Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seattle's Minimum Wage Challenged in Federal District Court

Seattle - - - a "progressive and expensive city" - - - "struck a blow against rising income inequality" by raising its municipal minimum wage to $15 per hour earlier this month, as Maria La Ganga reported in the LA Times. Seattle Ordinance 12449 becomes effective in 2015, with a phase-in schedule of pay rates dependent on type of employer.   But it has already been challenged as unconstitutional.

The complaint in International Franchise Association, Inc. v. City of Seattle challenges the ordinance on a variety of constitutional grounds: (dormant) commerce clause, equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and state constitution, the state constitutional privileges or immunities provision, preemption under the Lanham Act (trademarks), the contract clauses of the federal and state constitutions, and the First Amendment. 

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skyline of Seattle via

A central issue in this complaint is the Ordinance's definitions of schedule 1 and schedule 2 employers as the definitions relate to franchises.  As paragraph 50 provides:

The Ordinance provides that, for purposes of determining whether an employer is a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 employer, “separate entities that form an integrated enterprise shall be considered a single employer ... where a separate entity controls the operation of another entity,” but this test applies only to a “non-franchisee employer.” Under the Ordinance, if a small franchisee is associated with a franchise network that employs more than 500 workers, the small franchisee is deemed a Schedule 1 Employer even if it is not part of an “integrated enterprise” as so defined.

Filed by Bancroft LLC and signed by Paul Clement, the pleading contains various arguments detailing why such a distinction is unconstitutional, largely revolving around the competitive disadvantage the ordinance will place on franchised and parent businesses by requiring higher wages.  

LawProf David Ziff of University of Washington School of Law in Seattle has some helpful discussions of the complaint on his blog, including an overview and a specific discussion of the "classes of corporations" argument under the state constitution's privileges or immunities clause.

Certainly this is litigation to watch.  And certainly cities across the United States that are considering similar measures will be looking closely.  Cities are often rightly concerned with state constitutional powers of "home rule" allowing municpalities to vary from the state mandated wage; for example,  the courts declared the 1964 attempted minimum wage raise from 1.25 to 1.50 in NYC to be beyond the powers of the city. But the Seattle challenge raises federal constitutional issues that are necessarily obvious.

June 12, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, Federalism, Privileges and Immunities, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Contraception Mandate Accommodation

The Sixth Circuit today denied a preliminary injunction to a group of religious employers and religious nonprofits challenging the exemption from and the accommodation to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  The ruling is just the latest in a line of challenges to the accommodation.  We posted most recently here.  (These cases are different than the Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court: these cases involve religious nonprofits that take issue with the accommodation to the contraception mandate, where the Hobby Lobby case involves a corporation's challenge to the mandate itself.) 

The cases are unusual, even surprising, in that the plaintiffs challenge the government's attempt to accommodate their religious beliefs as itself a violation of their religious rights.

The organizations challenged the exemption from and the accommodation to the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment (speech and religion clauses).  The court ruled that they failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and thus affirmed the lower court's denial of a preliminary injunction.

The court noted that some of the plaintiffs were religious employers who qualified for the exemption from the mandate.  Because the exemption exempts them, and because it does not require any particular act on the part of the organizations, the court said that the exemption didn't violate the organizations' speech or religious rights.

As to the religious non-profits, the court said that they qualify for the accommodation by simply certifying that they object to the mandate--and that this didn't interfere with their religious or free speech rights.  The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the certification itself somehow implicated the organizations in providing contraception in violation of their religious rights or free speech rights.  In language shy of, but no less certain than, the almost hostile ruling by Judge Posner in the Seventh Circuit rejecting a similar claim the court said,

The appellants are not required to "provide" contraceptive coverage. . . .  The appellants are not required to "pay for" contraceptive coverage. . . .  Moreover, the appellants are not required to "facilitate access to" contraceptive coverage. . . .  Submitting the self-certification form to the insurance issuer or third-party administrator does not "trigger" contraceptive coverage; it is federal law that requires the insurance issuer or the third-party administrator to provide this coverage.

June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

D.C. Circuit Rejects Guantanamo Detainees' Mistreatment Claims

The D.C. Circuit this week rejected a variety of claims by Guantanamo detainees for mistreatment by government officials and guards even after they had been cleared for release by the Combat Status Review Tribunal.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs' request to remand the case to amend their complaint.

The case, Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, involved detainee claims of "forced grooming, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced medication, transport in 'shackles and chains, blackened goggles, and ear coverings,' and the disruption of . . . religious practices," even after some of the plaintiffs were cleared for release by the CSRT.  The plaintiffs brought claims against government officials and Guantanamo guards under the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As to the ATS, the court held that the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, which, under the Westfall Act, transforms their ATS claim into a Federal Tort Claims Act claim against the government.  But the plaintiffs didn't pursue administrative remedies under the FTCA, so their case was dismissed.

As to the Vienna Convention, the court said that the Convention confers a private right of action.

As to the other, Bivens claims, the court held, citing its second Rasul ruling, that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, or, alternatively, that the case raised special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy.

June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 9, 2014

CERCLA, Statute of Repose Block Environmental Suit

The Supreme Court ruled today in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger that the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA, does not preempt a state statute of repose that blocked the plaintiffs' state-law nuisance claim for environmental damage caused by the defendant.  (A statute of repose sets a time limit on the filing of a complaint, much like a statute of limitations.)  The case means that state-law claims for environmental damage that fall outside a state's statute of repose (because the plaintiffs didn't learn about the damage until years after the defendants caused it), including the plaintiffs' case here, will be dismissed--unless and until Congress changes CERCLA to provide for preemption of state statutes of repose.

The case arose when a group of property owners sued CTS for environmental damage to their land.  CTS previously ran an electronics plant on the land, where it manufactured and disposed of electronics and electronic parts.  As part of the operation, CTS stored certain chemicals.  CTS later sold the property to the plaintiffs, certifying it as environmentally sound.

The plaintiffs realized that the property wasn't environmentally sound--but 24 years after the sale.  So when they sued, CTS successfully moved to dismiss the case based on the state statute of repose, which prevents subjecting a defendant to a tort suit more than 10 years after the last culpable act of the defendant.  The plaintiffs argued that CERCLA preempted the statute of repose, allowing their case to move forward.  The Court today agreed with CTS.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and said that the text, the historical understanding of the language, and the Court's "presumptions about the structure of pre-emption" all pointed to preemption.  The opinion turned in large measure on the historical understanding of the difference between a statute of limitations and a statute of repose.  That's because everyone agrees that CERCLA's plain language preempts state statutes of limitations.  The question was whether it also covered statutes of repose.  The Court said no.  (The Court said that CERCLA's drafters understood that there was a difference between the two, but included only statutes of limitations, not statutes of repose, in the preemption clause.)

Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined Justice Kennedy's opinion in full.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito joined in the result and all but the portion that relied on the Court's "presumptions about the structure of pre-emption." 

Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent, joined by Justice Breyer.  Justice Ginsburg argued that CERCLA's "discovery rule" displaced the commencement-of-action date in the state statute of repose.  She wrote that the CERCLA's discovery rule set the commencement date as the date that the plaintiffs actually knew (or reasonably should have known) that the injury was caused by the defendant, not the date of the defendant's last act or omission (in the state statute of repose).  This meant that the plaintiffs filed within the statute of repose, and that their case should be allowed to proceed.

As in all preemption cases, Congress could have the last word.  Here, as elsewhere, Congress can change the federal statute to provide for preemption of state law after the Court interpreted it not to preempt state law (or vice versa).  That seems unlikely here, though. 

June 9, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Governor Lacks Authority to Revoke Commutation

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week in Makowski v. Governor that former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm lacked authority under the state constitution to revoke her valid commutation of a prisoner's sentence.  The ruling means that the prisoner, whose sentence was first commuted but whose commutation was later revoked, is now eligible for parole.

The Michigan constitution gives the governor the power "to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after convictions for all offenses . . . ."  Art. 5, Sec. 14.  Governor Granholm exercised this authority when she granted a commutation on the recommendation of the parole board to an individual who was serving a life sentence for felony murder.  But when the family of the victim contacted her office to express its dissatisfaction after the commutation was signed and sealed, she instructed the parole board to halt all commutation proceedings and revoked the commutation.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that she couldn't do that it.  The court first said that the case did not present a political question, because the state constitution limits the governor's power to commute "to those procedures and regulations that the Legislature enacts," and "[a]ccordingly, the distribution of power between the Legislature and the Governor regarding commutations creates a legal question that this Court must answer."  The court said that legislative silence as to those procedures did not mean that the court should defer; instead, the court said that it had a duty to determine the extent and limits of executive authority regarding commutations.  The court also ruled that its determination of the merits did not violate the separation of powers, because "this Court may review the Governor's exercise of power to ensure that it is constitutional."

As to the merits, the court held that the text and context of the commutation document indicated that it was final, and that the state constitution provided no power to revoke a commutation. 

June 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Executive Authority, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Eighth Circuit Says Missouri Flag Desecration Law Unconstitutional, No Qualified Immunity

The Eighth Circuit ruled in Snider v. City of Cape Girardeau that Missouri's statute banning flag desecration was facially unconstitutional.  The court held that the statue was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, and that there was no possible narrowing construction.  The court also rejected the arresting officer's claim of qualified immunity.

The case arose when a Cape Girardeau police officer arrested an individual for desecrating an American flag, in violation of Missouri law.  The officer made the arrest pursuant to a warrant issued by a local judge and based upon the officer's statement of probable cause to the county prosecuting attorney.

The ruling couldn't have been a surprise to anyone, except possibly the officer and the county prosecutor.  (The ruling included this telling sentence: "Both Officer Peters and [the prosecuting attorney] stated that they were unaware of the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which struck down statutes criminalizing flag desecration as unconstitutional.")  The court ruled that Missouri's statute was facially unconstitutional under those cases.

The court also ruled that the officer did not enjoy qualified immunity.  The officer argued that he should be entitled to qualified immunity, because the prosecutor and judge signed off on a warrant.  He cited Messerschmidt v. Millender, where the Supreme Court granted qualified immunity to an officer who executed a search warrant unsupported by probable cause because, in part, a neutral magistrate issued the warrant. 

But the Eighth Circuit noted that the Messerschmidt Court said that the neutral magistrate's involvement did "not end the inquiry into objective reasonableness."  The court also noted that the standard in Malley v. Briggs survived Messerschmidt.  The Malley standard says that there's no qualified immunity where "if it obvious that no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue."  Here, it was obvious.

The ruling upholds a lower court ruling granting attorney's fees to the plaintiff.

June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Carol Anne Bond Prevails in United States Supreme Court: Court Avoids Treaty Power Ruling

On her second trip to the United States Supreme Court, Carol Anne Bond prevailed again.

Recall that Carol Anne Bond was convicted of a crime in violation of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), passed to implement a treaty , the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the fact that she is not a "terrorist," but rather a "vengeful" participant in a "love triangle" has caused much consternation.  While the international arms-control agreement prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons, Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband.   Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court.

Recall that in 2011, the Court unanimously held that Bond could raise a Tenth Amendment claim in her prosecution, reversing the Third Circuit. On remand, the Third Circuit rejected Bond's argument to  "set aside as inapplicable the landmark decision Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920), which is sometimes cited for the proposition that the Tenth Amendment has no bearing on Congress's ability to legislate in furtherance of the Treaty Power in Article II, § 2 of the Constitution."

Today's opinion in Bond v. United States again reverses the Third Circuit.  The focus in oral argument  was on the Treaty power and whether a treaty can alter constitutional structures, namely federalism.  And while today's decision is unanimous, there are multiple concurring opinions.

The opinion for the Court, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a relatively brief 21 pages and notes that the Bond's case is "unusual" and thus the "analysis is appropriately limited."  For the Court,

the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon. There is no reason to suppose that Congress—in implementing the Convention on Chemical Weapons—thought otherwise.

Essentially, the Court practices constitutional avoidance by construing the statute narrowly; there is no need to confront Holland v. Missouri's holding regarding the constitutional parameters of Congress's treaty power. 

Indeed, the Court only mentions Holland in its discussion of the Third Circuit's holding and Bond's arguments; it notes that notwithstanding that "debate" there is a "well-established principle" of constitutional avoidance and includes a citation to Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). Because "Bond argues that section 229 does not cover her conduct" it considers "that argument first," and finds it decides the issue. 

In a nutshell, the Court concludes that the federal prosecutors exceeded the power the statute gave them - - - and thus there is no need to decide whether Congress exceeded the power the Constitution's treaty and necessary and proper powers gave it.

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Nations in green are signatories to
Chemical Weapons Convention via

Justice Scalia, concurring and joined by Thomas, would conclude that the statute clearly covers Bond's Act and therefore is unconstitutional.  Justice Thomas writes a separate concurrence, joined by Scalia and in part by Alito, writes separately to "suggest that the Treaty Power is itself a limited federal power."  And in a very brief opinion, Alito argues that the "insofar as the Convention may be read to obligate the United States to enact domestic legislation criminalizing conduct of the sort at issue in this case, which typically is the sort of conduct regulated by the States, the Convention exceeds the scope of the treaty power" and thus the statute "lies outside Congress’ reach unless supported by some other power enumerated in the Constitution."

So, while the opinion is "unanimous," the three Justices considered to be the most conservative and perhaps most hostile to international law, would have limited Congress' power to implement treaties made pursuant to Article II §2 allowing the executive to "make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."

And for ConLawProfs, it demonstrates the relevance of the "Ashwander doctrine" as a part of constitutional law courses.

June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Executive Authority, Federalism, International, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Court Strikes Rigid IQ Cut-Off for Death Penalty

The Supreme Court today ruled in Hall v. Florida that a state's use of a rigid cut-off to determine intellectual disability for the purpose of administering the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  Our oral argument preview is here.

The 5-4 ruling, penned by Justice Kennedy and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is another in a series of blows against the death the penalty.  Justice Alito wrote the dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas.

The case tested Florida's use of a rigid cut-off to determine intellectual capacity for the purpose of administering the death penalty.  The Court previously ruled in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) that the Eighth Amendment bars the use of the death penalty for persons with intellectual disabilities.  Florida defined intellectual disability with reference to an IQ score of 70 or less.  That meant that a defendant with an IQ score above 70 (including the defendant in this case) couldn't introduce further evidence of intellectual disability. 

The Court held that this violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  It said that Florida's statute could be read to comply with the standard medical definition of intellectual disability (by including consideration of the standard error of measurement in the IQ test), but that the state instead applied it in a rigid way, foreclosing additional evidence of intellectual disability when a defendant has an IQ test above 70.  That, the Court said, "disregards established medical practice in two interrelated ways": it takes the IQ score as "final and conclusive evidence of a defendant's intellectual capacity, when experts in the field would consider other evidence"; and it disregards the standard error of measurement in an IQ test.  (The standard error of measurement, or SEM, reflects the inherent imprecision in the IQ test and the resulting possible variation in results.  It means that an IQ test score really reflects a range of results, not a single number.)

The Court said that a "significant majority of States implement the protection of Atkins by taking the SEM into account."  "The rejection of the strict 70 cutoff in the vast majority of States and the 'consistency in the trend' toward recognizing the SEM provide strong evidence of consensus that our society does not regard this strict cutoff as proper or humane."

The ruling is just the latest blow to the death penalty.  It means that states can't use a rigid IQ cutoff to determine intellectual disability under Atkins; instead, they have to consider the SEM and other evidence of intellectual disability, consistent with the standard medical approach of measuring intellectual disability.

May 27, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Fundamental Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

State Cannot Sue Tribe for Off-Reservation Gaming

The Supreme Court ruled today in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community that a Native American Indian Tribe is immune from a suit by the State of Michigan for off-reservation gaming.  Our oral argument preview is here.

The 5-4 ruling was an unusual split: Justice Kagan wrote for the majority, which included Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor.  Justice Sotomayor filed a separate concurrence.  Justice Thomas wrote a dissent, joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, and Alito.  Justice Scalia filed a separate dissent.

The Court held that tribal sovereign immunity bars Michigan's suit against the Bay Mills Indian Community for opening a casino outside its tribal lands.  The Court ruled that Congress did not abrogate immunity, and the Tribe did not waive it, and that there's no good reason to revisit prior decisions holding that tribes have immunity even when a suit arises from off-reservation commercial activity.

May 27, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds Contribution Disclosure Requirement

The Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a challenge to California's political contribution disclosure requirement by a group of political committees that backed Prop 8, the state constitutional ballot initiative that defined marriage only as between one man and one woman.  The ruling means that the California's disclosure requirement stays in place, and that Prop 8 Committees have to comply.

The Prop 8 Committees in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen challenged California's requirement that political committees disclose contributors who contribute more than $100, even after a campaign, arguing that some of their contributors had been harassed.  The Prop 8 Committees challenged the requirement both on its face and as applied.

The court rejected the challenges.  It applied the familiar "exacting scrutiny" standard to disclosures--that the requirement (and the burden it imposes) bears a "substantial relation" to a "sufficiently important" government interest.  As to the facial challenge, the court said that the state obviously had sufficiently important interests in disclosure during the campaign, and that the state still had sufficiently important interests even after the campaign:

A state's interests in contribution disclosure do not necessarily end on election day.  Even if a state's interest in disseminating accurate information to voters is lessened after the election takes place, the state retains its interests in accurate record-keeping, deterring fraud, and enforcing contribution limits.  As a practical matter, some lag time between an election and disclosure of contributions that immediately precede that election is necessary for the state to protect these interests.  In this case, for example, Appellants' contributions surged nearly 40% (i.e., by over $12 million) between the final pre-election reporting deadline and election day.  Absent post-election reporting requirements, California could not account for such late-in-the-day donations.  And, without such reporting requirements, donors could undermine the State's interests in disclosure by donating only once the final pre-election reporting deadline has passed.

As to the as-applied challenge, the court said they weren't justiciable: a request for an injunction to purge records of past disclosures is moot (and not capable of repetition but evading review); a request for an exemption from future reporting requirements is not ripe.  Judge Wallace dissented on the as-applied challenge.

 

May 21, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Ripeness, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judge Orders Release of Force-Feeding Videos

Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) ordered the government to release videos of force-feeding and medical records of Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab in today's status conference in Dhiab's habeas case.  Recall that Judge Kessler previously entered a temporary restraining order halting force-feedings of Dhiab until today and ordering the government to produce medical records and videotapes

But Judge Kessler's order today didn't address force feedings.  According to Wells Bennet over at Lawfare, that means that force-feedings can resume:

Intriguingly, court and counsel didn't address (so far as I could tell) the TRO's "no force feeding" instruction with respect to Dhiab.  Considering that Judge Kessler's prior ruling limiting the ban until today's date of May 21, it seems the prohibition could dissolve as early as tomorrow.  For her part, Judge Kessler gestured in this direction, by emphasizing both that her prior ruling was meant to preserve the status quo for so long as needed to handle the emergency motion, and that it did not embody a decision regarding preliminary relief.  (The motion for a preliminary injunction, like the larger habeas case, obviously aims to stop Dhiab's force feeding; but the detainee's emergency motion papers did not, strictly speaking, ask the court to take that step.)

May 21, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Fundamental Rights, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Court Temporarily Stops Force-Feeding at Guantanamo

Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) on Friday temporarily enjoined the government from force-feeding Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a hunger-striking Guantanamo detainee.  Judge Kessler's order also requires the government to produce medical records and videotapes of Dhiab's "forcible cell extractions" for the purpose of "enteral feedings."  Judge Kessler will preside over a status conference on May 21 to work some of this out.

This isn't the first time Judge Kessler ruled on the case.  In her earlier ruling, on July 10, 2013, she held that 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2) deprived the court of jurisdiction to hear a claim over a Guantanamo detainee's conditions of confinement.  She was also highly critical of force feedings in that ruling, however, and telegraphed her likely ruling on the merits, should it ever come to the merits.

It did come to the merits after the D.C. Circuit ruled that Guantanamo detainees could challenge the conditions of their confinement under 28 U.S.C. 2241(e)(2).  After that ruling, Dhiab's case came back to Judge Kessler, leading to Friday's ruling.

Judge Kessler's ruling is only temporary.  But if this ruling and her prior ruling (in the first round) are any indication, she's almost certain to rule against the practice. 

May 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seventh Circuit Enjoins Portions of Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law

The Seventh Circuit this week issued a sweeping ruling on Wisconsin's campaign finance requirements and permanently enjoined a good part of the law.  The ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Barland marks the end of the second round of this broadside challenge to Wisconsin's law.  The first round ended with a Seventh Circuit ruling overturning the state's $10,000 cap on contributions under the First Amendment.

The ruling this week is long and detailed.  That's because Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, challenged "a dizzying array of statutes and rules" as vague, overbroad, violative of free speech.  It's also because Wisconsin law, according to the court, is "labyrinthian and difficult to decipher without a background in this area of the law," and "has not been updated to keep pace with the evolution in Supreme Court doctrine . . . ."

Portions of the ruling were unsurprising.  Thus the court ruled that Wisconsin's ban on corporate speech and its cap on corporate fundraising for an unaffliated PAC violated the First Amendment under Citizens United

Other portions required a little more work:

Disclaimer Requirement.  The court held that Wisconsin's regulatory disclaimer requirement for independent political communications, as applied only to 30-second radio ads (because that's all that was challenged), was unconstitutional.  Wisconsin law required a certain disclaimer, but regulations went 50 words beyond that disclaimer, adding nothing to it, with no apparent good reason, and cutting into ad time.

Definitions of "political purposes" and "political committee."  The court ruled that the statutory definition of "political purposes" and the regulatory definition of "political committee," which trigger certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements, were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, imposing PAC duties on nearly any political communication.  The court gave Wisconsin law a narrowing construction, ruling that "[a]s applied to political speakers other than candidates, their campaign committees, and political parties, the definitions are limited to express advocacy and its functional equivalent as those terms were explained in Buckley and Wisconsin Right to Life II."

PAC Registration and Reporting Requirements.  The court ruled that the Wisconsin regulation that treats issue advocacy during the preelection period as fully regulable express advocacy if it mentions a candidate is unconstitutional.  It also ruled that the regulation that "imposes PAC-like registration, reporting, and other requirements on all organizations that make independent disbursements, is unconstitutional as applied to organizations not engaged in express advocacy as their major purpose."

In short, the court said that the Wisconsin legislature failed to keep up with changes in the doctrine--in particular, the change that Citizens United wrought--and that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's attempts to fill in the gaps through regulations simply swept too broadly.

The court's ruling directs the lower court to permanently enjoin the above-mentioned provisions.  The ruling is a sharp kick in the pants to the Wisconsin state legislature to update its campaign finance law.

May 16, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

D.C. Circuit Dodges Export Clause Claim, Allows Coal Tax, for Now

The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday in Coal River v. Jewell that a coal company couldn't challenge a Department of Interior regulation imposing a fee on coal at the point of sale under the Export Clause.  The ruling means that the Interior regulation stays in place for now, and probably for good.

The case inolves a federal fee on coal extraction under the Reclamation Act.  Congress designed the fee, determined by the weight of extracted coal, to fund the restoration of land damaged by coal mining.  The Department of Interior, recognizing that coal at the point of extraction contains rocks and other non-coal debris (and thus weighs more than the coal alone), issued regulations imposing the fee on coal at the point of sale (after the weighty debris is removed).  The result of the Interior regulations is to impose a fee that is lower than it would have been at the point of extraction (because the coal weighs less at the point of sale than at the point of extraction).

Still, coal companies sued, arguing that the Interior regs violated the Export Clause.  That Clause says that "No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any state."

In an earlier round of litigation, the Federal Circuit used the canon of constitutional avoidance and rejected the challenge, interpreting the statutory phrase "coal produced" as referring to coal extracted and the regulation as a fee imposed on extraction but at a later date.

In this round, Coal River, a new coal company, sued in the D.C. District and appealed to the D.C. Circuit, seeking to create a split between the D.C. and Federal Circuits. 

The D.C. Circuit didn't bite.  It ruled that Coal River's suit was untimely.  That's because the Reclamation Act requires all challenges to regulations promulgated under the Act must be brought within sixty days of the rule's promulgation.  The court said that Coal River didn't satisfy a statutory "safety valve" that allowed later suits under certain circumstances.

The court said, however, that Coal River could bring this same suit in the Court of Federal Claims later, after Interior actually imposes the regulation and fee on it.  But that case would almost surely meet the same fate as the earlier case, where the Federal Circuit interpreted the regulation to impose a fee on extraction collected at a later date.

May 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Massachusetts High Court Says Pledge Does Not Violate Equal Protection

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled last week that the daily recitation in school classrooms of the Pledge of Allegiance, with the words "under God," did not violate the state constitutional equal rights amendment.   The case, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, was brought by a group of atheist and Humanist students, who claimed that the words "under God" alienated them and caused them to become outsiders because of their religion.  (The plaintiffs only argued equal protection; they did not bring a religion clause claim.)

The Massachusetts high court rejected the argument.  It said that the Pledge was voluntary; that reciting the Pledge was a "patriotic exercise," not a "religious exercise," even with the words "under God"; and that in any event the plaintiffs didn't show that they had been treated differently because of their religion.  On that last point, the court said that the practice or reciting the Pledge treated all students the same: each student, regardless of religion, could say it along with the rest of the class, or not.  Here's the court:

Where the plaintiffs do not claim that a school program or activity violates anyone's First Amendment religion rights (or cognate rights under the Massachusetts Constitution), they cannot rely instead on the equal rights amendment, and claim that the school's even-handed implementation of the program or activity, and the plaintiffs' exposure to it, unlawfully discriminates against them on the basis of religion.  [Citing Harris v. McRae and San Antonio v. Rodriguez.]  Where the program or activity is applied equally to all students, and where those who object to it are not required to participate, or may choose to participate in all parts of it that they do not find objectionable, the feeling of "stigma" caused by seeing or hearing the program being provided to others is not legally cognizable for purposes of the equal rights amendment.  Any claim that, by conducting the program or activity for others who do not choose to participate, the school has publicly repudiated a plaintiff's beliefs and thereby rendered him or her a "second-class citizen" or "outsider" is not tenable, and we decline to apply [state constitutional equal protection] in this fashion.

May 13, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seventh Circuit Stays Ruling Enjoining Wisconsin Investigation

The Seventh Circuit yesterday stayed Judge Randa's ruling preliminarily enjoining further criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  We posted on Judge Randa's ruling here.

The Seventh Circuit said that because the defendants filed a notice of appeal before Judge Randa issued his injunction, Judge Randa had to show that the appeal was frivolous before acting.  This he did not do.  Here's from the short opinion:

Apostol v. Gallion, 870 F.2d 1335 (7th Cir. 1989), holds that, once a litigant files a notice of appeal, a district court may not take any further action in the suit unless it certifies that the appeal is frivolous.  The district court failed to follow that rule when, despite the notice of appeal filed by several defendants, it entered a preliminary injunction.  This court accordingly stays the injunction, and all further proceedings in the district court, until the judge has ruled definitively on the question posed by Apostol.

The ruling puts the ball back in Judge Randa's court, allowing him to certify that the appeal is frivolous and resume the case there.  If he does not, then proceedings in the district court are stayed pending appeal on the merits.

The Seventh Circuit also stayed the portion of Judge Randa's ruling that required the defendants to return or destroy documents "as long as proceedings continue in this court." 

May 8, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

District Court Halts Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

Judge Rudolph T. Randa (E.D. Wis.) this week granted a preliminary injunction against a criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  The criminal investigation sought information related to WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign committee and other 501(c)(4) groups, in violation of Wisconsin law, to promote the passage of Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker's (successful) effort to sharply restrict union strength in the state (among other things).  Judge Randa's ruling means that the investigation must stop, at least for now.

The ruling is just the latest chapter in a long-running story involving Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker, and advocacy (and spending) around both. 

Judge Randa ruled that the investigation violated free speech, because it "was commenced and conducted 'without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.'"  According to Judge Randa, that's because it was based on an interpretation of Wisconsin law that would have banned coordination on issue advocacy (and not candidate contributions)--something that the First Amendment does not allow.

Judge Randa said that WCFG's issue advocacy was core political speech, and that its coordination with other 501(c)(4)s, and even with the Friends of Scott Walker, did not raise any risk of quid quo pro corruption.  Therefore the state could not criminalize it.

Judge Randa rejected the defendants' argument that WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign created a quid pro quo problem.  He said that that approach "would mean transforming issue advocacy into express advocacy by interpretative legerdemain and not by any analysis as to why it would rise to the level of quid pro quo corruption."  He said WCFG simply held the same views that Governor Walker already held, and that therefore there was no risk of corruption.

Judge Randa cited McCutcheon throughout and made a special point of quoting Justice Thomas's concurrence on Buckley's demise:

Buckley's distinction between contributions and expenditures appears tenuous.  As Justice Thomas wrote, "what remains of Buckley is a rule without a rationale.  Contributions and expenditures are simply 'two sides of the same First Amendment coin,' and our efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere 'word games' rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law."  Even under what remains of Buckley, the defendants' legal theory cannot pass constitutional muster.  The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians.  This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.

Op. at 25.

May 7, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sixth Circuit Upholds Law Requiring Candidate Petition Circulators to Disclose Employers

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against an Ohio law that requires candidate petition circulators to disclose their employers against a First Amendment challenge.  The ruling in Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Husted means that the requirement stays on the books through the primary election on Tuesday, and that candidates of the plaintiff Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) will not appear on that primary ballot.  This in turn means that those candidates won't appear on the general election ballot, and that therefore the LPO will likely not receive the required number of votes in the general election to retain its recognition as a political party in Ohio.

This, in turn, means that the LPO will likely have to re-qualify as a political party in Ohio.  That's no easy task: it would have to get more than 38,500 signatures from at least one-half of the congressional districts in the state, meeting the very petition requirement (and others) that was at issue in this case.

The case involves Ohio's requirement that petition circulators--in this case, candidate petition circulators--disclose their employer on the petition form.  The LPO challenged that requirement, arguing that it violated the First Amendment on its face, after its petition circulator failed to disclose, causing the state to discard those petitions (and causing the candidates not to appear on the primary ballot).

The Sixth Circuit disagreed.  The court applied the "exacting scrutiny" test for disclosure requirements and determined that the strength of the governmental interest reflected the seriousness of the burden on First Amendment rights.  In particular, the court said that Ohio's requirement has but a "scant" chill on First Amendment freedoms.  Op. at 18.  On the other hand, the court said that the state's interest in the requirement is "substantial and legitimate."  Op. at 20.  That interest is in combating fraud in candidate petition circulation--a problem that came to a head, according to the court, during the circulation of petitions for Ralph Nader in the 2004 presidential election.

The court distinguished Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., where the Supreme Court struck a Colorado law requiring paid circulators to wear identification badges stating their names and their employers' names and phone numbers.  The court said that ACLF involved an initiative campaign, where this case involved a candidate petition (where the risk of corruption is higher); that the ACLF record contained no evidence that paid circulators were more apt to commit fraud than volunteers, but where this record contains that evidence; that the Colorado law required more disclosure of information; and that Colorado had other measures to deter fraud and diminish corruption.

The court also distinguished McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, where the Supreme Court struck an Ohio law that prohibited the distribution of campaign literature that did not contain the name and address of the person or campaign offiical issuing it.  The court said that the Ohio law in McIntyre outlawed an entire category of speech (anonymous political speech), where the Ohio circulator requirement only required disclosure.

The court also ruled that the LPO did not establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its due process (vagueness) challenge to the requirement.

The court recognized the practical significance of its ruling for the LPO:

Without a gubernatorial candidate on the general election ballot . . . the LPO in all likelihood will lose its status as a ballot-qualified party in Ohio.  We note that the LPO has struggled to become and remain a ballot-qualified party in Ohio, and we acknowledge that this decision entails that their efforts must continue still.  But we also note that we decide one case at a time, on the record before us.  In so doing, we preserve the First Amendment's primary place in our democracy over the long run.

May 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

District Court Strikes Wisconsin Voter ID Law

Judge Lynn Adelman (E.D. Wis.) yesterday struck Wisconsin's voter ID requirement, ruling that it violated both the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  The ruling in Frank v. Walker is a wide-ranging, thorough examination of the evidence of the state's interests, the hassles for voters to comply, and the disparate impact on black and Latino voters.  The ruling permanently enjoins the state from enforcing its voter ID requirement.

(There are two other cases challenging Wisconsin's voter ID law under the state constitution.  They're both at the state supreme court.)

As to the constitutionality of the law, the court applied the Anderson/Burdick balancing test and concluded that the burden of the voter ID requirement outweighed the state's interests.  The court said that the state's interests in preventing in-person voter-impersonation fraud, promoting confidence in the integrity of the electoral process, detecting other types of fraud, and promoting orderly election administration and recordkeeping were not supported, or barely supported, by the evidence.  On the other hand, the court found that the hassle to individual voters in complying with the law could be substantial. 

The principal difference between this case and Crawford v. Marion County, the 2008 case where the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter-ID law, was the evidence of voter burden.  Here, as the court carefully recounted in the opinion, there was particular evidence of serious burdens to individual voters.  Not so in Crawford.

As to Section 2 of the VRA, the court said that blacks and Latinos more likely lacked qualifying voter ID--that's based just on the numbers--and therefore were disparately impacted in violation of Section 2.  The court rejected the state's argument that blacks and Latinos had equal access to voter ID, even if they more likely lacked voter ID in reality; the court said that equal access didn't reflect the Section 2 test.  But even if it did, the court said that blacks and Latinos were likely to have a harder time obtaining qualifying voter IDs.  Either way, the court said, the voter ID requirement violated Section 2.

The court said it would "schedule expedited proceedings" to hear a claim that a legislative change in the voter ID requirement saved it, and thus to lift the injunction.  But the court also said that "given the evidence presented at trial showing that Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to lack an ID, it is difficult to see how an amendment to the photo ID requirement could remove its disproportionate racial impact and discriminatory result."

April 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Second Circuit Orders Release of Administration's Justification for Targeted Killing

The Second Circuit ruled earlier this week that the government must release a redacted version of an Office of Legal Counsel memo outlining the government's legal authority to conduct targeted killings.  The case, New York Times v. Department of Justice, is a FOIA case seeking the OLC memo, and not a legal challenge to the targeted killing program itself.  The court said that the government had released so much information about its legal justification--including the white paper that the government leaked to the media last year--that the government couldn't really claim that the legal justification was still secret.

We posted on the white paper here, with links to earlier posts (and to the white paper itself), and most recently on legal challenges to the targeted killing program here.

April 24, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)