Friday, September 11, 2015

Connecticut Supremes Strike Extra-Judicial Regulation of Attorneys in Debt-Relief Business

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that state regulation of attorneys who offer certain debt-relief services to clients violates state constitutional separation of powers principles. The ruling is quite limited, however, and does not extend to attorneys who set up a sham shop as a cover for a distinct debt-relief operation. (The ruling keeps the regulatory scheme on the books; it simply says that it can't apply to certain actual attorneys doing actual legal work.)

The ruling means that Connecticut attorneys who are really practicing law (but also providing debt-relief services) cannot be regulated outside the judiciary, but attorneys who are simply providing cover for debt-relief operations (without really practicing law) can be.

The case tested a Connecticut law that authorizes the state Banking Commissioner to license and regulate persons engaged in the debt negotiation business. Attorneys in this line of work are not exempt, except those who are "admitted to the practice of law in [Connecticut] who [engage] or [offer] to engage in debt negotiation as an ancillary matter to such [attorneys'] representation of a client . . . ."

A Connecticut law firm that enters into retainer agreements for legal services and an attorney-client relationship with clients, but also provides debt-relief counseling, challenged the licensing and regulation scheme on the ground that it's the courts, not the legislature, that regulate an attorney's law practice in Connecticut. The firm claimed that the Commissioner's attempts to regulate it intruded into the role of the judiciary and thus violated state constitutional separation of powers.

The court agreed. (Like many states, Connecticut has an explicit clause on separation of powers. Connecticut's says, "The powers of government shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to wit, those which are legislative, to one; those which are executive, to another; and those which are judicial, to another. . . .")

The court also emphasized, however, that a presumption that an attorney is practicing law (and not subject to Commissioner regulation) can be overcome where "the Connecticut attorney has failed to (1) exercise meaningful oversight over debt negotiation staff, (2) provide any genuine legal advice or other legal services, and/or (3) maintain a bona fide attorney-client relationship with the client." The court also reminded the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of its "duty to regulate lawyers when they are acting as debt negotiators," and urged it "to monitor vigilantly their activities and fees in this area of practice."

September 11, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seventh Circuit Strikes Partisan Balance Statute in Judicial Elections

The Seventh Circuit this week struck an Indiana law election law that ensured "partisan balance" on the Marion Superior Court, in Marion County. Curiously (and tellingly), the law only applied to judicial elections in Marion County (the home of Indianapolis); more regular judicial election rules (or, in two counties, merit selection) applied in the rest of the state.

Here's how it worked. Each major party conducted a primary election in which each party selected a number of candidates that equaled half the open seats on the court in the general election. (If there were 16 open seats, the Republicans would put up 8 candidates, and the Dems would put up 8.) Then, in the general election, all primary winners would win a seat. The system virtually ensured an equal divide among the judges on the court. ("Virtually," because there was a remote chance that a minor-party candidate or independent could get elected.)

Common Cause challenged the law, arguing that it infringed on the right to vote. (What good is your vote in the general, if you can't select among competing candidates?) The court agreed.

The court applied the Burdick/Anderson balancing test and ruled that the infringement on the right to vote outweighed the state's interests. On the infringement side of the balance, the court simply noted that the system denied voters any choice in the general election--a "severe" burden on the right to vote:

the Statute removes electoral choice and denies voters any effective voice or ability to choose between candidates of the two major parties. In fact, absent a possible third party or independent candidate on the ballot [a remote chance, by the way--ed.], the general election is guaranteed to be uncontested, rendering any vote meaningless because there is no choice to be made.

On the state's interests side of the balance, the court rejected the claimed interest in ensuring fair political representation and impartiality, because that interest doesn't really apply to judicial elections (where judges make independent decisions in their own independent courtrooms, not like a legislature, where the body makes a decision as a whole), and because the state had other ways of achieving this interest (by enforcing standards of judicial conduct, e.g.). The court said that the state's interests in saving money and ensuring stability and public confidence could be achieved in other ways, too, and that in any event they were outweighed by the severe restriction on the right to vote.

The ruling means that the state needs to come up with a different way to elect Marion County judges before the next election (in 2018). The ruling is a victory for the right to vote, but it's a victory for judicial independence, too, given that this strange system applied only to Marion County, suggesting a legislative power-play against the court system in the state's capital and largest city.

The state hasn't said whether it will seek en banc review or cert.

September 11, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

District Judge Says House of Representative Challenge to ACA Can Go Forward (in part)

Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled today that the U.S. House of Representatives has standing to pursue its claim that the administration spent money on a portion of the Affordable Care Act without a valid congressional appropriation. But at the same time, Judge Collyer ruled that the House lacked standing to sue for an administration decision to delay the time when employers have to provide minimum health insurance to their employees.

The split ruling means that the House's case against the administration for spending unappropriated funds can go forward, while the case for extending the time for the employer mandate cannot.

But Judge Collyer's ruling is certainly not the last word on this case. The government will undoubtedly appeal.

And just to be clear: this is not a ruling on the merits. It only says that a part of the case can go forward.

The case arose when the House authorized the Speaker to file suit in federal court against HHS Secretary Burwell and Treasury Secretary Lew for spending money on an ACA program without an appropriation and for unilaterally extending the statutory time for employers to comply with the employer mandate.

As to the spending claim, the House said that a provision of the ACA, Section 1402, which authorizes federal reimbursements to insurance companies for reducing the cost of insurance to certain eligible beneficiaries (as required by the ACA), never received a valid appropriation. That is, Congress never funded the provision. That's a problem, the House said, because Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . . ." In short, the administration's funding of Section 1402 violated the Constitution.

As to the employer mandate claim, the House said that the administration pushed back the employer mandate beyond December 31, 2013, the date set in the ACA, without congressional authorization. (The House couched this in constitutional terms, but, as Judge Collyer wrote, it's really essentially a statutory claim.)

The Secretaries filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing.

Judge Collyer denied the motion as to the appropriations theory, but granted it as to the employer mandate claim. According to Judge Collyer, the House could show an institutional harm from the administration's use of non-appropriated funds (because the Constitution itself specifies a role in appropriations for the Congress, which the House said that the administration ignored here, and because the claim isn't about the administration's execution of law). But at the same time she wrote that the House couldn't show a particular institutional harm for the administration's push-back for the employer mandate (because this claim was all about the administration's execution of the law--a role reserved under the Constitution to the executive). She explained:

Distilled to their essences, the Non-Appropriation Theory alleges that the Executive was unfaithful to the Constitution, while the Employer-Mandate Theory alleges that the Executive was unfaithful to a statute, the ACA. That is a critical distinction, inasmuch as the Court finds that the House has standing to assert the first but not the second.

As to the employer mandate claim, she said,

The [House's] argument proves too much. If it were accepted, every instance of an extra-statutory action by an Executive officer might constitute a cognizable constitutional violation, redressable by Congress through a lawsuit. Such a conclusion would contradict decades of administrative law and precedent, in which courts have guarded against "the specter of 'general legislative standing' based upon claims that the Executive Branch is misinterpreting a statute or the Constitution."

We'll watch this case on appeal.


September 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seventh Circuit (again, and again) Upholds Contraception Accommodation

The Seventh Circuit yet again upheld the ACA's accommodation to the contraception mandate for religious non-profits against a RFRA challenge. The decision last week in Grace Schools v. Burwell reversed a lower court's ruling that the challengers were likely to succeed on the merits. But the Seventh Circuit also kept the lower court's injunction in place for 60 days in order to allow the lower court to consider additional arguments made by the plaintiffs but not addressed in the appeal (a First Amendment claim and an Administrative Procedures Act claim). (These claims probably have even less traction than the RFRA claim.)

The ruling says that the government's accommodation to the contraception mandate for religious non-profits doesn't violate the RFRA. This is consistent with the rulings of every other circuit that's addressed the question.

Recall that the accommodation now allows a religious non-profit that objects to the contraception mandate either to complete a government form or to simply inform the government that it has a religious objection to the mandate. If so, the government then informs the non-profit's health insurer or third-party administrator that the insurer or TPA has to provide contraception directly to the non-profit's employees and students free of charge. (Insurers are happy to do this, by the way, because contraception coverage is cheaper for an insurer than not including contraception as part of an insurance package.)

Non-profits have sued, arguing (curiously) that the accommodation itself violates their religious freedom, because it makes them complicit in the provision of contraception. ("But for" their certification, they say, their insurers or TPAs wouldn't be required to provide contraception. Moreover, they claim a religious objection to doing business with insurers or TPAs who provide contraception to their employees, even if required by the government.)

This case zeroed in on the substantial burden requirement in RFRA. (In order to trigger RFRA's strict scrutiny, a government action must first create a substantial burden to a religious practice.) The challengers argued that the accommodation created a substantial burden on their religious practice (for the reasons mentioned above)--and that they, not the courts, got the final word on whether the accommodation was a substantial burden. (They claimed that Hobby Lobby said this.) This was the really important question in the case: Who gets to say whether a government action, as a legal matter, creates a substantial burden?

The Seventh Circuit panel flatly rejected the plaintiffs' arguments. The majority said what every other circuit has said: contraception is triggered by government regulation, not by the non-profit's exercise of the accommodation--and, importantly, that the courts, not the challengers, get to interpret how the law operates. Because there was no substantial burden, the majority didn't reach the question whether the accommodation satisfied RFRA's strict scrutiny.

Judge Manion dissented sharply, arguing that the majority misinterpreted the law and misunderstood how the accommodation actually worked. Judge Manion also argued that the accommodation failed strict scrutiny.

This case follows closely on a decision last week by the Tenth Circuit to deny en banc review of a panel's decision upholding the accommodation. That decision also came with a sharp dissent. It also follows the Seventh Circuit's own ruling in Notre Dame II, also (again) upholding the accommodation.

September 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Sharp Dissent in Little Sisters' Challenge to Contraception Mandate

The full Tenth Circuit today declined to grant an en banc rehearing of the panel's July 2015 ruling that HHS's religious accommodation to the ACA's contraception mandate violated statutory and First Amendment rights of Little Sisters of the Poor. We posted on the panel decision here.

No party called for an en banc rehearing; instead, the court decided sua sponte to consider it. But a majority voted no.

Judge Hartz wrote a dissent, joined by four other judges, arguing that the panel wrongly recast Little Sisters's religious beliefs. In particular, the dissent argued that the panel wrongly interpreted Little Sisters's belief "as being only opposition to facilitating the use and delivery of certain contraceptives to which they object." According to the dissent, "Under this reframing, the plaintiffs have no religious objection to executing the forms; it is just that executing the forms burdens their religious opposition to contraceptives."

Put another way, the panel majority may be saying that it is the court's prerogative to determine whether requiring the plaintiffs to execute the documents substantially burdens their core religious belief, regardless of whether the plaintiffs have a "derivative" religious belief that executing the documents is sinful. This is a dangerous approach to religious liberty.

Judge Hartz argued that "the doctrine of the panel majority will not long survive," because "[i]t is contrary to all precedent concerning the free exercise of religion."

If you're wondering how, under Judge Hartz's approach, an organization like Little Sisters might tell the government that it has a religious objection to the contraception mandate without violating its own religious beliefs (a question that stumped other courts: how can a religious accommodation itself violate free exercise?), Judge Hartz says that the dissent only goes to the "substantial burden" on religion (and thus triggers strict scrutiny). The certification might still satisfy strict scrutiny--a question that Judge Hartz would send back to the lower court on remand.

September 3, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Attorneys' Fees to Shelby County

The D.C. Circuit today denied attorneys' fees to Shelby County growing out of its successful challenge to the coverage formula for preclearance in the Voting Rights Act. But more importantly: A majority on the panel rejected Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the VRA.

The case arose out of Shelby County's motion for attorneys' fees after the Supreme Court struck Section 4 of the VRA, the coverage formula for preclearance, in Shelby County v. Holder. The VRA fee-shifting provision says,

In any action or proceeding to enforce the voting guarantees of the [F]ourteenth or [F]ifteenth [A]mendment, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable [attorneys'] fee, reasonable expert fees, and other reasonable litigation expenses as part of the costs.

But to win attorneys' fees, Shelby County had to show (1) that it was eligible for fees under the provision and (2) that it was entitled to them under Newman v. Piggie Park.

All three on the panel agreed that Shelby County wasn't entitled under Piggie Park. That's because "Shelby County's lawsuit did not facilitate enforcement of the VRA; it made enforcing the VRA's preclearance regime impossible." "Shelby County's argument boils down to the proposition that Congress introduced the fee-shifting provision into the VRA in 1975 with the express goal of inducing a private party to bring a lawsuit to neuter the Act's central tool. But that makes no sense." (Emphasis in original.) That was enough to deny attorneys' fees.

But that's also where the case gets interesting. On the eligibility prong, Shelby County argued that it was eligible for fees under the statute, because it prevailed in an action to enforce the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that these guarantees include "the structural rights of the states." That last part is a bold departure from the plain language of the amendments and any cases interpreting them; it assumes that the amendments contain some (unenumerated) version of states' rights, which, in turn, could limit the amendments' protection of individual voting rights.

The court left that question open. Judge Griffith, writing for the court, dodged it by relying only on the Piggie Park prong. Judge Silberman, in concurrence, seemed (more or less) to agree (at least on this point). Only Judge Tatel specifically took on Shelby County's reading. Judge Tatel wrote that the question was simple: "Obviously, neither of these [amendments] includes any guarantees of state autonomy over voting. . . . The two Amendments thus 'guarantee' not state autonomy, but rather the right of citizens to vote, and they expressly guarantee that right against state interference."

The upshot is that the court appears to have left Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on the table, an open question. This means that the Supreme Court could step in and answer it--it Shelby County's favor. (And given the Court's states' rights approach in the original case, this seems like a possibility.)

Still, the court's reasoning on Piggie Park is extremely thorough, and seems written to insulate the ruling against Supreme Court reversal.


September 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ninth Circuit OKs Jesus Statute on Public Land

A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit today upheld a U.S. Forest Service decision to renew a permit for the Knights of Columbus's Jesus statute on public land. The ruling means that Jesus stays on the USFS's Big Mountain.

Judge Owens wrote that the statute didn't violate the Establishment Clause, because the USFS's decision to renew the statute's permit reflected a primarily secular purpose (despite its portrayal of Jesus), and because USFS's permit didn't endorse religion. (According to Judge Owens, several factors suggest that the permit didn't endorse religion, including "the flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statute [including] decorating it in mardi gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as [mountain-goers] ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures.") Judge Owens also distinguished Trunk v. City of San Diego, where the court ruled that a giant cross violated the Establishment Clause.

Judge N.R. Smith concurred, but argued that the case should be analyzed as private speech in a public forum. Judge Smith wrote that the permit should be upheld so long as the government didn't discriminate in granting it, and it didn't. Moreover, the Knights (not the government) maintains the statute.

Judge Pregerson dissented, arguing that "a twelve-foot tall statute of Jesus situated on government-leased land cannot realistically be looked upon as 'predominantly secular in nature,'" and that "a 'reasonable observer would perceive' the statute situated on government land 'as projecting a message of religious endorsement.'"

September 1, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ninth Circuit Upholds Federal Ban on Federal Inmate Sexual Assault

The Ninth Circuit yesterday upheld federal laws criminalizing sexual assaults in facilities where federal inmates are held by agreement with state and local governments. The ruling is a baby-step extension of United States v. Comstock, the Court's 2010 case holding that Congress had authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to authorize civil detention of "sexually dangerous" federal prisoners beyond their term of imprisonment. It's a baby-step beyond Comstock, because these laws have the added feature that they operate within state and local detention facilities--where the federal government contracts to hold federal inmates.

Sabil Mujahid brought the facial claim against the federal statutes, arguing that they exceeded Congress's authority and ran afoul of the Tenth Amendment. The provisions criminalized sexual assault "in any prison, institution, or facility in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the Attorney General." By its plain terms, the provision outlaws sexual assault by non-federal inmates in these facilities, too, but Mujahid is a federal inmate, and the court limited its ruling to federal inmates.

The court, applying Comstock, flatly rejected Mujahid's claims. In short:

Like the civil commitment statute in Comstock, [these statutes] are not facially unconstitutional; they are "a 'necessary and proper' means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others. See Comstock.

As I said, the court specifically did not rule on the statutes as applied to state inmates in these same facilities. That question may raise more complicated issues (but just slightly).

August 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Court Tosses Klayman Case Alleging Harm from Administration Payments to Hamas

The D.C. District tossed Larry Klayman's case against President Obama, administration officials, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and others for allegedly funneling money to Hamas, which, according to Klayman, used that money to assault Klayman and seven anonymous plaintiffs were in Israel in 2014.

Klayman alleged several counts, including RICO, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the FTCA, and barely (and badly) pleaded Bivens claim. The court tossed them all, citing various immunities.

The 40-page ruling ends the case, unless and until appealed (where Klayman would almost surely lose again).

August 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

D.C. District Applies Reporter's Privilege to Non-Confidential Information

Judge Amit Mehta (D.D.C.) on Friday granted a reporter's motion to quash a subpoena by a drug manufacturer for non-confidential information related to the reporter's article recounting a critical study on one of the manufacturer's cancer drugs. (This was a bit piece of a larger shareholder class-action against the manufacturer, Amgen.)

The ruling applied the reporter's privilege under the First Amendment to non-confidential information in a civil suit. That part of the ruling aligns with other circuits that have ruled on the issue, even though the D.C. Circuit has yet to rule on it.

Judge Mehta also concluded that Amgen did not sufficiently seek the information through other sources before it issued its subpoena to reporter Paul Goldberg.

August 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Missouri Court Upholds Ban on Felon Gun Possession

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled this week that the state's ban on felon gun possession did not violate the state constitutional right to bear arms. The ruling is notable, because it applied strict scrutiny, but nevertheless upheld the gun possession restriction.

The Missouri Constitution, article I, section 23, read as follows (at the time of the defendant's conviction for possessing a gun in violation of the state's ban on felon possession):

That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questions; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.

But the provision was amended during the appeal. The amended provision added "ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal functioning of such arms" to the right to keep and bear arms; it added "family" to the list of things that a citizen can bear arms to protect; it struck the limitation on concealed carry; and it added language strengthening the right (explicitly subjecting it to strict scrutiny), but permitting restrictions on felons and individuals adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others because of a "mental disorder or mental infirmity."

Still, the court said that the previous provision applied, because the defendant was convicted before the amendment took force.

The court held that under article I, section 23, strict scrutiny applied to restrictions on gun possession. But the state's ban on felon possession satisfied even that highest level of constitutional review:

The State has a compelling interest in ensuring public safety and reducing firearm-related crime. Prohibiting felons from possessing firearms is narrowly tailored to that interest because "[i]t is well-established that felons are more likely to commit crimes than are other law abiding citizens."

The ruling means that there are possession restrictions that satisfy strict scrutiny under Missouri state con law--at least the old Missouri state con law. It's not clear how far this might extend, however, given that the new version of article I, section 23, goes to lengths to specify that strict scrutiny applies to possession restrictions and lists just two specific exceptions.

August 19, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Divided D.C. Circuit Again Finds Conflict Minerals Disclosure Violates the First Amendment

In its opinion on rehearing, a divided panel of the DC Circuit in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n has held that 15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E), part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, requiring a company to disclose if its products were not "DRC conflict free" violated the First Amendment. 

Rough diamonds from DRC via

In its previous decision more than a year ago in National Association of Manufacturers (NAM),  a majority of the same panel, in an opinion authored by Senior Judge Raymond Randolph and joined by Senior Judge David Sentelle, found the conflict mineral disclosure was a First Amendment violation.  In that 2014 opinion, Judge Srinivasan dissented on the First Amendment issue and contended that this opinion should be held in abeyance "pending the en banc court’s decision" in American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, regarding a  First Amendment challenge to requiring country of origin labeling (COOL) of meat and meat products.  In the DC Circuit's en banc opinion a year ago, a divided court upheld the constitutionality of the COOL requirements.  The rehearing of the conflict minerals disclosure was prompted by that intervening en banc decision in American Meat Institute (AMI).  The panel majority essentially concluded that its mind was not changed by en banc opinion. [Neither of the senior judges in the panel majority participated in the en banc opinion in AMI].

Central to the controversies in both NAM and AMI is a choice of precedent: should the constitutionality of the labeling requirements be analyzed under  Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel  or under the more demanding standard of Central Hudson v. Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York.  The DC Circuit's divided en banc opinion in AMI found that Zauderer should be applied.  In this rehearing in NAM, the panel majority (again) found that Zauderer had no applicability, but, as the opinion states, "for a different reason."  However, in sum this panel majority found that Zauderer is limited to "advertisements" at point of sale and seemed to contradict AMI.     

The panel majority did "hedge its bets":

But given the flux and uncertainty of the First Amendment doctrine of commercial speech,15 and the conflict in the circuits regarding the reach of Zauderer,  we think it prudent to add an alternative ground for our decision. It is this. Even if the compelled disclosures here are commercial speech and even if AMI’s view of Zauderer governed the analysis, we still believe that the statute and the regulations violate the First Amendment.

In applying Central Hudson, the panel majority found that the disclosure of conflict minerals has a merely speculative relationship to addressing the interest of the government in ameliorating conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a source of such minerals.  Instead, the disclosure is akin to political propaganda.  The majority interestingly cites George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four for its passages regarding government redefinition ("WAR IS PEACE"), and concludes that the disclosure is not only not factual but also controversial: it compels "an issuer to confess blood on its hands." 

In dissent, Judge Srinivasan argues that any Scarlet Letter comparison is inapt: "requiring a company to disclose product information in the commercial marketplace is not the same as requiring Hester Prynne to “show [her] scarlet letter in the [town] market- place.”  He asserts that the majority is misreading Zauderer and that the en banc opinion in AMI controls.  Interestingly, he also contends that to the extent the court is requiring "proof" that disclosure of conflict minerals be linked to amelioration of the DRC conflict, the court should be deferring to executive judgments in this commercial context at least as much as the Court did in the political speech context involved in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. 

It seems likely that government attorneys are preparing its en banc petition. 

August 19, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Texas Rolls Dice, and Loses Attorneys' Fees in Voting Rights Case

The D.C. Circuit today upheld the district court's award of over a million dollars in attorneys fees to three intervenors in Texas's lawsuit seeking preclearance for its re-drawn legislative maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The ruling is a significant victory for the intervenors in this complicated case that involved challenges to Texas's redistricting maps in two simultaneous lawsuits under two different provisions of the VRA, Supreme Court intervention, and the Shelby County case itself.

Recall that the Fifth Circuit rejected claims for attorneys' fees in the companion case out of San Antonio just last spring.

The case started when Texas re-drew its congressional and state legislative districts after the 2010 census. Texas sought preclearance in the D.C. District, while opponents of the new maps filed their own Section 2 claim in the Western District of Texas (the San Antonio case).

Because the preclearance suit was not resolved in time for the 2012 primaries and general election, the San Antonio court imposed interim maps. The D.C. district court then denied preclearance (to all three maps--congressional, and both state house maps), and Texas appealed to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Texas legislature adopted maps largely mirroring the San Antonio court's maps, and an intervenor moved the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal as moot.

The Supreme Court then issued Shelby County, striking the VRA's Section 4, the coverage formula, but preserving Section 5's preclearance requirement (although it had (and has) no effect without Section 4's coverage formula).

One day later, Governor Perry signed the legislature's plans into law.

The Supreme Court then vacated the D.C. district court's order denying preclearance and "remanded for further consideration in light of Shelby County v. Holder * * * and the suggestion of mootness" of one of the intervenor groups.

The district court dismissed the case, concluding that Texas's "claims were mooted by Shelby County and the adoption of superseding redistricting plans."

The internors filed for attorneys' fees, arguing that they were "prevailing parties," because the original district court denied preclearance and Texas re-drew its maps. Texas filed a three-page "Advisory" declaring that it was the prevailing party based on Shelby County and that it wouldn't respond to the intervenors' motions for attorneys' fees "unless directed to do so by the Court."

In short, the state said that Shelby County (a different case entirely, litigated by different parties, and involving issues (the constitutionality of the VRA, which was not at issue in the Texas preclearance case) alone meant that Texas prevailed in its preclearance case. But Texas did not respond to the intervenors' argument that Texas's repeal of its original maps, and the mootness it caused before the Supreme Court vacated the denial of preclearance, rendered them prevailing parties.

Texas's move was a gamble, especially in light of district rules saying that an opponent to a motion has to file an opposition and that the court could treat any argument not made as conceded. 

The district court rejected Texas's "Advisory" and ordered attorneys' fees. The D.C. Circuit today affirmed.

The D.C. Circuit held that Texas was wrong on its Shelby County claim--that Shelby County alone couldn't make Texas a prevailing party in its Section 5 case--and that under district rules Texas waived any argument that the intervenors didn't prevail by virtue of the district court's denial of preclearance and Texas altering its maps.

In other words, Texas's gamble in filing its "Advisory," and then again in not addressing the arguments in its opening brief on appeal, backfired.

The ruling upholds the district court's award of attorneys' fees to the Davis Intervenors ($466,680.36), the Gonzales Intervenors ($597,715.60) and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches ($32,374.05).

August 18, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

PETA Has Standing to Challenge Agency Inaction on Bird Regulation

The D.C. Circuit ruled this week in PETA v. USDA that the animal-rights organization had standing to challenge the USDA's decade-long foot-dragging in regulating birds under the Animal Welfare Act. But at the same time, the court ruled against PETA on the merits. The case means that PETA's claim is dismissed; it's a significant set-back in the effort to get the USDA to regulate birds under the AWA.

PETA alleged that the USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to write avian-specific animal welfare regulations under the AWA. PETA argued that the agency "unlawfully withheld" action in violation of section 706(1) of the APA. The USDA moved to dismiss for lack of standing and on the merits.

The D.C. Circuit ruled that PETA had organizational standing, because the USDA's inaction prevented PETA from protecting birds. The court explained:

Because PETA's alleged injuries--denial of access to bird-related AWA information including, in particular, investigatory information, and a means by which to seek redress for bird abuse--are "concrete and specific to the work in which they are engaged," we find that PETA has alleged a cognizable injury sufficient to support standing. In other words, the USDA's allegedly unlawful failure to apply the AWA's general animal welfare regulations to birds has "perceptibly impaired [PETA's] ability" to both bring AWA violations to the attention of the agency charged with preventing avian cruelty and continue to educate the public. Because PETA has expended resources to counter these injuries, it has established Article III organizational standing.

But even as the court said that PETA had standing, it ruled in favor of the USDA on the merits. The ruling means that PETA's complaint against the agency is dismissed.

August 12, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

No Appointments Problem with Re-Constituted Board's Copyright Ruling

The D.C. Circuit ruled that the new Copyright Royalty Board, reconstituted after the court previously held that the old Board violated the Appointments Clause, did not itself violate the Appointments Clause after it came to the same decision as the old Board using the same record. The ruling upholds the new Board's decision to impose a $500 per station or per channel annual minimum fee for collegiate Internet radio stations.

The Copyright Royalty Board was originally composed of three Copyright Royalty Judges who were appointed by the Librarian of Congress and could only be removed for cause. The Board imposed the $500 fee on webcasters in 2011. Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, a nonprofit that represents college and high school radio stations, challenged the fee, arguing that the Board violated the Appointments Clause. The D.C. Circuit agreed, ruling that the judges had sufficient authority and independence to qualify as principal officers, thus requiring Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. The court cured the defect by severing the statutory provision that barred the Librarian of Congress from removing the judges without cause.

The Librarian then replaced the Board with new members. The new Board decided to re-determine the copyright terms based on the existing record (the one that the parties established with the original Board) and to review the record de novo. The new Board issued the same $500 fee, and Intercollegiate again appealed.

This time Intercollegiate argued that the new Board was tainted by the old Board's decision, and thus the new Board also violated the Appointments Clause. The court flatly rejected this argument. Among other things, the court noted that the parties themselves set the record with the old Board, and the new Board re-decided the case on its own terms, without taint from the original Board.

The ruling is consistent with circuit law that a body reconstituted to comply with the Appointments Clause does violate the Appointments Clause simply because the original body did.

August 11, 2015 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Second Circuit is Latest Court to Reject Challenge to Contraception Mandate Accommodation

The Second Circuit this week became the latest court to reject religious organizations' challenge to the religious accommodation to the ACA's contraception mandate. The Second Circuit joined six other circuits in rejecting the surprising claim that a barely burdensome religious accommodation itself violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

We posted most recently on the Tenth Circuit's ruling here.

With seven circuits now rejecting the novel claim (with no circuit accepting it), and with the accommodation designed around a Supreme Court order, one might reasonably wonder why plaintiffs keep bringing and appealing these cases. Surely they have better things to do with their time and money than to bring such transparently harassing and abusive claims. (Indeed, one might wonder: At what point should a court consider Rule 11 sanctions?) Still . . . .

The Second Circuit ruling is comprehensive and well analyzed, concluding that the accommodation (to simply notify HHS, either by form, or by letter) isn't substantially burdensome. But after 47 pages, here's the gist:

The burden that the accommodation places on Plaintiffs is merely one notification, equivalent to the burden historically placed on draft registrants to indicate their conscientious objections to military service. Once Plaintiffs avail themselves of the simple, non-burdensome means of opting out, the regulations do not require them to play any role in the provision of contraceptive coverage or to suffer punishments for not doing so. To the contrary, the accommodation relieves them of providing contraceptive coverage, and instead enlists third-party administrators to provide such coverage. If a regulatory scheme that might otherwise violate an objecting individual's rights under RFRA allows the objector to exempt himself from compliance via a simple, non-burdensome act of notification, there is no substantial burden. Furthermore, subsequent regulation of non-objecting parties in a manner that an objecting party finds offensive does not transform the act of opting out into a cognizable substantial burden. The rights conferred by the First Amendment and RFRA do not include a right to have the government or third parties behave in a manner that comports with an individual's religious beliefs.

August 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

D.C. Circuit Rebuffs Challenge to NLRB for Expired Appointment

The D.C. Circuit ruled in Dodge of Naperville v. NLRB that the NLRB's finding of an unfair labor practice against the petitioner was valid, and that the Board didn't lack quorum to act in the waning days of Member Craig Becker's recess appointment.

The ruling means that the NLRB's finding stands.

The petitioners challenged the NLRB finding on the merits and based on the NLRB's lack of quorum at the time it issued its finding. As to the latter, the petitioners argued that the NLRB had only two members (one shy of quorum) when it issued its opinion on January 3, 2012, because the appointment of Member Becker (who was recess appointed in the second session of the 111th Congress) expired on December 17, 2011. That's the date when the Senate agree to adjourn and convene for pro forma sessions only every Tuesday and Friday until January 23, 2012.

But the court flatly rejected this argument. The court said that Member Becker's appoint was valid until "the end of their next session"--that is, until noon on January 2, 2012.  The court, citing Noel Canning, said that "the end of an annual session is triggered by a recess only if the Senate adjourns sine die--that is, without specifying a date to return." But under the Senate's adjournment plan, the body convened every few days after December 17, making the short breaks between meetings intra-session recesses--and not end-points for the prior session.

The court rejected the petitioners' argument that maybe the Board's opinion issued after noon on January 3, because the petitioner only raised this point for the first time on reply.

August 5, 2015 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Southern District Rebuffs Citizens United's Speech Claim

Judge Sidney Stein (SDNY) this week denied Citizens United's motion to preliminarily enjoin the New York Attorney General from enforcing his policy of requiring registered charities to disclose the names, addresses, and total contributions of their major donors.

The ruling, which follows a similar Ninth Circuit ruling this past spring, is a blow to the organization's efforts to keep their donors secret through the 501(c) form. But it does not mean that Citizen United's donors will be available to all of us: both the IRS and the state AG refuse to disclose the names of donors.

The case tests the AG's rule that charities registered in the state provide to the state AG their Schedule B to IRS Form 990. Schedule B includes names of persons who donate over $5,000 to a charity. Citizens United, a 501(c) organization, challenged the rule, arguing that it violated free speech, and due process, among other claims, and filed for a preliminary injunction.

Judge Stein rejected the motion, saying that Citizens United was unlikely to win on the merits. As to the free speech claim, Judge Stein wrote that the AG's rule bears a substantial relation to the sufficiently important government interest in enforcing charitable solicitation laws and protecting state residents from illegitimate charities, and that the strength of the state's interest justified the minimal burden on the organization. Judge Stein also concluded that the rule was not an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, because the rule "sets forth 'narrow, objective, and definite standards' that cabin the Attorney General's exercise of discretion.'" Finally, Judge Stein rejected Citizens United's claim that the rule came without warning and thus violated due process, because in fact the rule did nothing new. (Judge Stein also rejected the non-constitutional claims.)

But while Judge Stein's ruling rejected Citizens United's motion to stop the state AG from enforcing the rule for now, nothing in the ruling compels the public release of the organization's major donors. Indeed, the ruling hinges on the fact that New York law and IRS regs both bar the public release of Schedule B. The ruling only allows the state AG to collect this information for the purpose of ferreting out charitable fraud and related crimes.

July 30, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2015

D.C. Circuit OKs Case Against Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled that a case challenging the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can move forward. At the same time, the court dismissed claims against Dodd-Frank's Financial Stability Oversight Council and the government's orderly liquidation authority.

The mixed ruling sends the plaintiffs' case against the CFPB and the recess appointment of Director Richard Cordray back to the district court for a ruling on the merits. We'll undoubtedly see this case back at the D.C. Circuit.

We last posted on a challenge to the CFPB here. (The D.C. Circuit dismissed that case for lack of standing.)

The State National Bank of Big Spring and a number of states brought the case, arguing four points. First, the Bank argued that the CFPB is unconstitutional, because, as an independent agency, it has to be headed by multiple members, not a single director (as it is). Moreover, the bank says that Congress's delegation to the CFPB violates the non-delegation doctrine.

Second, the Bank argues that President Obama appointed Director Cordray as a recess appointment during a three-day intra-session Senate recess, in violation of Noel Canning. (Cordray was subsequently confirmed by the Senate, but the Bank says his actions in the meantime are invalid.)

Third, the Bank claims that the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which monitors the stability of the U.S. financial system and responds to emerging threats and has statutory authority to designate certain "too big to fail" financial companies for additional regulation, violates the non-delegation doctrine and related separation-of-powers principles.

Finally, the states claim that Dodd-Frank's liquidation authority, which permits the government to liquidate failing financial companies that pose a risk to financial stability, violates the non-delegation doctrine and the Bankruptcy Clause's guarantee of uniform bankruptcy laws.

The court held that the bank, as an entity actually regulated by the CFPB, had standing. The court also said that the bank's claims were ripe, under Abbott Labs and Free Enterprise Fund (the PCAOB case).

But the court ruled that the Bank lacked standing to challenge the Council. In particular, it rejected the Bank's novel claim that the Bank was harmed because the Council designated one of the Bank's competitors as "too big to fail," thus giving the competitor a "reputational subsidy."

The court also held that the states lacked standing to challenge the government's liquidation authority. The states said that they invested pension funds in financial companies, that states are therefore creditors in possible future liquidations, that such liquidations could deprive the states of uniform treatment, and that as a result the states' current investments are worth less. The court said this was too speculative.

July 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Nondelegation Doctrine, Ripeness, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tenth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Contraception Mandate

The Tenth Circuit today rejected statutory and First Amendment challenges to HHS's religious accommodation to its contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. We most recently posted on the issue, in the Notre Dame case in the Seventh Circuit, here.

The plaintiffs in the case--Little Sisters of the Poor, Southern Nazarene, and Reaching Souls--argued that the HHS requirement that they notify their health insurance providers, third party insurers, or HHS (with a simple letter) in order to get out from under the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, free exercise and establishment of religion, and free speech.

The Tenth Circuit rejected the claims. In a lengthy opinion that comes with its own glossary and table of contents, the court ruled that it wasn't the plaintiffs' accommodation (the notification of their objection) that triggered the provision of contraceptions; it was the law. (Judge Posner arrived at the same conclusion with more colorful language in the Notre Dame case.) Given this, there was no substantial burden on religion under RFRA. Moreover, the court said that the accommodation met rational basis review under the Free Exercise Clause, that it didn't discriminate between religions and religious organizations in violation of the Establishment Clause, and that the accommodation didn't amount to compelled speech under the First Amendment.

July 14, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)