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.
Friday, January 11, 2013
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.
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.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
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.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
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."
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
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.
Monday, November 26, 2012
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.
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
Why should courts deciding constitutional questions give deference to a bunch of professors?
ConLawProf 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.
Friday, September 14, 2012
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.
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.
[image: protests of Act 10 via]
Saturday, July 28, 2012
As 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.
[image: Olympic Rings hanging from London Bridge, 2012, via]
Thursday, June 21, 2012
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.
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.
Friday, June 8, 2012
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.
Monday, April 30, 2012
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.
The 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.
[image: from PLanned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo County via]
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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).