Friday, January 11, 2013

Daily Read: Ron Collins on Floyd Abrams on the First Amendment

Ron Collins' new book, Nuanced Absolutism: Floyd Abrams and the First Amendment centers lawyering in the development of doctrine and theoretical perspectives of constitutional law. 

800px-Floyd_Abrams_by_David_Shankbone
Abrams (pictured above) is certainly renowned, but is also certainly not a Justice on the Supreme Court, or even a judge.  But Collins reminds us that lawyers do shape our jurisprudence. 

Collins argues that "nuanced absolutism" has become a tenet of First Amendment doctrine that has taken on new life in the decisional law of the Roberts Court, and has been notably argued by Floyd Abrams in a series of cases.

For anyone interested in the First Amendment, this is a must read.

RR
[image via]

January 11, 2013 in Association, Books, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sixth Circuit: Political Retaliation Doesn't Require Actual Affiliation

A divided three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled this week in Dye v. Office of the Racing Comm'n that government employees' First Amendment political retaliation claims could be based on their perceived political affiliation, and not just their actual political affiliation.  The case deepens a circuit split on the question, with the First and Tenth Circuits ruling that such claims can be based on perceived affiliation and the Third Circuit requiring actual affiliation.

The case arose when employees of the Michigan Office of the Racing Commissioner, the Michigan department that regulates horseracing in the state, claimed that their politically-appointed supervisors retaliated against them for their protected speech and their perceived political affiliation.  (The employees claimed that their superiors, Democrats, thought that they were Republicans.)  The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to allege that the defendants retaliated based on their actual, not just their perceived, political affiliation.

Judges Moore and Merritt agreed that the plaintiffs' claim didn't require them to allege that they were actually Republicans.  They borrowed from Waters v. Churchill--a speech case (not an affiliation case), holding that the Connick v. Myers test for government employee speech should be applied to what the government reasonable thought was said, and not what the trier of fact ultimately determines to have been said--and wrote that "[g]iven the plain meaning of Waters, along with our prior interpretation of its holding," op. at 14, the plaintiffs' affiliation claim should be judged by the plaintiffs' perceived affiliation, and not their actual affiliation.

Judge McKeague disagreed:

The majority's reading of Waters is troubling for two reasons.  First, by allowing a perceived affiliation claim such as the one here to go forward, the Court is essentially providing more First Amendment protection to government employees who have not even engaged in any actual conduct or speech.  . . .

Second, the majority does not explain why Waters, a protected speech case, should apply with equal force to a political affiliation case such as this one.  In my view, even though this is not a political patronage case, any decision on the perceived affiliation issue should certainly take into account the governing principles in the Supreme Court's political patronage dismissal cases . . . (rather than protected speech cases such as Waters).  Those cases deal directly with First Amendment protection of the right to political affiliation, and are thus a window into how the Court views such claims.

Op. at 37.

SDS

December 23, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Justice Ginsburg Keeps NDAA's Indefinite Detention in Place Pending Appeal

Justice Ginsburg on Friday declined to reinstate a permanent injunction against the government's detention authority in the National Defense Authorization Act.  The ruling means that the NDAA's authorization for detention stays on the books pending appeal of the case, Hedges v. Obama, to the Second Circuit.

We covered the district court case and ruling here.

Recall that the plaintiffs in Hedges, a group of writers, journalists, and activists, sued the government, arguing that Section 1021 of the NDAA violated the First Amendment.  That Section provides:

(a) In General.  Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the [AUMF] includes the authority of the Armed Force of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) Covered Persons.  A covered person under this section is any person as follows

. . .

(2) A person who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

(c) Disposition Under the Law of War.  The disposition of a person under the law of war as described under subsection (a) may include the following:

(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].

. . .

(d) Construction.  Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the [AUMF].

We covered the NDAA here.

The plaintiffs argued that the language was pliable and vague enough that the government could use Section 1021(b)(2) to detain them as "covered persons" based on their communications with certain individuals overseas.

Judge Katherine B. Forrest (SDNY) agreed and issued a permenant injunction this past September.  But the Second Circuit stayed that injunction in October and ordered expedited review.

On Friday, Justice Ginsburg denied the plaintiffs' request to vacate the Second Circuit stay.  She cited her own previous denial of an application to vacate a stay in Doe v. Gonzales, a case challenging the FBI's authority to collect electronic communications for use in anti-terrorism investigations under the PATRIOT Act.  Just like Judge Forrest here, the district court in Doe ruled that portion of the PATRIOT Act unconstitutional; and just like the Second Circuit here, the Second Circuit stayed that ruling and ordered an expedited appeal.

Thus it's a mistake to read Justice Ginsburg's denial as a ruling on the merits.  Instead, she appears to be letting the case run its course at the Second Circuit.  She said as much, writing, "Respect for the assessment of the Court of Appeals is especially warranted when that court is proceeding to adjudication on the merits with due expedition."

SDS

December 16, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Seventh Circuit Says No First Amendment Violation in Non-Confirmation for Political Support

The Seventh Circuit ruled this week in Embry v. City of Calumet that city aldermen did not violate free speech when they vowed not to ratify the mayor's nominee to be city department commissioner based on the nominee's support of the mayor in the prior election. 

The case arose when Embry, the Commissioner for the Department of Streets and Alleys in Calumet City, a position appointed by the mayor, supported the mayor and a group of aldermen running as a team in the city's election.  The aldermen defected from the team of candidates, however, and pressured Embry to support a rival candidate for another alderman slot.  After Embry declined, the aldermen said they'd oppose ratification of Embry's appointment as Commissioner of a new, consolidated city department (that included Embry's old Department of Streets and Alleys).  The mayor then nominated someone else, the council approved, and Embry lost the job.

Embry sued the aldermen, arguing that their opposition to his appointment violated free speech.  He claimed that his case was governed by the public-employee speech rule in Connick v. Myers and Pickering v. Board of Education.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed.  The court ruled that Embry's position was a policy-making position, subject to the Elrod-Branti rule that says that for policy-making jobs the "government employer's need for political allegiance . . . outweighs the employee's freedom of expression[.]"  Op. at 4 (quoting Bonds v. Milwaukee Cnty., 207 F.3d 969 (7th Cir. 2000).  In other words: political appointees can be removed for political reasons.

Moreover, the court said that Embry failed to allege any particular speech unconnected to political affiliation or policy views that led to his non-confirmation.  Embry only alleged that he publicly supported the team, and that he was fired "based on [his] political allegiance to [the mayor]." 

The ruling is consistent with rulings in other circuits and likely ends this case.

SDS

November 28, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Court Reignites Health Care Reform Challenge

The Supreme Court today reopened one of the cases challenging the federal Affordable Care Act and sent it back for further proceedings at the Fourth Circuit.  The move means that the lower court, and possibly the Supreme Court, will have another crack at certain issues that the Supreme Court dodged this summer in its ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.

Recall that the Fourth Circuit rejected a challenge to the ACA by several individuals and Liberty University in September 2011, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act barred the claim.  The Supreme Court declined to review that case, Liberty University v. Geithner.  But today the Court reopened the case, vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling, and sent the case back for further proceedings in light of the Court's ruling in NFIB.

The plaintiffs in the case originally challenged the universal coverage provision (the so-called "individual mandate," requiring individuals to acquire health insurance or to pay a tax penalty) and the employer mandate (requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for their employees), arguing that they exceeded Congress's taxing and commerce powers and violated the Tenth Amendment, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes (the Direct Tax Clause), and the Religion Clauses and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (among others).  (As to the Religion Clauses, the plaintiffs argued that the requirements would cause them to support insurance companies that paid for abortions, a practice that they claimed ran against their religions.) 

The district court ruled against the plaintiffs on all counts and dismissed the case.  The Fourth Circuit dismissed the case under the AIA and didn't reach the merits. 

The Supreme Court ruled in NFIB that the AIA did not bar the Court from ruling on the tax question, that Congress validly enacted the universal coverage provision under its Article I, Section 8 power "to lay and collect Taxes," and that it didn't violate the Direct Tax Clause.  Thus after NFIB these issues appear to remain open on remand:

  • Whether the mandates violate the Religion Clauses or the RFRA;
  • Whether the employer mandate violates the taxing authority or the Direct Tax Clause;
  • Whether the mandates violate equal protection;
  • Whether the mandate violates free speech and associational rights.

As to the Religion Clauses, the district court ruled that the ACA's religious exemptions to universal coverage were permissible accommodations (and thus didn't violate the Establishment Clause) and that the ACA didn't require the plaintiffs to pay for abortions (and thus didn't violate the Free Exercise Clause or the RFRA).

As to the employer mandate: It's hard to see how the Supreme Court's tax analysis of the individual mandate in NFIB wouldn't apply with equal force to the employer mandate.

If the district court was right on the First Amendment and equal protection claims (as it seems), and if the Supreme Court's tax analysis applies with equal force to the employer mandate, this case doesn't seem to have much of a future.

But then again, that's what many of us said about NFIB.

SDS

November 26, 2012 in Abortion, Association, Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Religion, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Daily Read: Sanders on Fisher v. UT

Why should courts deciding constitutional questions give deference to a bunch of professors? 

Steve SandersConLawProf Steve Sanders (pictured) poses this query with reference to the Court's decisionmaking in Fisher v. University of Texas in his brief essay over at SCOTUSBlog (part of SCOTUSBlog's terrific Fisher Symposium).

The best answer, Sanders tells us, "is that faculty members’ educational judgments are formed by the specialized training, engagement with scholarly disciplines, and daily classroom experience they bring to their work, and judges lack these things."

An interesting take on academic freedom in the context of affirmative action.

RR

September 17, 2012 in Affirmative Action, Association, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wisconsin State Judge Holds Provisions of Anti-Union Act 10 Unconstitutional

A state judge has declared sections of the controversial 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 unconstitutional as violative of  state constitutional provisions. This follows a federal district judge also declaring portions of Act 10 unconstitutional in March.

In today's 27 page opinion in Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker by state judge Juan Colas rejected the challenges based on the state constitutional provision limiting special sessions and the takings clause, as well as arguments that the controversy was nonjusticiable. 

800px-2011_Wisconsin_Budget_Protests_2_JO

However, the judge found Act 10 violated the free speech, free association, and equal protection state constitutional protections, construing them as consistent with federal interpretations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  Much of the judge's reasoning stressed that Wisconsin did not come forward with any arguments. The judge also found that there was a violation of the Wisconsin constitutional provision guaranteeing Milwaukee home rule.

RR
[image: protests of Act 10 via]

September 14, 2012 in Association, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, State Constitutional Law, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The United States Supreme Court on the Olympics

800px-London_Bridge_with_Olympic_rings_2012As the 2012 Olympics get under way in London, participants, attendees and viewers may think they are watching a modern re-enactment of the Greek classical  practice also known as the Olympics. The United States Supreme Court, in its majority opinion by Justice Powell in the 1987 case of San Francisco Arts and Athletics v. U.S. Olympic Committee, pointed out the differences:

The ancient Olympic Games lasted 5 days, whereas the modern Olympics last for 10 days. The ancient Games always took place in Olympia in southern Greece; the modern Olympic Games normally move from city to city every four years. (As an effort to reduce nationalism, cities, as opposed to countries, host the modern Olympic Games.) In ancient Greece there may have been a burning fire for religious sacrifice, since the Olympic Games were part of a religious festival.  The torch relay, however, was an innovation of the modern Olympic Committee. The closest parallel to the modern opening parade was the opening of the ancient Games with the chariot race. As the chariots entered the arena and passed the judges, a herald called out the names of the owner, his father, and his city. There was no general parade of athletes by locality, as in the modern Games, and the athletes were naked, not uniformed. Athletes were eligible only if they were male, freeborn Greeks. There is no indication that the ancient Olympics included an “Olympic anthem” or were organized by an entity called an “Olympic Committee.” The awards in ancient Greece were wreaths of wild olive, rather than the gold, silver, and bronze medals presented at the modern Olympics.

Olympics, 483 U.S. at 541 n.18.

The purpose of these distinctions was to support the claim that "Olympics" was not an ancient and now generic term that could be adopted by others, but a specific term owned by the United States Olympic Committee, established by Congressional statute in 1896.  The Committee had brought suit against the "Gay Olympics" for using the term.  Interestingly, according to the Gay Olympics Brief, the US Olympic Committee did not seek to similarly prohibit other groups that used the term "Olympics" such as the International Police Olympics; Armenian Olympics; Olympic of Ballet; Olympics of the Mind; Senior Olympics; Golden Olympics; Firemen's Olympics; United States Skill Olympics; Virginia Golden Olympics; Wrist-Wrestling Olympics; Crab-Cooking Olympics; Dog Olympics; Nude Olympics; Rat Olympics; WackyOlympics; Xerox Olympics; Alcoholic Olympics.

The Court thus rejected the Gay Olympics First Amendment argument, with Justices O'Connor dissenting in part, and  Brennan and Marshall dissenting.

I discuss the case and the use of the term "Olympics" as well as other ancient Greek terms such as "democracy," in an article available on sssrn.

RR
[image: Olympic Rings hanging from London Bridge, 2012, via]

July 28, 2012 in Association, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Court Takes on Union Assessment Rules in Knox

The usual First Amendment rule for public-sector union fee assessments for non-members is that unions have to provide notice and an opportunity to opt out of those portions of the fees that go to non-bargaining, political activities.  These are called "non-chargeable" expenses.  (Non-union members can't opt out of that portion of the fees that goes to collective bargaining activities--the "chargeable" expenses.  This rule prevents non-members from free-riding on the union's regular, collective-bargaining activities.)  The Court crafted the rule in Teachers v. Hudson.

The case today, Knox v. SEIU, however, dealt with a special assessment--not a regular, annual assessment--that the union initially said would go entirely to non-chargeable expenses, that is, the union's political opposition to California's proposed measures to clamp down on unions.  The case thus tested Hudson's applicability to special assessments.

Justice Alito's majority opinion said that the First Amendment requires that unions provide notice and an opportunity to opt in to special union assessments that are used for non-bargaining, political purposes.  Relative to the Hudson opt-out rule, the holding puts a thumb on the scale against unions in collecting special assessments--because it means that non-members have to affirmatively elect to pay for special assessments, rather than allowing the unions to issue notice and opportunity to opt out.  This was a significant, if narrow, holding.

But Justice Alito's opinion did much more.  In particular, it took direct aim at the traditional rule for regular, annual assessments, the Hudson rule, that unions have to provide notice and an opportunity to opt out.  The opinion all but said that this rule violated the First Amendment.

If so, this would deal a significant blow to public-sector unions in agency shops and their non-bargaining activities.

Justice Alito's opinion is rife with references to the "extraordinary" benefit that unions get under the Hudson rule at the expense of non-members' associational rights, strongly suggesting that the rule is unconstitutional--and that five on the Court are ready to revisit it.

For example, Justice Alito writes that "Our cases to date have tolerated this "impingement," [the Hudson process] and we do not revisit today whether the Court's former cases have given adequate recognition to the critical First Amendment rights at stake."  Op. at 10.  More: "By authorizing a union to collect fees from nonmembers and permitting the use of an opt-out system for the collection of fees levied to cover nonchargeable expenses, our prior decisions approach, if they do not cross, the limit of what the First Amendment can tolerate."  Op. at 14.  And:

Acceptance of the free-rider argument as justification for compelling nonmembers to pay a portion of union dues represents something of an anomaly--one that we have found to be justified by the interest in furthering "labor peace."  But it is an anomaly nevertheless.

Op. at 11.

In the context of special assessments, but with reasoning that would seem to apply equally to regular assessments, Justice Alito wrote:

Once it is recognized, as our cases have, that a nonmember cannot be forced to fund a union's political or ideological activities, what is the justification for putting the burden on the nonmember to opt out of making such a payment?  Shouldn't the default rule comport with the probable preferences of most nonmembers?  And isn't it likely that most employees who choose not to join the union that represents their bargaining unit prefer not to pay the full amount of union dues?  An opt-out system creates a risk that the fees paid by nonmembers will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree. . . . .

Op. at 11 to 12.

In short, the opinion seems to tee up the next case, dealing with the regular assessment, Hudson process--and similarly putting a thumb on the scale against the unions there.

Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurrence, joined by Justice Ginsberg, that called the majority on its overreach with regard to the regular assessment Hudson rule.  Justice Sotomayor also called the Court on its creation of the new opt-in rule for special assessments.  

The concurrence underscores the fact that there was a way to rule against the union special assessment here, while still stopping short of the sweeping majority approach and taking aim at the long-settled Hudson rule.  

In other words, the availability of Justice Sotomayor's narrower approach tells us that each of the five in the majority could have elected to rule more narrowly.  But they didn't.  In other words, each of the five in the majority seems to be on board with the strong signal that the Hudson rule itself is unconstitutional.

Justice Breyer wrote a dissent, joined by Justice Kagan.  Justice Breyer wrote that the process in this case complied with Hudson.  That is, the union provided adequate notice and opportunity to opt-out under the circumstances--even if that opportunity came late.  In other words, given the variances in union spending from year-to-year, unions can only estimate future assessments based on past expenditures.  (This system ensures that objecting nonmembers can recoup the offending expenditures over time.)  Thus in the next regular assessment--the one immediately after the special assessment--the union has to estimate expenditures based on total prior year expenditures (including the special assessment).  The notice and opportunity to opt out in the next year covers those nonmembers who objected to the special assessment.  And in this case, that worked out to their benefit; they even got a little windfall.  Justice Breyer said that this process, while "imperfect," satisfied Hudson and satisfied the First Amendment.

SDS

June 21, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Union Special Assessment Procedure Violates First Amendment

A divided Supreme Court today ruled in Knox v. SEIU that a union must provide notice and opt-in for a proposed special assessment in a public-sector agency shop.  We covered the background and oral arguments here.

The majority opinion leaves long-standing rules about union assessments for public-sector agency shops hanging by a thread.  In addition to its ruling on special assessments--a question that was open before this case--the ruling takes sharp issue with the idea that the First Amendment permits a public-sector union to provide notice and opt-out for its regular, annual assessments.  

The ruling is a blow to unions' ability to collect special assessments.  It says that the First Amendment requires notice and opt-in for those.  But the ruling also signals the majority's discontent with the long-standing rules on regular assessments.  The ruling all but held those rules--notice and opt-out--unconstitutional.  (Those rules, of course, were well beyond the scope of the case.  But the majority sent a strong signal that it would consider their constitutionality, if not outright rule them unconstitutional, if given even half a chance.)

Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.  Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg concurred in the judgment, and argued that the majority's ruling--requiring notice and opt-in--went far afield of the arguments and briefing.  Justices Breyer and Kagan dissented.

We'll provide more analysis shortly.

SDS

June 21, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 8, 2012

D.C. Circuit: No Right to Ballot Count for Third Party

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today in Libertarian Party v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that the Board did not violate the Libertarian Party's First Amendment speech and association rights and its Fifth Amendment equal protection rights by declining to produce an exact count of the votes received by Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate in the 2008 presidential election.

The Libertarians claimed that the Board's failure to provide an exact count of votes received meant that they couldn't tell how much support they had in D.C. and that they couldn't determine whether they met the 5 percent national threshold to qualify for public funding in the next election.  Here's the gist:

[A] voter who casts a valid write-in ballot for a declared candidate like Barr is entitled to know whether she has acted in concert with other like-minded voters or whether her vote is a lone statement in the political wilderness.  The voting public is entitled to know how Barr fared at the polls.  The Libertarian Party is entitled to know whether its stature has grown or been diminished by the votes cast for Barr.  None of this vital information, laden with associative and communicative value, is available if the Board fails to count and report the Barr vote.

The court rejected the claims.  It ruled that the Board's failure to provide an exact count was a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction on the constitutional rights of voters and therefore valid with only an "important regulatory interest."  The court said that the Board had a sufficient interest in saving money by not counting votes of a candidate for reasons other than determining the winner of an election.  Moreover, the court said that the Libertarians could always get the ballots via the FOIA, and count them themselves.

SDS

June 8, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Texas Federal Judge Enjoins Rule Prohibiting Planned Parenthood Funding

In an opinion today in Planned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo Cty. v. Seuhs, Judge Lee Yeakel issued a preliminary injunction against a 2012 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.  Before moving to the preliminary injunction standard, Judge Yeakel quickly rejected the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity argument.

373032_68502398606_1008215323_nThe bulk of Judge Yeakel's 25 page opinion is devoted to the unconstitutional conditions argument.  He concluded that the "affiliate" regulation was so broad that it infringed on plaintiffs First Amendment speech and associational rights.  Any state interest in "respect for fetal life after viability" was not adequately served by the extensive prohibition.  The argument that state funding "frees up" other money to provide abortions "extends too far." 

The judge also found the equal protection argument had merit.  By exempting hospitals, but applying the regulation to the 49 health centers, the regulation created a classification.  The classification itself only implicated rational basis scrutiny, but it did infringe upon a fundamental right, thereby meriting strict scrutiny.  In a very brief analysis, the judge expressed doubts whether the Texas regulation could satisfy even the lowest standard.

Finding the other factors for granting a preliminary injunction also weighed in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge enjoined the regulation and set a hearing for May 18.

UPDATE here

RR
[image: from PLanned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo County via]

April 30, 2012 in Association, Eleventh Amendment, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Preliminary Injunction Against Federal Pay-to-Play Ban

Judge James E. Boasberg (D.D.C.) yesterday denied the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction in their facial First Amendment challenge against the federal ban on contractor donations to candidates for federal office, political committees, and parties in connection with federal elections. 

The case, Wagner v. FEC, arose out of three federal contractors' claims that the so-called pay-to-play ban violates free speech.  The contractors refiled their claim in federal district court after they agreed to abandon their expedited en banc review at the D.C. Circuit (permitted under the FECA).  They argued that the ban violates the First Amendment and Fifth Amendment equal protection and sought a preliminary injunction.

Judge Boasberg denied the injunction, ruling that they lacked a likelihood of success on the merits of either claim.

Judge Boasberg applied "closely drawn" scrutiny, not strict scrutiny, to the ban and ruled that it served a sufficiently important interest and was closely drawn to achieve that interest.  As to the interest, Judge Boasberg wrote that "[t]here can thus be no doubt that preventing 'pay-to-play' deals or pressure on contractors to give--or the appearance that either is occurring--is sufficiently important to warrant restrictions on political contributions by federal contractors."  As to "closely drawn," Judge Boasberg looked to the history of the ban:

When Congress first enacted the ban on political contributions by federal contractors, it was responding to a recent history of corruption.  As just discussed, the ban was originally passed in 1940 on the heels of the "campaign-book racket," in which those seeking government contracts were effectively required to buy copies of the Democratic campaign book at highly inflated prices in order to secure government business.  In the wake of this scandal, it was eminently reasonable for the legislature to ban contributions by federal contractors.  Doing so would not only insulate prospective contractors from pressure to give money to politicians, but it would also help ensure a merit-based system of awarding contracts and "reassure[] citizens that its politicians are acting on their behalf and not on behalf of the highest bidder."  Because . . . Congress reacted to recent scandals in imposing the ban on contractor contributions, its restrictions are more easily characterized as closely drawn. . . .

An absence of [current] corruption does not necessarily mean, however, that the ban is no longer needed.  It could simply be an indication that the ban is working.

Op. at 11-12.  Judge Boasberg also looked to the contractors' other ways of expressing political support and association as a factor suggesting that the ban is a good fit for the government end.  (Note that the ban allows contracting corporations to donate by way of their PAC.)

As to equal protection, Judge Boasberg ruled that intermediate scrutiny applied, and that the contractors did not demonstrate a likelihood of success in comparing their ban to FECA treatment of government employees, contracting corporation officers or PACs, or sole proprietor contractors--all of whom may contribute.  Judge Boasberg said that these others did not raise the same kind of problems that contracting corporations raised, and that these retained their own distinct identity (and could contribute under their distinct identity).

SDS

April 17, 2012 in Association, Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wisconsin's Restrictions on Collective Bargaining Declared Unconstitutional by Federal Judge

Wisconsin's controversial Act 10 has been declared unconstitutional in part by federal district judge William Conley in a summary judgment opinion in Wisconsin Education Association Council v. Walker.

Judge Conley ruled against the plaintiffs' equal protection challenge to Act 10's classification between emergency public employees and "general" public  employees.  However, Judge Conley held that Act 10's requirement of annual recertification of general employees unions violated equal protection guarentees and Act 10's prohibition of dues withholding for general employees violated the first amendment.

In considering the dues witholding provision, Judge Conley noted that

Act 10 was enacted in the maelstrom of a political sea change in Wisconsin, the Act itself being the principal lightening rod around which the tumult reached its heights, at least to date. Whether or not the prohibition on automatic dues deductions for most public unions, but not those who supported the new Governor and Legislature, was an intentional act to suppress the speech of those who opposed then, it has that appearance.

 

800px-ScottWalker

The "maelstrom" to which Judge Conley referred is ongoing.  The state Government Accountability Board has just unanimously ordered a recall election for Governor Scott Walker (pictured above) who spearheaded Act 10.  Earlier this month, a state judge held Wisconsin's voter identification law unconstitutional under the state constitution, a ruling that is being appealed to Wisconsin's troubled Supreme Court.

Judge Conley's order required "a return to automatic dues deductions for all members of public unions no later than May 31, 2012," in order to "give sufficient time for the defendants to seek a stay of this injunction from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and for government entities to adopt a workable procedure to return to automatic deductions should the Seventh Circuit deny a stay, while balancing the plaintiffs’ and their now-voluntary members’ rights to a return to payroll deductions."

RR
[image: Scott Walker via]

March 31, 2012 in Association, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ninth Circuit Rejects As Applied Challenge to Washington Election System

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit this week rejected an as-applied challenge to the two-phase Washington state election system held over from the Supreme Court's ruling in Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party (2008).

Recall that the state's election system under Initiative 872, or I-872, created a "top two" primary in which the primary operates to reduce the number of candidates in the general, rather than to select party nominees.  It works like this: Primary candidates can designate any "major or minor party preference, or independent status"; the top two vote-getters in the primary (even if they designated the same party preference) go on to compete in the general.

The Washington State Republican Party challenged I-872 on its face, aguing that it violated its First Amendment associational rights, because it forced it to associate (or share its name) with candidates that it might not endorse.  The Supreme Court upheld I-872 against the facial challenge in 2008.  But the Court left open the question whether Washington's primary ballots would in fact confuse voters, thus potentially violating associational rights as applied.

The Ninth Circuit answered that question on Thursday.  The court noted that Washington adopted each of the four suggestions offered by the Supreme Court in Grange to avoid voter confusion.  These included clarifications on the ballots themselves and voter educational material to ensure that voters would not confuse a candidate's preference for a party as a party's endorsement of that candidate.  The panel also held that the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence of actual voter confusion.  Between the ballot fixes and the lack of evidence of actual voter confusion, the court held that there was no severe burden on the party's associational rights.

The court also rejected the Libertarian Party's ballot access claim.  The Libertarians argued that the top-two primary made it much more difficult for their candidates to compete in the general election.  The court said that the system provided a level playing field for all parties, and that, while a top-two system may make it more difficult for minor party candidates to move on to the general, "[t]his additional burden, however, is an inherent feature of any top two primary system, and the Supreme Court has expressly approved of top two primary systems.  See Cal. Democratic Party v. Jones (2000)."  (Citation omitted.)

SDS

January 21, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

. . . and Candidate Rick Perry has filed an appeal to the Fourth Circuit

422px-RickPerry2006Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry has appealed from the district court's order denying his First Amendment claim for a preliminary injunction. 

In the emergency motion for injunction pending appeal, Perry's attorneys argue that the requirements for laches - - - lack of diligence by plaintiff and prejudice to defendant - - - were not satisfied.  

RR
[image: Governor Rick Perry, 2006, via]

UPDATE here

January 15, 2012 in Association, Current Affairs, First Amendment, News, Ripeness, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Four Republican Candidates Lose First Amendment Ballot Challenge in Virginia on Laches

In the opinion in Perry v. Judd (with Gingrich, Huntsman, and Santorum as intervenors), Judge John Gibney of the Eastern District of Virginia denied the motion for preliminary injunction seeking to allow the Republican candidates on the ballot on the grounds of laches. 

CandidatesPerry and the other candidates not on the ballot argue that the Virginia process violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  Virginia Code, §24.2-545(B), requires that the required petitions be "signed by at least 10,000 qualified voters, including at least 400 qualified voters from each congressional district in the Commonwealth."  Additionally, the provision gives the State Board authority over the petition process: the Board has mandated that the petition be circulated by a registered (or eligible) voter in Virginia and the circulator must sign the petition in the presence of a notary. 

In considering the First Amendment merits of the challenge, the judge found the Supreme Court's 1999 decision in Buckley v. American Law Foundation "instructive,"  especially regarding Virginia's requirement that the petition circulator be a resident of Virginia (as part of the "eligible voter" requirement).  While the Virginia requirement is less restrictive, it nevertheless "limits the number of voices who can convey the candidates' messages, thereby reducing 'the size of the audience [the candidates] can reach.' " (Opinion at 16).  Applying strict scrutiny to this political speech, the judge was "skeptical" that the state's proferred interest (the ability to subpoena petition circulators) was compelling.

On the other hand, the judge found the statute's 10,000 signature requirement would likely survive First Amendment scrutiny.  He reasoned that such a number - - - 0.2% of the state's registered voters and 0.5% of the voters who voted in the last statewide election - - - cannot be seriously argued to be "unduly burdensome."  In further support, he noted that six Republican candidates complied with the same rules four years ago for the 2008 primary election.

The judge's opinion conducts a separate analysis for laches - - - noting that it is an affirmative defense - - -rather than including it within the standards for preliminary injunction. (Recall that the last two factors of the established four-factor test are whether the equities tip in the movant's favor and whether the injunction is in the public interest.)   Laches as an affirmative defense to equitable relief is well-established; as relief for a First Amendment violation, less so.  However, considering the requirements of lack of diligence and prejudice to the respective parties, Judge Gibney found that the Candidates were not diligent - - - they should have "brought in an army of out-of-state circulators" as soon as possible (July 1 for Huntsman, Santorum, and Gingrich; August 13 for Perry who did not declare his candidacy until that date).  

The judge rejected the candidates' argument that they did not have standing until the State Board rejected their ability to appear on the ballot.  The Board rejected their claim because they did not have the 10,000 required signatures. But Judge Gibney essentially states that they should have disregarded (or perhaps challenged) the petition circulator qualification that arguably prevented them from obtaining the 10,000 signatures well before failing to obtain the 10,000 signatures.  As Judge Gibney phrases it, the candidates "slept on their rights to the detriment of the defendants."

Thus, had the candidates "filed a timely suit," the judge would have granted a motion on the residency required and allowed non-residents to gather signatures, the candidates would have presumably been able to obtain 10,000 signatures, and Perry, Huntsman, Santorum, and Gingrich would be on the Virginia presidential Republican primary ballot. 

Although an appeal seems likely, as of now, Virginia Republicans will have a choice between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

UPDATE: APPEAL FILED, Sunday, January 15, 2012.

RR
[image: Republican Candidates, 2012, via]

January 14, 2012 in Association, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Court Considers Opt-Out Options for Union Assessment

The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday in Knox v. SEIU, the case testing whether a union had to issue a special opt-out notice to nonmembers when it increased its assessment mid-year.  The case comes to the Court on nonmembers' First Amendment challenge--whether the failure to provide a special opt-out notice violates their speech and associational rights not to support the union's political (i.e., non-bargaining) activities.  But as the argument yesterday suggests, it could turn on something much more practical: how to craft a rule that would give a union enough flexibility to adjust its assessments mid-year, while still respecting nonmembers' rights to opt-out of supporting the union's political agenda.  Or it could turn on something else entirely: standing. 

In the ordinary course of things, the union collects dues once a year and issues a notice--a Hudson notice, after Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson (1986)--that allows nonmembers to opt-out of dues that would go to the union's political expenditures (but not dues that would go to the union's collective bargaining expenditures).  The union here regularly anticipated dues for the next year based on audited prior year expenditures and issues a Hudson notice that reflected that.  This was a practical solution, designed to estimate the union's coming year expenditures while protecting nonmembers from supporting the union's political activities that nonmembers may not wish to support.  No party challenged this basic procedure.

But in 2005, shortly after the union issued its 2005 Hudson notice, the union increased its assessment slightly to fund its opposition to anti-union ballot initiatives.  The union did not issue a separate Hudson notice for this increase, although nonmembers could have objected under the 2005 Hudson notice and the 2006 Hudson notice.  (The 2005 Hudson notice did not include the mid-year increase, but it did say that dues and fees were subject to change.  The 2006 Hudson notice did include the mid-year increase, because, as above, the estimate in each year's Hudson notice is based on last year's actual audited expenditures.)

Nonmembers claimed that this violated their First Amendment rights to not support causes they don't agree with.  Again: They didn't challenge the fundamental Hudson process, just the lack of a Hudson notice for the 2005 mid-year increase.

The district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, but the Ninth Circuit reversed.  After the Court granted cert., the union sent all nonmembers a notice that permitted them to obtain a refund of the increased assessment and a $1 bill, representing nominal damages.  The union claimed that this satisfied the district court order and argued that it mooted the case.

The argument yesterday focused a good deal on mootness.  The plaintiffs tried to persuade the Court that the union's mid-year increase without a separate Hudson notice was capable of repetition but evading review, while the union argued that its eleventh-hour notice gave the plaintiffs all the relief they could possible get even under the district court's order.  There were skeptics on the bench on both sides.  For example, Justices Ginsburg and Kagan both suggested that the capable-of-repetition exception usually applies to cases involving injunctive relief, and this case doesn't.  On the other side, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan both suggested that the plaintiffs said that the union's notice didn't satisfy the district court's order--a live dispute--and that the union can't say that there is no standing at the Supreme Court, while there is standing at the district court (even if only on the question whether the union's notice satisfied its order).

Despite the significant focus on mootness, however, Chief Justice Roberts also moved both parties along to the merits.  On the merits, the Court treated the question as a choice between (1) a forced loan by the nonmembers to the union to support political causes they don't wish to support and (2) a practical solution that gives the union flexibility to adjust assessments mid-year while still respecting nonmembers' right to opt-out.

The plaintiffs pressed for a rule that would require a Hudson notice each time there was a "material alteration in the obligations that are imposed upon nonmembers," without regard to the reason for the assessment.  But it's not clear that that rule is workable, or that it is efficient, or that it would benefit (and not hurt) nonmembers.  Justice Breyer put it this way:

It's peculiar, because in the circumstances where the extra assessment is all going to go to chargeable [non-political] activities, in fact that means economically speaking the following year the objector will be better off, not worse off, because there is a higher pecentage of the total fee that's being paid to chargeable activities.

Response: "Justice Breyer, the reason for the notice is these people may not trust the union.  They -- they may choose to challenge the amount of the fee."

This may not be enough, though.  The plaintiffs also conceded that the union could shift funds mid-year to use more than anticipated on political activities--without a separate Hudson notice.  This practice would be even less transparent than the practice that the union followed here.  This point did not go unnoticed, particularly by Justices Breyer and Kagan.  Justice Sotomayor added that she didn't see how the mid-year increase amount to a loan, especially when nonmembers could object with the next Hudson notice and when in any event they ultimately benefit from it (for the reasons that Justice Breyer said).

On the other side, Justice Alito described the practice here as a forced loan, without interest, for activities that nonmembers may not support.  He said that the stakes could be quite different for nonmembers, if the percent of nonchargeable and chargeable costs are reversed, and asked "why should [nonmembers] not be given a notice at that time and given the opportunity not to give what would be at a minimum an interest-free loan for the purpose of influencing an election campaign?" 

Justices Breyer and Sotomayor returned to the practical: they wanted to know from the union how much of a hassle it would be to provide a special notice with each mid-year increase.  Answer: the magnitude of the hassle may be high, but the union's attorney didn't know how often unions would have to do this.

Justice Kennedy reminded the union that there are significant First Amendment interests at issue here:

And the point there was that you're taking someone's money contrary to that person's conscience.  And that's what the First Amendment stands against.

Justice Kennedy also threw a bit of a curve ball toward the end of the union's argument, suggesting that "even collective bargaining involves a core political judgment."  This position would erase the distinction between chargeable and nonchargeable costs and could undo even the routine Hudson practice that the union employs.  No party went so far, and no other Justice picked up on this point, however.  It's not even clear that Justice Kennedy intended much by it: he prefaced this line of questioning with "just in the way of background."

If the Court avoids fully wrestling with Justice Kennedy's larger question and thus avoids potentially upsetting a routine practice that nobody seems to object to (as seems nearly certain), and if the Court gets past mootness (as seems far less certain), the case will likely come down to the practical: How best to allow the union some flexibility, while respecting nonmembers' rights to opt-out.  But Justice Kennedy's point is a reminder of the stakes; and even in a very practical calculus, for this Court it could mean a thumb on the scale of the nonmembers.

SDS

January 11, 2012 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Mootness, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Doe v. Reed: After Remand, Emergency Appeal Denied

The latest installment in the continuing saga of the quest for anonymity by "Protect Marriage" members and supporters is the Ninth Circuit's denial of the emergency appeal.

As we most recently discussed, on a remand from the United States Supreme Court, the district court's opinion ordered disclosure of the names of those who signed an anti-same-sex marriage petition in Washington state in accordance with the state's usual processes.  Recall that in Doe v. Reed, decided by the United States Supreme Court in June 2010, the Court rejected a facial challenge to the state of Washington's Public Records Act (PRA),  RCW 42.56 that governs the disclosure of public records including petitions seeking a ballot initiative.  The ballot initiative at issue sought to repeal the "everything but marriage" law for same-sex couples and was spear-headed by the controversial Protect Marriage organization.  The John Doe plaintiffs challenged the public disclosure of their names as a violation of the First Amendment.

John_Hancock_Envelope_Signature

In this latest round, the John Doe plaintiffs sought to "enjoin the Washington Secretary of State from further releasing the R-71 petitions, the Intervenors from distributing the petitions, and the district court from further disclosing the identity of Protect Marriage Washington’s John Doe parties and witnesses in the district court’s unredacted order."  

In its brief opinion, over one dissent, the Ninth Circuit panel stated it "preliminarily believes that the appeal is moot due to the release of R-71 petitions" and thus held that the plaintiff/ appellants’ "renewed emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal is denied."

RR

 

November 18, 2011 in Association, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seventh Circuit Dismisses Free Speech, Patronage Case

The Seventh Circuit today rejected the free speech claim of a frustrated candidate for promotion in the Cook County Sheriff's Office.  The case, Brown v. County of Cook, arose out of a sargeant's claim that he was denied promotion to lieutenant after he failed to support the Sheriff--and indeed supported his opponent--in the Sheriff's earlier election and re-election campaigns.

The plaintiff, Thomas Brown, brought the case under Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, another political patronage case coming out of Illinois, holding that "[u]nless these patronage practices are narrowly tailored to further vital government interests, we must conclude that they impermissibly encroach on First Amendment freedoms."

But Brown didn't even get that far.  Instead, the case turned on whether patronage was even a motivating factor.  Judge Posner wrote that the Seventh Circuit just this month affirmed its burden-shifting approach to that question:

If Brown presented evidence at the summary judgment phase of the litigation that could convince a reasonable jury that his political affiliation was a motivating factor in his being passed over, the burden would shift to [Sheriff] Sheahan to present evidence that could convince a reasonable jury that Brown's political affiliation was not a "but for" cause of the discrimination. . . .

To restate [our standard] in simpler terms, if Brown can prove that he would have been denied promotion because of his political affiliation alone, then to avoid an adverse judgment Sheahan would have to show that even so Brown would have been denied promotion for some other reason, in which event his political affiliation had no causal significance.  If Sheahan can meet that burden, it is as if he had told Brown "I can't promote you because there's no opening for another lieutenant, but if there were I still wouldn't promote you, because you made a donation to my opponent five years ago."  There would be no constitutional violation because if Sheahan was being truthful Brown would not be worse off as a result of his political affiliation than if he'd contributed to Sheahan's campaign instead.

Op. at 2-3.

The problem here: Brown had no evidence.  None.  And what he did produce did far more to entertain Judge Posner than it could ever do to prove his case.  The opinion's a good read, and the case is a good lesson in how not to win a First Amendment claim under Rutan.

SDS

October 25, 2011 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)