Friday, December 2, 2016
It depends on what "aggrieved" means, according to the Trump team in its filing yesterday in opposition to Stein's recount petition.
Under Michigan law, a candidate can petition for a recount if the candidate "is aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass of the votes by the inspectors of election or the returns made by the inspectors, or by a board of county canvassers or the board of state canvassers."
In a filing before the Michigan Board of State Canvassers yesterday, the Trump team argued that Stein wasn't "aggrieved," because, as the fourth-place finisher in the state, "finishing over 2.2 million votes behind the winner," she could not possibly benefit from a recount. The Trump team argued that her petition should be denied.
It turns out there's little direct authority on how to define "aggrieved." The Trump team points to the gloss given by the Director of Elections in a Board hearing ten years ago, the "natural understanding" of the term, and the use of the term in other places in Michigan law and other states' laws.
But even if Stein was "aggrieved," the Trump team argues that Michigan can't possibly conduct a recount before December 13 (outside the six-day "safe harbor" under federal law before the meeting of the electors on December 19).
But even if Stein was "aggrieved" and if Michigan could conduct a recount, the Trump team argues that Stein failed to sign and swear her petition.
Trump won 2,279,543 votes in Michigan; Clinton won 2,268,839; Gary Johnson won 172,136 votes; and Stein won 51,463.
UPDATE: Michigan AG Bill Schuette just filed suit in the Michigan Supreme Court to halt any recount, making arguments substantially similar to those by the Trump camp.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
The Eleventh Circuit ruled earlier this week that a police major was not entitled to qualified immunity for issuing a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) advisory for another officer, recently fired for complaining about racial profiling and other constitutional violations by the local police department.
The ruling means that the officer's First Amendment case can move forward on the merits.
The case arose when Derrick Bailey, then an officer in the Douglasville Police Department, complained to his chief that other Douglasville officers and Douglas County Sheriff's Office deputies engaged in racial profiling and other constitutional violations. Bailey, who had an above-average record, was fired and harassed by other officers. Then Major Tommy Wheeler of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office issued the BOLO, saying that Bailey was a "loose cannon" who presented a "danger to any [law-enforcement officer] in Douglas County," and directing officers to "act accordingly." (According to the court, there was no evidence of any of this.)
Bailey sued for civil rights violations, and Wheeler moved to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Wheeler's defense. It ruled that Bailey's speech was protected (Wheeler didn't contest this), that Wheeler's conduct adversely affected Bailey's speech, and that there was a causal connection between Bailey's speech and Wheeler's actions.
As to the second part, adversely affected, the court explained:
Let's pause for a moment to appreciate just how a reasonable law-enforcement officer may have understood that [BOLO] instruction. Under Georgia law, when a subject is armed and dangerous, an officer may shoot the subject in self-defense--a term Georgia construes as having justifiable intent to use such force as the officer reasonably believes to be necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury. So, in other words, Wheeler's BOLO gave all Douglas County law-enforcement officers a reasonable basis for using force--including deadly force--against Bailey if they reasonably misconstrued a single move Bailey made--such as reaching into his pocket when confronted by law-enforcement officers--as imperiling themselves or anyone else. We think that this situation, which potentially seriously endangered Bailey's life, easily would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights.
The court also ruled that Bailey's right to be free from retaliation for his speech was clearly established at the time that Wheeler issued the BOLO.
The court also denied Wheeler absolute immunity on Bailey's state-law defamation claim.
The ruling sends the case back to the trial court to go forward on the merits.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Second Circuit Says Plaintiff Has Standing for Some, but Not All, Truth-In-Lending Procedural Violations
The Second Circuit ruled today that a class representative had standing to challenge a creditor's failure to disclose certain requirements under the Truth In Lending Act, but lacked standing to challenge other failures to disclose.
The ruling means that two of the plaintiff's claims are dismissed for lack of standing. The court dismissed the other two on the merits.
The court's ruling applies last Term's Spokeo v. Robins, dealing with a plaintiff's ability to challenge a defendant's failure to comply with "procedural" statutory requirements, absent a more traditional injury. The Court in Spokeo held that a plaintiff who seeks to challenge a defendant's failure to comply with a statute also has to allege and show a concrete injury in order to show Article III standing. (The statutory violation is called a "procedural violation," because the statute in Spokeo (and this case) required the defendant to follow certain procedures--in particular, to disclose certain things to consumers. The Court in Spokeo said that sometimes those procedural violations also come with a concrete harm, and sometimes they don't. A plaintiff has to plead and show that they do.)
The case arose when Abigail Strubel sued a credit-card issuer for failing to make four disclosures required by TILA: (1) that cardholders wishing to stop payment on an automatic payment plan had to satisfy certain obligations; (2) that the bank was statutorily obliged not only to acknowledge billing error claims within 30 days of receipt but also to advise of any corrections made during that time; (3) that certain identified rights pertained only to disputed credit card purchases for which full payment had not yet been made, and did not apply to cash advances or checks that accessed credit card accounts; and (4) that consumers dissatisfied with a credit card purchase had to contact the creditor in writing or electronically.
The court held that Strubel had standing to challenge 3 and 4, but not 1 and 2.
As a starting point, here's what the court said about Spokeo:
Thus, we understand Spokeo, and the cases cited therein, to instruct that an alleged procedural violation can by itself manifest concrete injury where Congress conferred the procedural right to protect a plaintiff's concrete interests and where the procedural violation presents a "risk of real harm" to that concrete interest. But even where Congress has accorded procedural rights to protect a concrete interest, a plaintiff may fail to demonstrate concrete injury where violation of the procedure at issue presents no material risk of harm to that underlying interest.
As to 3 and 4, the court said that Strubel sufficiently demonstrated a concrete interest in "avoid[ing] the uninformed use of credit," "a core object of TILA." It said that a "consumer not given notice of his obligations is likely not to satisfy them and, thereby, unwittingly to lose the very credit rights that the law affords to him." The court went on to dismiss these claims on the merits.
As to 1 and 2, the court said that Strubel didn't show a concrete interest, because (as to 1) the creditor had no automatic payment plan when Strubel had her card and (as to 2) Strubel never had any reason to report a billing error (which would have triggered the creditor's obligation to "advise of corrections." In other words, because the conditions for violating the underlying requirements were absent, the creditor's failure to notify Strubel of the requirements couldn't have caused any concrete harm. The court dismissed these claims for lack of standing.
The court noted that a different plaintiff could have standing to challenge 1 and 2, so long as the plaintiff could also show a concrete harm. The court also noted that the CFPB can enforce these provisions independently.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Each part of the ruling is important: the free speech ruling creates a circuit split; and the Eighth Amendment ruling implicates questions of supervisor liability for civil rights violations and access to justice for victims--issues now before the Supreme Court (in a different context).
The case arose when state prisoner Seyon Haywood alleged that his auto mechanic teacher attacked him. Guards charged Haywood with making a false statement, and a disciplinary panel found him guilty and sentenced him to two-month's segregation and revoked one month of good-time credit.
Haywood filed a federal civil rights case against the warden, alleging that his punishment violated his free speech rights, and that his segregated confinement violated the Eighth Amendment.
The Seventh Circuit dismissed the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that under Heck v. Humphrey and Edwards v. Balisok, Haywood couldn't bring a Section 1983 case for relief that would necessarily imply the invalidity of his disciplinary sentence, at least until he successfully challenged that disciplinary sentence. The court rejected Haywood's argument that Heck and Edwards don't apply, because he disavowed any challenge to the duration of his confinement. Haywood's argument drew on a Second Circuit ruling, Peralta v. Vasquez, which said just that. The Seventh Circuit's rejection of Haywood's claim sets up a circuit split on the question whether a prisoner can bring a 1983 case without successfully challenging a sentence, if the prisoner waives that challenge.
As to the Eighth Amendment claim, the court held that Haywood produced sufficient evidence to show that the warden (the only defendant in the case) was deliberately indifferent to Haywood's conditions of confinement to satisfy Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Farmer v. Brennan for direct (not vicarious) liability.
Judge Easterbrook dissented on this latter point. He argued that Haywood only showed that the warden knew of the conditions of his confinement, and, under Iqbal, knowledge is not enough. Judge Easterbrook also noted that the Supreme Court will weigh in on this soon enough, in the consolidated Turkmen cases, testing whether former AG Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller, among others, can be held liable for detention of alien detainees at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York, soon after 9/11.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Judge Christopher R. Cooper (D.D.C.) today rebuffed state arguments that a new Treasury rule governing state escheat claims of title and for payment of U.S. Treasury bonds did not violate the Constitution. The ruling ends this case (unless and until appealed) and means that the Treasury rule, designed to ensure that state judgments on the abandonment and ownership of Treasury bonds are accurate, stays in place.
The ruling is a blow to states like Kansas that sought to make it easier to show that a Treasury bond was abandoned, and that the state owned it, and therefore could redeem it.
The case came on the heels of some regulatory and judicial back-and-forth on the issues of whether and how states could take title to Treasury bonds under state escheat laws, redeem the bonds, and keep the proceeds. At one point in the back-and-forth, Kansas adopted a title-escheatment statute, which conveyed title of abandoned bonds to the state. Treasury agreed to redeem bonds in the state's possession, but, under its regs, not those escheated bonds not in its possession. So Kansas sued.
As that case was pending, Treasury enacted new regs. The new regs gave Treasure the "discretion to recognize an escheat judgment that purports to vest a state with title to a [matured by unredeemed] savings bond . . . in the state's possession" when there is sufficient evidence that the bond has been abandoned. But the rule does not recognize "[e]scheat judgments that purport to vest a state with title to bonds that the state does not possess." In short, in order for a state to claim payment, the rule provides that (1) states must have possession of the bonds, (2) they must have "made reasonable efforts to provide actual and constructive notice of the state escheatment proceeding" and an opportunity to respond to all interested parties, and (3) there must be sufficient evidence of abandonment.
Kansas and others sued again, this time arguing that the new rule was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA, that it violates the Appointments Clause and the Tenth Amendment, and that it illegal confers the power to review state court judgments to a federal agency.
As to Appointments, the plaintiffs argued that the Treasury official who signed and promulgated the rule, Fiscal Assistant Secretary David A. Lebryk, appointed as an inferior officer, exercised authority as a principal officer in violation of the Appointments Clause. The court disagreed, pointing to the Fiscal Assistant Secretary's work, including the work on the new rule, which "is directed and supervised at some level by others who were appointed by Presidential nomination with the advice and consent of the Senate."
As to review of state judgments, the plaintiffs argued that the new rule permits Treasury to judge the due process and sufficiency-of-evidence in state court proceedings under the three prongs listed above. But the court said that "[t]wo bodies of law are at issue: a state law of escheat and a federal law of bond ownership," and that "[s]tate court judgments are final regarding the former, but Treasury--by operation of the Supremacy Clause and pursuant to its statutorily-delegated authority--may promulgate rules to define the latter." The court also said that Treasury's due process review is not aimed at implementing constitutional protections (as an appellate court might), "but at facilitating reliable determinations of abandonment."
Finally, as to the Tenth Amendment, the court said that Treasury promulgated the rule pursuant to statutory authority from Congress, enacted within Congress's constitutional authority, and so the rule raised no Tenth Amendment problem.
(The court also rejected the plaintiffs' APA claim.)
Friday, November 25, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act preempted an Oregon state environmental measure as it related to repairs on a tourist rail line.
The ruling means that the state "removal-fill law," which requires a state permit for the removal of any amount of material from waters designated as Essential Salmonid Habitat, does not apply to the repair project.
The case arose when the Port of Tillamook Bay, which owns railways in Oregon, contracted with the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, which operates tourist trains on a portion of the Port's tracks, to repair some of the track. But when Oregon Coast started work, the Department of State Lands sent Oregon Coast a cease and desist order, alleging that the repair work would violate the state's removal-fill law. Oregon Coast sued, arguing that the federal ICCTA preempted Oregon's removal-fill law.
The Ninth Circuit agreed. The court ruled that the ICCTA preempts if an activity is (1) "transportation" (2) "by rail carrier" and (3) "as part of the interstate rail network." The court noted that the parties agreed that the activity was "transportation" under the ICCTA. It went on to say that the work was "by rail carrier," because "the repair work performed by Oregon Coast is 'an integral part of [the Port's] provision of transportation by rail carrier.'" Finally, the court held that the work was "part of the interstate rail network," because the line, while not currently attached to an interstate rail line, once was attached to an interstate rail line, and, when the repairs were finished, would once again be attached to an interstate rail line.
The court said that under ICCTA preemption, the work falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal Surface Transportation Board, and that state regulation--including environmental regulation--is preempted.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Judge Amos L. Mazzant (E.D. Tex.) granted a nationwide injunction today against the Obama Administration in enforcing its new overtime rules.
The ruling is a blow to President Obama's effort to update the overtime requirements through administrative rulemaking, and not legislation. The nationwide injunction seems extreme, but, as Judge Mazzant noted, this district-court-issuing-a-nationwide-injunction-thing seems to be a growing trend among district court judges striking President Obama's administrative initiatives.
At the same time, the new Trump Administration will almost surely undo these rules, anyway.
So the big loser is the lower-income (between $23,660 to $47,892 per year), salaried worker. That person, covered by the now-enjoined rule, won't qualify for overtime. (The court said that the FLSA requires a "duties" test. So if DOL can reissue regs around duties, some of these workers may still qualify. But don't count on this with the new administration.)
The government can appeal, but the conservative Fifth Circuit seems likely to affirm. And again: The Trump Administration will almost surely undo this, anyway.
Recall that DOL issued rules raising the "executive, administrative, and professional" exemption from the FLSA requirement that employers pay overtime to workers. In particular, DOL issued rules that said that employees who earn up to $47,892 per year (up from $23,660 per year) fell outside the exemption, and therefore qualified for mandatory overtime. The new rules also set an automatic update that adjusts the minimum salary level every three years.
States and business organizations sued, arguing that the rules violated the Administrative Procedures Act, because they weren't authorized by the FLSA. The state plaintiffs threw in a claim that the new rules and the entire FLSA violated the Tenth Amendment and federalism principles. Because this claim ran headlong into Garcia (which upheld the application of the FLSA to the states), the states, for good measure, went ahead and boldly argued that the court should overturn Garcia.
The court agreed with the APA claim, but disagreed about Garcia. As to the APA, the court said that the language of the FLSA--"executive, administrative, and professional" employees are exempt from the overtime mandate, and that DOL can promulgate regs to implement this exemption--required that the government consider employees' duties, and not just income, in determining whether an employee qualifies. Because the new regs only considered income, they violated the FLSA.
As to Garcia: the court flatly rejected the call to overturn it. This is hardly a surprise: It's still good law, after all. It seems the states were banking on a favorable ruling from the Fifth Circuit and a split Supreme Court. (That sounds familiar.)
Or they were banking on a differently comprised Court entirely--one friendly to their anti-Garcia claim. And who knows? Now they might get it.
The House of Representatives last week filed a motion at the D.C. Circuit to delay the government's appeal of a district court ruling that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers under the Affordable Care Act without congressional authorization of funds. We posted on that ruling here.
The move seeks to halt the appeal and give President-Elect Trump and House Republicans time to figure out what to do next.
Recall that the district court ruled that the Obama Administration could not spend money on reimbursements for insurers on the ACA exchanges without an authorization from Congress. Because Congress hadn't authorized the expenditure, the Administration couldn't spend the money. (The ACA provision providing for insurer reimbursement is important, even critical, to the success of the exchanges--it's designed to keep insurance rates affordable. Congress zero-funded the line-item, though.)
If the appeals court affirms the district court ruling, and if (as expected) Congress declines to fund the line-item for insurer reimbursement, insurers would have to dramatically increase rates or drop out of the exchange markets. On the other hand, the D.C. Circuit could rule that the House lacks standing, or it could rule for the Administration on the merits.
A halt to the appeal would allow the incoming administration some time to decide how to deal with the suit, insurer reimbursements, and Obamacare in general.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly today dismissed Smith v. Obama, a case by a service-member challenging President Obama's authority to fight ISIS. The ruling ends the case, with little chance of a successful appeal, and frustrates anyone waiting for a court ruling on whether President Obama can use the AUMF to fight ISIS.
The plaintiff, a U.S. Army Captain, sued President Obama, arguing that neither the 2001 AUMF nor the 2002 AUMF authorized the President to order a military campaign against ISIS (Operation Inherent Resolve), and that the President violated the War Powers Resolution and the Take Care Clause in ordering the campaign.
The plaintiff, a supporter of Operation Inherent Resolve (not an opponent of the campaign, as is more usually the case in these kinds of challenges) who was deployed as part of that campaign, argued that he had standing, because President Obama's orders forced him to choose between two untenable options--following illegal orders (on the one hand) and disobey orders (on the other). The court rejected this claim. The court said that the plaintiff could follow orders without fear of punishment, even if the President acted illegally in ordering the campaign. The court also rejected the plaintiff's oath claim (that he'd violate his oath to protect the constitution by complying with illegal orders), again because he'd face no punishment.
The court went on to rule that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question:
Resolving this dispute would require the Court to determine whether the legal authorizations for the use of military force relied on by President Obama--the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs--in fact authorize the use of force against ISIL. With regard to the 2001 AUMF, the Court would have to determine whether the President is correct that ISIL is among "those nations, organizations, or persons" that "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons," and that Operation Inherent Resolve represents "necessary and appropriate force" against that group. With regard to the 2002 AUMF, the Court would have to determine whether the President is correct that operations against ISIL are "necessary and appropriate in order to . . . defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." For the reasons set out below, the Court finds that these are political questions under the first two Baker factors: the issues raised are primarily ones committed to the political branches of government, and the Court lacks judicially manageable standards, and is otherwise ill-equipped to resolve them.
The belt-and-suspenders ruling (dismissing for lack of standing and political question) seems unnecessary, given that the standing problems alone would seem to comfortably support dismissal. Moreover, the application of the political question doctrine seems at odds with the D.C. Circuit's post-Boumediene habeas cases. The court had something to say about this, in footnote 17:
Those courts were not asked to declare that an ongoing military operation, about which there appears to be no dispute between Congress and the President, was "illegal." They were asked to determine whether an individual should be accorded habeas corpus relief because his detainment had become illegal. This is a far more traditional and appropriate judicial role, which does not raise the same separation of powers issues present in this case.
Friday, November 18, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a local "right-to-work" ordinance was not preempted under the National Labor Relations Act, but that provisions banning hiring-hall agreements and dues-checkoff requirements are preempted.
The mixed ruling hands a partial victory to union opponents (by upholding the local "right-to-work" ordinance) and a partial victory to unions (by striking the hiring-hall and dues-checkoff bans).
Hardin County, Kentucky, enacted a so-called "right-to-work" ordinance, which prohibited employers and unions from requiring union membership or dues as a condition of employment. The ordinance also prohibited "hiring-hall" agreements (which require prospective employees to be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared by a union) and "dues-checkoff" provisions (which require employers to automatically deduct union dues and fees). Unions sued, arguing that the ordinance was preempted.
The Sixth Circuit disagreed on "right-to-work" and agreed on hiring-hall and dues-checkoff provisions.
The court ruled that the "right-to-work" provision was saved from preemption and was not field-preempted. The court looked to Section 14(b) of the NLRA:
Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the execution or application of agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment in any State or Territory in which such execution or application is prohibited by State or Territorial law.
The court held that Hardin County law is "State law" under this provision, and so saved from preemption by the plain terms of the Act. The court went on to say that it couldn't be field-preempted under the NLRA, because, well, it was saved under Section 14(b). ("It follows that Section 14(b)'s explicit exception of the state right-to-work laws from preemption trumps operation of implicit field preemption.")
As to the hiring-hall and dues-checkoff bans, the court held that these did not fall within the Section 14(b) exception. It held that the dues-checkoff ban was preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act, and that hiring-hall ban was explicitly permitted under the NLRA.
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Atay v. County of Maui that a local initiative to ban genetically engineered crops was preempted by federal and state law. The ruling ends this effort in Maui County, Hawaii, to ban GE crops.
The citizens of Maui County voted for an ordinance that banned the cultivation and testing of GE plants. The ordinance was designed "to protect organic and non-GE farmers and the County's environment from transgenic contamination and pesticides, preserve the right of Maui County residents to reject GE agriculture, and protect the County's vulnerable ecosystems and indigenous cultural heritage."
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the ordinance was preempted. The court held that the federal Plant Protection Act expressly preempted the GE ban as to crops that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has deregulated. The PPA preemption provision says that "no State or political subdivision of a State may regulate the movement in interstate commerce of any . . . plant . . . plant pest, noxious weed, or plant product in order to control . . . eradicate . . . or prevent the introduction or dissemination of a . . . plant pest, or noxious weed, if the Secretary has issued a regulation or order to prevent the dissemination of the . . . plant pest, or noxious weed within the United States." The Secretary, through the APHIS, has done just that, so the court said that Maui's ban was preempted. (As to the interstate commerce element, the court said that GE seeds and plants flow across state lines, and that Congress specifically recognized in the PPA that "all plant pests, noxious weeds, plant products, articles capable of harboring plant pests or noxious weeds regulated under this chapter are in or affect interstate commerce.")
As to those crops not regulated by the APHIS, the court said that the PPA didn't impliedly preempt the ban, but Hawaii state law did. The court looked to Hawaii preemption law, which applies a "comprehensive statutory scheme" test to determine field-preemption, and held that Hawaii's statutory scheme fit the bill. (The Ninth Circuit handed down another case today with a similar state preemption holding, that one striking Kauai County's pesticide regulations.)
The ruling ends this local effort to ban GE crops.
The Ninth Circuit ruled in Missouri ex rel. Koster v. Harris that six states lacked standing to sue California over its laws protecting hens that lay eggs. The ruling dismisses the case in favor of California (and its egg laws), unless and until the plaintiffs amend their complaint.
The plaintiffs, six egg-producing states, sued California after that state enacted a law setting certain standards for egg-laying hens. (The law bans the sale of eggs in the state by hens that are kept in cages where they can't lay down, stand up, extend their limbs, and turn around.) The plaintiffs alleged parens patriae standing on behalf of egg farmers in their states.
The Ninth Circuit ruled against them. The court said that the states couldn't show "an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties," the first of two additional elements of parens patriae standing (over and above the normal elements of standing). (The second additional element, not at issue here, is "[t]he State must express a quasi-sovereign interest.") The court held that the states didn't allege that California's law harmed their entire population, and that those affected (the egg farmers) could bring their own suit against California. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the California law would cause a fluctuation in the price of eggs and thereby harm all consumers. It also rejected the claim that the plaintiffs had standing because California's law was discriminatory. (It wasn't; it applies to all hens, wherever they live. The lack of discrimination in the law also goes to the merits (although not at issue yet): under the Dormant Commerce Clause, a nondiscriminatory law is upheld only if its burdens on interstate commerce outweigh its benefits--a relatively low standard.)
The court instructed the district court to dismiss the case without prejudice, however, allowing the states to amend their complaint.
Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) ruled that a private citizen lacked standing to sue Senators McConnell and Grassley for failing to give President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a vote in the Senate.
Plaintiff Steven Michel brought the action under the Seventeenth Amendment, arguing that McConnell's and Grassley's stonewalling resulted in a loss of voice of his own home-state senators, and therefore a violation of his own right to vote for his home-state senators under the Seventeenth Amendment.
The court said that Michel lacked standing:
Mr. Michel has not shown that he has suffered an individualized injury such that he can maintain this action. This alleged diminution of his vote for United States Senators is the type of undifferentiated harm common to all citizens that is appropriate for redress in the political sphere: his claim is not that he has been unable to cast votes for Senators, but that his home-state Senators have been frustrated by the rules and leadership of the United States Senate. This is far from the type of direct, individualized harm that warrants judicial review of a "case or controversy."
Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Tenth Circuit ruled last week in Felix v. City of Bloomfield that the city's monument to the Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause, even though the overall display included other, later-erected secular monuments.
The case arose when a city council member obtained council permission to place a Ten Commandments monument in front of city hall, along with other monuments that would celebrate the city's "history of law and government." The council member raised private money for the Ten Commandments monument (from churches, among other sources), and, after some fits and starts, placed the massive monument (over five feet tall, 3,400 pounds, sunk 14 inches into the ground) right in front of city hall. The city held an unveiling ceremony, which included religious references, statements, and the like, and some secular ones, too.
After this suit was filed, arguing that the Ten Commandments monument violated the Establishment Clause, the council member arranged for other monuments at city hall, including one for the Declaration of Independence, one for the Gettysburg Address, and one for the Bill of Rights.
The Tenth Circuit ruled that the Ten Commandments monument violated the Establishment Clause. The court wrote that an objective observer, reasonably informed about the monument, would have concluded that the city was endorsing religion. The court said that the text on the monument, its prominent location, the religious circumstances surrounding its financing and unveiling, and the timing of this lawsuit (just seven months after the monument's unveiling) all pointed toward endorsement.
The court recognized the city's effort to secularize the display with later, secular monuments, but said that this wasn't enough to scrub the religious history behind it.
The Tenth Circuit ruled in Mojsilovic v. State of Oklahoma that the state's sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' forced-labor claim under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The ruling ends this case.
The plaintiffs, Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic, were hired by the University of Oklahoma on H-1B visas to conduct DNA sequencing and issue typing and to make transfectants and tissue cultures. Their supervisor, Dr. William Hildebrand, forced them to work longer hours than permitted by their visas, without pay, for his private corporation, Pure Protein, on threat of having their visas revoked. The Mojsilovic's sued under the TVPRA, seeking monetary damages under the Act; the University asserted sovereign immunity; and the district court dismissed the case.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that Congress enacted the TVPRA under its Commerce Clause authority (and not its Thirteenth Amendment authority), and so could not abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. In any event, the court said that any abrogation wasn't sufficiently clear in the language of the TVPRA. (The TVPRA applies to "whoever," without specifically naming "states.")
The ruling, while not surprising under the Court's abrogation doctrine, illustrates the impact of the rule that Congress cannot abrogate state sovereign immunity using its Commerce Clause authority. It means that states and state agencies can get away with trafficking, slavery, involuntary servitude, forced-labor, and the like without incurring TVPRA liability.
Congress could, of course, change this by making clear that the TVPRA is enacted under the Thirteenth Amendment and clearly abrogating state sovereign immunity.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled this week that the Bankruptcy Code prevented citizens and organizations in Detroit, which is is Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings, from suing the city for certain constitutional violations.
The ruling gives Detroit a free pass on certain civil rights--because it is in bankruptcy. Indeed, the court goes so far as to say (based on almost no authority) that because the financial conditions in Detroit are so bad, federalism considerations even more support a reading of the Bankruptcy Code that bars certain civil rights actions against the city.
The lesson: If you're out to have your constitutional rights violated, do it in a city that's not in bankruptcy, with really big financial problems.
The case arose when Detroit citizens and organizations sued the city in the Eastern District of Michigan for turning off thousands of residents' water for nonpayment and refusing to negotiate. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief; they brought due process and equal protection claims (among others) under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and Monell.
The district court then transferred the case to bankruptcy court and consolidated it with Detroit's Chapter 9 case. The plaintiffs moved for a TRO, and the city moved to dismiss pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Sec. 904 (in the Bankruptcy Code). That section says:
Notwithstanding any power of the court, unless the debtor consents or the plan so provides, the court may not, by any stay, order, or decree, in the case or otherwise, interfere with--
(1) any of the political or governmental powers of the debtor;
(2) any of the property or revenues of the debtor; or
(3) the debtor's use or enjoyment of any income-producing property.
The Sixth Circuit ruled, with little analysis, that each of these three conditions applied, and therefore the bankruptcy court had no power to issue declaratory or injunctive relief, and therefore the case must be dismissed.
Along the way, the court had some pretty surprising things to say about federalism and protection of rights. For example, the court wrote that Section 904 is essentially a federalism protection for a city like Detroit, and a city in bankruptcy--and especially one with really bad financial problems--ought (perhaps paradoxically) to have more protection against constitutional-rights claims (than a city in a regular district court) because of it. Here's how the court put it:
That a federal court's power should be more constrained in the chapter 9 context than in a typical Monell action also makes sense. Monell plaintiffs may claim damages and prospective injunctive relief, such as the implementation of a training program that better protects citizens' constitutional rights, provided they make the appropriate showing. We agree that the Tenth Amendment is not a barrier to a federal court's authority over a municipality in that setting.
But a discrete change in policy in a particular office or department of local government is far removed from the complete financial overhaul undertaken in a municipal reorganization. Detroit's case is a good example. "At the time of filing, the City had over $18 billion in escalating debt, over 100,000 creditors, hundreds of millions of dollars of negative cash flow," failing infrastructure, and "a crumbling water and sewer system." The bankruptcy court bore responsibility for approving a plan of adjustment equally vast in its aim to remedy these conditions. Concerns for state sovereignty loom larger with so much at stake. "As a state-federal cooperative enterprise conducted in delicate circumstances in which state sovereignty must be respected, Congress has been sedulous to assure that the bankruptcy power not be used in municipal insolvencies in a manner that oversteps delicate state-federal boundaries." The massive scale of a municipal bankruptcy simply provides more opportunities for excessive federal court interference.
Apparently only one other court, a bankruptcy court, had used federalism in the way the Sixth Circuit did to support its Section 904 analysis, because that's the only case (in two versions) that the Sixth Circuit cited in support of its federalism claims.
Surprisingly, the court said that this reasoning applies equally to the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief. (It's not entirely clear how declaratory relief alone interferes with any of the three categories in Section 904.)
All this said, the ruling probably doesn't extend to other civil rights claims that don't involve a "contract" with the government. This case ended up in the bankruptcy court because the residents had a water-services "contract" with the city that fell under the city's bankruptcy. A different kind of claim (police brutality, for example) wouldn't involve a "contract," (hopefully) wouldn't get kicked to bankruptcy, and therefore wouldn't get dismissed under Section 904.
The Second Circuit last week rejected claims that the federal government exceeded its authority and violated the Enclave Clause in taking about 13,000 acres of land in central New York into trust on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.
The ruling is a victory for the Nation and its ability to self-govern. In particular, under federal land-into-trust law, it means that the Nation's land is not subject to state and local taxes and zoning and regulatory requirements, and that (unless the Nation consents) New York lacks criminal and civil jurisdiction over Nation members on the land.
The ruling is also a reaffirmation of the federal government's land-into-trust powers, by which the federal government can take state land into trust for Native American nations, and the very limited restrictions on federal power to take and regulate land under the Enclave Clause. (The Enclave Clause, Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 17, is a favorite of those who argue against federal authority to hold and regulate lands other than Washington, D.C., even though that reading is not supported by the text, history, or precedent of the Clause.)
The case arose when the federal government took about 13,000 acres of land in New York into trust on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation, pursuant to authority under the Indian Reorganization Act. (The dispute goes back much farther, however.) The Oneida Nation already owned the land--it purchased it on the private market--but sought the trust in order to govern itself and avoid state taxes and certain regulations. Plaintiffs (two towns, a civic organization, and some individuals) sued, arguing that the land-into-trust procedures violated the Indian Commerce Clause, state sovereignty, and the Enclave Clause. (Plaintiffs asserted that they'd be harmed by the Nation's casino, and the inability to collect taxes on the land where it sits.)
The Second Circuit flatly rejected those claims. The court ruled that under the Indian Commerce Clause the federal government has plenary authority to regulate with respect to Native American nations, including authority to take land in trust for nations, and that this authority wasn't correlated to the Interstate Commerce Clause or otherwise bound only to purely intra-state activities. The court also ruled that no constitutional provisions protected "state sovereignty" as against the land-into-trust procedures.
As to the Enclave Clause claim, the court, drawing on longstanding precedent, wrote that "state consent is needed only when the federal government takes 'exclusive' jurisdiction over land within a state." (This follows from precedent and the plain language of the Clause itself: "The Congress shall have Power . . . To exercise exclusive Legislative in all Cases whatsoever, over such District . . . as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings[.]") Because the federal government's land-into-trust procedures leave some authority to a state (like civil and criminal law as against non-members, and the power to impose a sales tax on sales to non-members), it did not need "Cession of" the state under the Enclave Clause.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied the group Catharsis on the Mall a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service from enforcing its regulation against certain bonfires on Park Service land in D.C.
The ruling, though preliminary, means that Catharsis on the Mall didn't get to burn its wooden Phoenix this weekend--symbolic speech in support of veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.
The case arose when Catharsis sought permission to hold its second annual 72-hour vigil near the Washington Monument, which was to culminate in the burning of a 24-foot tall Phoenix. The group sought to show its support for veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.
The NPS denied permission, however, citing a new regulatory scheme for outdoor events, including a regulation that bans burning structures by size.
But here's the problem: NPS granted a permit to the group to burn a structure during its vigil last year that was even bigger than this year's Phoenix. And the D.C. Fire Department didn't think the Phoenix burning would have been a problem.
Still, the court ruled that Catharsis didn't show a likelihood of success on the merits. In particular, the court wrote that the new bonfire regulation was a content-neutral time, place, manner regulation on speech in a public forum; that it was narrowly tailored to maintain safety; and that Catharsis had other ways to convey its message.
The ruling is only on Catharsis's motion for a preliminary injunction, but given the court's approach to the likelihood-of-success question, the final ruling will almost certainly be the same.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled this week in LeFande v. D.C. that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department did not violate an officer's First Amendment rights when the MPD fired the officer for internal e-mails critical of MPD operations and officers, and refusing to respond to a superior's request.
The ruling puts an end to this very long-running dispute, and the very long-running, and highly contentious, relationship between the officer, LeFande, and the MPD.
This piece of the case arose when Matthew LeFande, police reserve officer with the MPD (a volunteer position designed to assist full-time officers), wrote a series of internal e-mails highly critical of certain MPD operations and MPD officers, and declining to comply with a superior's request. (The case actually started much earlier, with a suit LeFande filed against the MPD, and the MPD fired him. He raised a First Amendment claim to his termination (based on his free speech in bringing the suit), but the MPD said it actually fired him for the e-mails--thus opening this latest chapter of the case.)
The court ruled that it didn't have to say whether the e-mails constituted citizen speech on matters of public concern (under Pickering), because the MPD's interest in efficiency outweighed LeFande's interests in free speech, anyway. The court held that LeFande's free-speech interest in sending e-mails criticizing MPD operations and officers "cannot outweigh the fact that their 'disruptive force' . . . threatens workplace efficiency." It further held that LeFande's interest in sending e-mails declining a superior's request were outweighed by the MPD's interest in efficiency, because "[i]f police department leadership faced opposition from employees after every routine request, the machinery of law enforcement would grind to a halt."
The court conceded that some of LeFande's speech (especially those e-mails criticizing MPD operations) implicated matters of public concern--perhaps more than the survey questions in Connick. But it ruled that the MPD's interest outweighed LeFande's, especially "given the 'special degree of trust and discipline required in a police force.'"
Sunday, November 6, 2016
The Supreme Court on Saturday stayed an injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit late last week halting enforcement of Arizona's ballot collection ban. The order means that Arizona can enforce its criminal ban on ballot collection pending appeal to the full Ninth Circuit--well after Election Day.
Recall that a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit denied a preliminary injunction against Arizona's 2016 ballot collection law. That law criminalized the collection and delivery of early ballots by anyone other than the voter. (Arizona had previously allowed certain persons other than the voter to collect and deliver a voter's ballot. This practice was used by minority communities in the state, including Native American, Hispanic, and African American communities that, for different reasons, lacked easy access to the polls.)
The full Ninth Circuit then agreed to hear the case. And the court issued an injunction against enforcement of the law pending appeal. As to any problems from enjoining a law so close to the election (like voter confusion)--the Purcell factors--the court wrote:
First, the injunction does not affect the state's election processes or machinery. . . .
Enjoining enforcement of H.B. 2023 will not have any effect on voters themselves, on the conduct of election officials at the polls, or on the counting of ballots. . . .
Here, the injunction preserves the status quo prior to the recent legislative action in H.B. 2023. Every other election cycle in Arizona has permitted the collection of legitimate ballots by third parties to election officials. . . .
Moreover, the court wrote that Arizona's first attempt at criminalizing ballot collection was stopped by DOJ--denied preclearance before Shelby County effective wiped preclearance off the books. But then Arizona re-enacted it in 2016, after Shelby County said that Arizona no longer had to preclear election-law changes. Thus, according to the Ninth Circuit, an injunction pending appeal didn't run into Purcell problems, because "[i]n the wake of Shelby County, the judiciary provides the only meaningful review of legislation that may violate the Voting Rights Act."
The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in January, but the Supreme Court's order on Saturday ensures that Arizona's ban on ballot collection will stay in place for this election cycle.
The order was unsigned, and there were no concurrences or dissents.