to bargain collectively with the state. The State Labor Relations Board found that it lacked jurisdiction over the personal assistants, however, because the state was not their sole employer. As a result, personal assistants could not unionize.
In 2003, the state amended the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act to designate “personal care attendants and personal assistants working under the Home Services Program” as state employees for the purpose of collective bargaining. Governor Rod Blagojevich then issued an executive order directing the state to recognize an exclusive representative of Rehabilitation Program personal assistants if they designated one by a majority vote and to engage in collective bargaining over all employment terms within the state’s control. The Rehabilitation Program personal assistants later voted to designate SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana as their collective bargaining representative with the state. The union and the state negotiated an agreement that set pay rates, created a health benefits fund for personal assistants, and established a joint union-state committee to develop training programs. The agreement also contained a “fair share” provision that required all personal assistants who were not members of the union “to pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.”
In 2009, Governor Pat Quinn issued an executive order directing the state to recognize an exclusive representative for the Disabilities Program personal assistants if they designated one by majority vote. A majority of Disabilities Program personal assistants, however, rejected union representation. (This vote was not necessarily the final decision on representation. Under state law, a union can request a new vote in the future and can even bypass a vote altogether if it collects a sufficient number of union cards from the personal assistants.)
Personal assistants in both programs sued. Non-union personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program claimed that the fair-share fees that they were required to pay violated the First Amendment by compelling them to associate with the union. Personal assistants in the Disabilities Program claimed that they were harmed by the mere threat of an agreement requiring fair-share fees.
The district court dismissed the Rehabilitation Program personal assistants’ case on the merits, and it dismissed the Disabilities Program personal assistants’ case because they lacked standing and because their case was not ripe. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. (The Seventh Circuit recognized, however, that the Disabilities Program personal assistants’ case could become ripe in the future.) This appeal followed.
Compulsory union fees, or fair-share fees, implicate the First Amendment because they represent a form of compelled expressive association. In other words, fair-share fees require non-union-members to support union activities and expression with which they disagree. In particular, the fees require non-members to pay for union expression (in the form of fair-share fees to support collective bargaining), and thus to associate with that expression, even if they do not support it or wish to associate with it.
Still, the Supreme Court has long upheld requirements that non-union members financially support the costs of collective bargaining. Thus in Railway Employees’ Dep’t v. Hanson, 351 U.S. 225 (1956), the Court declined to enjoin a “union shop” agreement between a railroad company and a union that required all employees (whether unionized or not) to pay union dues as a condition of employment—even though a state constitutional “right to work” provision outlawed it. The Court held that the federal Railway Labor Act permitted the union shop agreement and superseded the state constitutional provision. The Court held that the federal act was justified by Congress’s interest in supporting “industrial peace and stabilized labor-management” and in distributing the costs of collective bargaining to all those who benefited from it. The Court upheld the federal act as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause, and ruled that it did not violate the First Amendment insofar as it permitted compulsory fees for collective bargaining activities.
Later, in International Association of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740 (1961), the Court read the Railway Labor Act not to extend to mandatory fees to finance the campaigns of candidates for federal and state offices. The Court ruled that while the act may authorize mandatory fees for collective bargaining activities (for the same reasons in Hanson), the act would violate the First Amendment if it authorized mandatory fees for political purposes with which an employee disagreed.
Later yet, the Court in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), drew on the interests in Hanson and Street to uphold a state law that allowed an “agency shop” clause in a collective bargaining agreement in the public sector. The Court ruled that the First Amendment did not prohibit an “agency shop” clause in an agreement between the Detroit Board of Education and its teachers’ union that required non-unionized teachers to financial support the union’s collective bargaining activities. The Court drew upon the government interests in Hanson and Street—supporting “industrial peace and stabilized labor-management” and avoiding “free riders” who refuse to contribute to the union while obtaining the benefits of union representation—and held that they were sufficient to justify the intrusion on First Amendment associational rights.
More recently the Court has chipped away at these principles. Most recently, in Knox v. SEIU, 132 S. Ct. 2277 (2012), the Court signaled that it was prepared to reconsider them entirely. In particular, the Court took aim at the “free rider” justification for “agency shop” agreements, saying that it was “generally insufficient to overcome First Amendment objections” and that it “represents something of an anomaly.” The Court left Abood intact, however, even if it also all but foretold Abood’s demise.
The parties frame their arguments against this history.
Pamela Harris, a personal assistant homecare provider who represents the class of personal assistants who are the petitioners in this case, argues first that Abood should be overruled, because the compulsory fees upheld in the case do not meet the “exacting scrutiny” applicable to compelled associations. She claims that Abood was based on a flawed interpretation of earlier case law, that it relied upon an anomalous justification, and that the compulsory fees upheld in Abood were not necessary for the exclusive representation by the union. In particular, Harris says that the Court borrowed the “labor peace” justification for compulsory fees from earlier case law explaining Congress’ authority to invalidate state laws prohibiting union-shop agreements under the Commerce Clause (and having nothing to do with the First Amendment). She claims the Court wrongly applied this justification to its First Amendment, compulsory association analysis in Abood. The net result, she says, is that the Court in Abood wrongly held that “labor peace” (a justification for federal laws under the Commerce Clause) was sufficient to justify compulsory union dues (in the face of the First Amendment). (Harris says that Justice Powell, joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justice Blackmun, recognized this problem in his concurrence in Abood.) Moreover, Harris contends that Abood’s “free rider” rationale for compulsory fees is an “anomaly,” and “generally insufficient to overcome First Amendment objections” (quoting Knox.) And she says that compulsory fees are not a necessary incident of exclusive representation (again drawing on Knox). For these reasons, Harris claims that Abood should be overruled.
Harris argues next that even if the Court declines to overruled Abood, it should sharply limit the case to its narrow facts. She says that Abood should apply only when the government directly supervises individuals in its workplace and when union representation does not involve matters of public concern. Harris claims that neither condition is satisfied here. She says that unlike the public-school teachers in Abood, Illinois homecare providers are not managed by the state (they are managed by the individuals they serve), and that homecare providers therefore do not fall under the Abood rationale. Moreover, she says that the personal assistants’ expressive association through the union is on a matter of public concern, that is, the operations of the state’s Medicaid program, and not merely the terms and conditions of their employment. Harris contends that the state therefore has no “labor peace” rationale for imposing mandatory fees. And Harris contends that in any event the compulsory fees are not necessary to any larger regulatory purpose, as required by Knox. She claims that if Abood were to allow compulsory expressive association here, it would allow the state to designate compulsory advocates to speak for others whose services are funded by a government program, including the medical industry and government contractors, among others—clearly an absurd result, she says.
Finally, Harris argues that personal assistants in the Disabilities Program are entitled to challenge the mandatory fees. Harris says that those providers need only show a substantial risk that they will be harmed. She claims that they did so, because Governor Quinn’s executive order substantially increases the risk that they will be forced to accept exclusive union representation, and to pay union fees.
The state argues that Abood should not be overruled. The state says that Abood follows from Hanson and Street, and that those decisions are rooted in the First Amendment. The state claims that Harris mischaracterizes those decisions as not relying on the First Amendment and “seek[s] to rewrite the many decisions that rely on [Hanson and Street] for their First Amendment analysis.” The state contends that the Court has relied on Abood’s First Amendment analysis in cases upholding mandatory bar dues (Keller v. State of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990)), mandatory assessments for fruit producers to contribute to the costs of industry advertising (Glickman v. Wileman Brothers & Elliot, Inc., 521 U.S. 457 (1997)), and a mandatory student activity fees (Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 (2000)). Moreover, the state says that Harris’s claims would threaten the long-held distinction between the government as regulator and the government as employer, because those claims treat the personal assistants’ speech as core political speech on matters of public concern (and not speech over the terms of their employment). (The state points to the Court’s cases on public employee speech, where the Court distinguishes between the government (relatively greater) interests as an employer regulating the speech of its employees and its (relatively lower) interests in regulating the speech of citizens in general, especially core political speech.) Finally, the state claims that Abood and related cases are entitled to stare decisis effect: it says that the Abood rule has not become unworkable, circumstances have not changed since Abood, and both public-sector unions and government have come to rely upon Abood.
Next the state argues that Harris is wrong to claim that its decision to negotiate exclusively with the union alone violates the First Amendment. The state contends that Harris’s argument is foreclosed by Minnesota State Board of Community Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271 (1984), which, by summary affirmance, sustained a state law granting public employees the right to negotiate through their exclusive representative. Moreover, the state says that granting exclusive representation to the union does not threaten the First Amendment rights of personal assistants, because personal assistants may decline to join the union.
The state argues that Harris’s proposal to limit Abood ignores and minimizes its vital interests. In particular, the state claims that it has an interest in promoting “industrial peace and stabilized labor-management relations” and the need to avoid free-riders. The state says that, contrary to Harris’s position, these interests are “vital” and well sufficient to justify fair-share fees for its employees in these programs that serve the state’s “most vulnerable citizens.” (The state argues that personal assistants are, indeed, its employees, even if they also answer in limited respects to the patients they serve. That’s because the state controls many of the terms and conditions of their employment.) For these reasons, the state claims that its system of collective bargaining satisfies the correct constitutional test, a balancing test (and not strict scrutiny, as Harris would have it.
(SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, the union that represents the personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program, presents substantially similar arguments on the constitutionality of the fair-share fees.)
Finally, the state argues that personal assistants in the Disabilities Program have presented only a “hypothetical threat,” and not an injury ripe for adjudication. Moreover, the state says that the personal assistants in the Disabilities Program will not suffer any hardship if judicial resolution of their claim is postponed. (AFCSME Council 31 and SEIU Local 73, the unions that attempted to organize the personal assistants in the Disabilities Program, make substantially the same arguments on justiciability.)
Simply stated, this case puts front-and-center the decades-old balance the Court struck in Abood. The Court in that case ruled that fair-share fees do not violate the First Amendment, because the government had sufficiently weighty interests in labor peace and avoiding free-riders. But the Court has chipped away at this principle, most recently in Knox, where the Court went so far as to suggest that it was prepared to reconsider Abood. This case gives the Court that chance.
If the Court overturns Abood, or even if it limits that case, the ruling could deal a serious blow to public sector unions. That’s because fair-share fees are designed to ensure that every employee who gains the benefits of a union’s collective bargaining also shares in the costs of that collective bargaining. In this way, fair-share fees are designed to solve a basic collective action problem: if employees can gain the benefits of collective bargaining without paying the costs, no employee will pay the costs, and the benefits will eventually disappear for all, union or not. Without fair-share fees, public-sector unions would have to carry the weight of non-members without the benefit of their financial support. And with no personal financial incentive to join a union in the first place—why would an employee join a union and pay union dues if he or she could free-ride on the union’s collective bargaining activities?—public union membership and strength will almost surely plummet.
On the other hand, this case gives the Court an opportunity to recalibrate the balance between associational rights and the government’s interests in labor peace and avoiding free-riders—and to privilege the associational rights. In other words, the case gives the Court a chance to better protect the associational rights of non-members. Again, though, this would come at the expense of union strength and the collective bargaining power of all the personal assistants, union or not.
Still, the Court need not go so far. The Court could dodge a ruling on the status of Abood by distinguishing this case on its unique facts. For example, the Court could rule that personal assistants are not employees of the state, and that therefore the state’s interests in Abood do not apply. Or the Court could rule that the personal assistants seek to speak on a matter of pure public concern—lobbying for greater reimbursements under the state’s Medicaid program—and that therefore the mandatory fees warrant greater First Amendment scrutiny than in Abood. Such a ruling would obviously affect these litigants, and other employees and states like them, but it would not (necessarily) upset the basic principles in Abood.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, the case testing whether aggregate campaign contribution limits violate the First Amendment.
Aggregate limits, established under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, cap the total amount that a contributor can give to candidates, political parties, and political committees. Aggregate limits supplement base limits, also in the BCRA, which cap the amount that a contributor can give to a particular candidate. Aggregate limits are designed to prevent a contributor from circumventing the base limits (and thus to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption) by funneling total contributions in excess of the base limits through a variety of different recipients and to a particular candidate.
Here's how it would work: Suppose Congress capped campaign contributions at $5,000 per candidate per cycle, so that a contributor could give only $5,000 to his or her preferred candidate. Without more, that contributor could easily bypass that base limit by simply contributing $5,000 to a number of different organizations that could, in turn, support or contribute to the contributor's preferred candidate. The contributor could thus effectively circumvent the base limit and corrupt his or her preferred candidate by funneling contributions through intermediaries.
Congress recognized this circumvention problem and imposed a cap on aggregate contributions in order to avoid it. The Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) upheld both the base contribution limit and an aggregate contribution limit, holding that they work to prevent actual and apparent corruption and circumvention. Later, in BCRA, Congress restructured and increased previous base and aggregate contribution limits and provided for automatic adjustments for inflation.
McCutcheon, a wealthy contributor, challenged the aggregate limits as violating the First Amendment. (For more on the background, my ABA Preview piece is here.)
The arguments today focused on whether the current aggregate contribution limits continue to do any work with regard to corruption or circumvention. The RNC and McCutcheon argued that they don't. They said that other features of the law already prevent circumvention and corruption, and that the aggregate limits therefore only serve to limit free speech and association. The FEC, on the other hand, said that they do--that they are necessary to close circumvention opportunities even with the other protective features of federal law, and that they prevent corruption.
The right answer, of course, turns on how money can flow in politics. There were plenty of hypotheticals today (and in the briefing) designed to illustrate how aggregate limits work to prevent corruption and circumvention (and counter-points on why they don't). Justices Breyer and Kagan led the charge with hypos showing why aggregate limits were necessary; Justice Kennedy expressed interest, as well. But for every hypo, the petitioners had an explanation why current law already solved the corruption and circumvention problem, even without aggregate limits. The lack of context and record on this point led Justices Breyer and Sotomayor to wonder whether the case might benefit from further development at the lower court. (Don't bet on this outcome.)
Justice Alito turned this line of questions on the government and asked SG Verrilli why other features of federal law don't already solve the corruption and circumvention problems. SG Verrilli seemed to back away from the circumvention interest and answered that a single contributor's very large contribution, dispersed across like-minded candidates and organizations, is itself a corruption problem, and that aggregate limits address this. The answer didn't seem to satisfy.
Chief Justice Roberts had a different concern: how the aggregate limits affect a contributor's ability to give the maximum amount to as many candidates as he or she wants--and how this limits a contributor's speech and association rights with regard to, say, the tenth candidate that the contributor wants to support. He also wondered whether there weren't less speech- and association-infringing ways to prevent corruption and circumvention.
In short, both the Chief Justice and Justice Alito, who together may well control the outcome of this case, seemed accutely concerned that the aggregate limits weren't the best-tailored way for the government to achieve its interests in preventing corruption and circumvention. At the same time, though, neither Chief Justice nor Justice Alito (nor anybody else today) directly took on Buckley's holding on base and aggregate contribution limits. (Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas are all on record against Buckley's holding that the government can regulate contributions in the interest of preventing corruption.) Instead, the arguments focused on whether the non-aggregate-limiting features of BCRA can do the work of preventing corruption and circumvention--and therefore whether the aggregate limits only serve to infringe the First Amendment. So if the arguments today are any indication, we may see a 5-4 Court striking the aggregate limits because they're not sufficiently tailored to prevent corruption or circumvention--and because they limit too much speech and association.
If so, we'll likely see more total money going directly to candidates, political parties, and committees. But remember that under Citizens United individuals can already spend as much as they want on "independent" electioneering. This case won't change that, even if it directs some of that "independent" money to candidates, political parties, and committees for better coordinated expenditures. (Justice Scalia argued today that the anti-corruption purpose of aggregate limits seems as weak as, or weaker than, an anti-corruption purpose for the independent expenditure restrictions that the Court struck in Citizens United.) At the same time, this case probably won't upset Buckley's holding that the government can cap base contributions in the interest of preventing actual or apparent corruption. Indeed, it may not even upset Buckley's holding on aggregate contributions. Instead, it may only say that under BCRA aggregate limits aren't doing the anti-corruption and anti-circumvention work that they were designed to do, and that they're unduly infringing on the First Amendment.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
The Supreme Court today agreed to hear a case pitting mandatory union fees for non-members against non-members' free speech and free association rights. The case, Harris v. Quinn, is the second time in recent years that the Court will consider the issue. (Our original post on Harris is here.) And if the signals from its first case, Knox v. SEIU, are any indication, we can expect that the Court will continue to chip away at, even eviscerate, public-sector union power.
Harris involves an Illinois law that requires home-health-care personal assistants who are not members of the assistants' designated union to pay union dues for union activies such as collective bargaining (but not for politics and other non-union activities). The Supreme Court has long allowed this kind of mandatory fee for non-members of public sector unions (going back to Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) in the interest of preventing free riding by non-members. (If non-members could get by without paying union-related fees for activities like collective bargaining, then nobody would become a member. Why? Because non-members could enjoy the benefits of the union without paying any fees. But if that happened, then the union's funding stream would dry up, and the union would cease to exist. Thus the rule makes sense for union-related activities. But the Court drew the line at non-union-related activities, like politics, where mandatory fees for non-members would compel a political association to which they objected.) Because the Supreme Court has long allowed this kind of mandatory fee, the Seventh Circuit upheld the fee in Harris. (There was just one twist: personal assistants look a little like state employees and a little like personal employees of the patients they serve, or state contractors. The Seventh Circuit ruled that they were state employees.)
The Court now will review that ruling. But it doesn't start from scratch. That's because the Court ruled in Knox in 2012--after the Seventh Circuit handed down Harris--that a public union couldn't use an opt-out procedure for special assessment fees for non-members for non-union activities; instead, the Court said it had to use an opt-in procedure. In other words, the Court ruled that the state couldn't require non-members to pay the special assessment for non-activities but opt out; instead, the state could only allow non-members to opt in.
Knox dealt with a seemingly narrow issue--opt-out or opt-in for special assessments for non-union activities. But by requiring opt-in, and thus setting the baseline as no fee assessments for non-union activities for non-members, the case was a blow to union power.
But more: the Knox opinion (penned by Justice Alito) included strong language suggesting that the broader Abood rule violated free speech and free association. That is, Knox comes very close to saying that states can't require non-members to pay even for union activities--even though that question wasn't before the Court.
In other words, the Court in Knox sounded like it was just waiting for a case to give it a chance to overturn the Abood rule that non-members can be assessed fees for union activities.
Harris might just be that case. If so, Harris could represent a big blow to public union power. Indeed, depending on how the Court might rule, it could mark the beginning of the end of public unions (if the beginning hasn't already happened). That's because a rule that allows non-members to dodge fees for collective bargaining and other union activities--that is, to free ride on the union--would give a strong incentive for everyone to bail out of the union.
The Court could rule differently, though--on Abood's application to independent contractors and even to the private sector--and that's where the facts matter. Remember that the Seventh Circuit said that personal assistants were state employees, but that they also look a little like private employees. Abood applies to public employees, and the Seventh Circuit was clear that "we do not consider whether Abood would still control if the personal assistants were properly labeled independent contractors rather than employees." "And we certainly do not consider whether and how a state might force union representation for other health care providers who are not state employees, as the plaintiffs fear." Op. at 15. This kind of ruling could represent a significant blow to union power, too.
Either way, Knox put the handwritting on the wall. Harris may just be the case to take on the long-standing rule that states can require non-members to pay union dues for union activities in order to avoid free riders. If the Court reverses this rule, or even just chips away at it, the case will be a significant blow to unions.
There's another question in Harris. One group of personal assistants in Illinois, operated under a different state department, voted not to organize; they therefore do not have to pay any fees. The Seventh Circuit ruled that their claim wasn't yet ripe. This, too, is before the Court.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, on behalf of a bevy of organizations, filed suit against the NSA in the Northern District of California to stop its surveillance program and to return any information retrieved. The complaint in First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA argues that the "Associational Tracking Program"--the surveillance program that received so much recent attention with the release of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Roger Vinson's ruling ordering the disclosure of domestic phone records--violates the organizations' and their members' First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.
We previously posted on EPIC's case taking a different route--a petition for a writ of mandamus directly with the Supreme Court.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Associated Press CEO (and former First Amendment lawyer for McClatchy newspapers) Gary Pruitt gave his first television interview today to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation and blasted the Justice Department seizure of AP phone records as violating the First Amendment.
Pruitt's complaints grow out of the Justice Department secret subpoena for phone records of 20 AP phone lines as part of the Department's investigation into an AP article that reported that the CIA foiled a terrorist plot to bomb a US airliner. The Department obtained the records directly from the phone company, without prior notice to AP.
Pruitt argued that the Department's efforts swept far too broadly and violated its own rules relating to phone records.
Pruitt's appearance follows his May 13, 2013, letter to AG Holder, objecting to the Department's investigation. Deputy AG James Cole wrote back on May 14, 2013, arguing that the Department's subpoenas were sufficiently narrow.
Glenn Greenwald wrote about the issue last week in the Guardian (with links to others raising objections). The Washington Post just posted a story on aggressive government tactics in leak investigations, focusing on the Stephen Jin-Woo Kim case.