Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Governor Looks to Constitutional Amendment to Undo Court Ruling on Pensions

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is looking to amend the state constitution to give the state more flexibility in cutting state worker pensions, according to the Herald & Review. Rauner's idea came in reaction to the state supreme court ruling last week holding that state efforts to cut state pensions violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

Still, an amendment is unlikely to occur, at least anytime soon. The Illinois Constitution requires a 3/5 vote of state lawmakers in both houses. But the Democratic-controlled state legislature is unlikely to approve any pension amendment at all, much less by this kind of super-majority. Even if the state legislature approved a measure, it'd need to be approved by 3/5 of the voters voting on the measure, or a majority voting in the election.

This is just the latest effort of Governor Rauner to re-make constitutions. Recall that he earlier issued an executive order cutting public-sector union fair-share fees, and filed a preemptive suit against the unions seeking to get mandatory public sector fair share fees declared unconstitutional. This bold move anticipates that the Supreme Court is ready to overturn Abood--a First Amendment mainstay that says that states can require fair share in the interests of preventing free riders and promoting labor peace. Given the Court's recent rulings, Rauner is probably right that Abood is on the chopping block. Still, his very aggressive suit is designed only to hasten Abood's demise.

May 13, 2015 in Comparative Constitutionalism, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Illinois Has a Pension Protection Clause, and it Really Means What it Says

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's efforts to cut public pensions violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

The case means that the state can't balance its budget on the backs of state workers who are members of a public retirement system. It also means that the state supreme court takes the state constitutional Pension Clause seriously.

The case arose after the state legislature, and former Governor Quinn signed, Senate Bill 1 in late 2013. Senate Bill 1, which became Public Act 98-599, cut state workers' public pension benefits in several ways. State workers sued, arguing, among other things that the cuts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

The Pension Protection Clause says that "[m]embership in any pension or retirement system of the State *** shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." The Clause was added in the 1970 constitution in order to protect state workers from pension cuts in a system that had been (and since has been) chronically underfunded.

The Illinois high court's ruling says that the Clause means what it says. In fact, the court said exactly that: "We held in [Kanerva v. Weems] that the clause means precisely what it says." And this means that "once an individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual." The court called the question "easily resolved."

The court also rejected the state's argument that its fiscal situation is so dire that it has to dip into public pension funds by using its "reserved sovereign powers." The court said that things might be bad, but they've been bad before, and will be bad again. It's no reason to violate the Pension Protection Clause. The court also said that other provisions of the 1970 constitution contained limitations or suspension provisions; not so the Public Pension Clause.

May 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Contract Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Canadian Supreme Court Finds Opening Prayer at Town Meeting Unconstitutional

In a case with similarities to Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway decided by the United States Supreme Court last year, the Supreme Court of Canada today rendered its judgment in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) finding that a prayer at a municipal council meeting violated the constitution.

MapleleafAs the Court explains the underlying facts:

S regularly attended the public meetings of the municipal council of the City of Saguenay [Quebec]. At the start of each meeting, the mayor would recite a prayer after making the sign of the cross while saying [translation] “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. The prayer also ended with the sign of the cross and the same words. Other councillors and City officials would cross themselves at the beginning and end of the prayer as well. In one of the council chambers, there was a Sacred Heart statue fitted with a red electric votive light. In another, there was a crucifix hanging on the wall. S, who considers himself an atheist, felt uncomfortable with this display, which he considered religious, and asked the mayor to stop the practice. When the mayor refused, S complained to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. He argued that his freedom of conscience and religion was being infringed, contrary to ss. 3 and 10 of the Quebec Charter, and asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that all religious symbols be removed from council chambers.

The original Tribunal found the practice unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeal held that the prayer "expressed universal values" and "could not be identified with any particular religion."  It also reasoned that the "religious symbols were works of art that were devoid of religious connotation and did not affect the state’s neutrality." According to the Court of Appeal, S had not been discriminated against on the ground of freedom of conscience and religion; any interference with S's beliefs was "trivial or insubstantial."

While some of the issues before the Supreme Court of Canada involved procedural ones regarding the appeal, the Court was clear that the municipality's practice was unconstitutional.  Similar to an analysis under the US Constitution's First Amendment, the Supreme Court of Canada grappled with issues such as hostility to religion and the "slippery slope" of other religious practices:

The prayer recited by the municipal council in breach of the state’s duty of neutrality resulted in a distinction, exclusion and preference based on religion — that is, based on S’s sincere atheism — which, in combination with the circumstances in which the prayer was recited, turned the meetings into a preferential space for people with theistic beliefs. The latter could participate in municipal democracy in an environment favourable to the expression of their beliefs. Although non‑believers could also participate, the price for doing so was isolation, exclusion and stigmatization. This impaired S’s right to exercise his freedom of conscience and religion. The attempt at accommodation provided for in the by‑law, namely giving those who preferred not to attend the recitation of the prayer the time they needed to re‑enter the council chamber, had the effect of exacerbating the discrimination. The Tribunal’s findings to the effect that the interference with S’s freedom of conscience and religion was more than trivial or insubstantial were supported by solid evidence, and deference is owed to the Tribunal’s assessment of the effect of the prayer on S’s freedom of conscience and religion.

  Barring the municipal council from reciting the prayer would not amount to giving atheism and agnosticism prevalence over religious beliefs. There is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another. Moreover, it has not been established in this case that the prayer is non‑denominational. The Tribunal’s findings of fact instead tend toward the opposite result. Be that as it may, the respondents themselves conceded at the hearing that the prayer is nonetheless a religious practice. Even if it is said to be inclusive, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers. As for the proposed analogy to the prayer recited by the Speaker of the House of Commons, in the absence of evidence concerning that prayer, it would be inappropriate to use it to support a finding that the City’s prayer is valid. Finally, the reference to the supremacy of God in the preamble to the Canadian Charter cannot lead to an interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion that authorizes the state to consciously profess a theistic faith. The preamble articulates the political theory on which the Charter’s protections are based. The express provisions of the Canadian Charter and of the Quebec Charter, such as those regarding freedom of conscience and religion, must be given a generous and expansive interpretation. This is necessary to ensure that those to whom these charters apply enjoy the full benefit of the rights and freedoms, and that the purpose of the charters is attained.

The Court explicitly linked the state's duty of neutrality - - - akin to the First Amendment's (anti-)Establishment Clause - - - to the maintenance of a free and democratic society. "This pursuit requires the state to encourage everyone to participate freely in public life regardless of their beliefs."  This principle may have special resonance when one considers the largely French (and Catholic) Quebec as compared to the other largely English (and Protestant) other provinces.

Current-judges

Unlike the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Town of Greece, the Supreme Court of Canada's judgment is not closely divided; only one Justice writes separately to discuss some of the procedural issues, but otherwise concurs.  For US ConLawProfs, City of Saguenay is well worth a comparative read.

 

April 15, 2015 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Massachusetts Extends Right to Counsel in Private Guardianship

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a parent in a private guardianship proceeding is entitled to counsel as a matter of due process. (The court previously ruled that a parent in a private adoption proceeding enjoyed that same right.) The case provides a categorical right to counsel under Massachusetts law, and thus stands in contrast to the case-by-case approach to a parent's federal due process right to counsel in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services.

The case, Guardianship of V.V., involved a guardianship proceeding between a minor's mother and great-grandmother. The mother was not initially represented by counsel when the lower courts awarded guardianship to the great-grandmother, although the mother obtained a lawyer later in the proceedings.

By the time the Supreme Judicial Court had a chance to rule, the case had become moot. That's because the minor was back with the mother. (The court said that the case was not moot on account of the mother obtaining a lawyer later in the proceeding. The court said the point was that the mother didn't have an attorney at the initial guardianship proceeding.) Still, the court said that the issue was capable of repetition but evading review--that it was an issue sure to come up again, and, because of the quick turn-around in guardianship cases, likely to evade appellate review.

The court held that the weighty interests and due process considerations in guardianship proceedings meant that parties to a guardianship proceeding had a categorical right to counsel. The court also noted that the state, by statute, provided counsel to parties to a guardianship proceeding where the state is a party, and that the same interests are at stake in a private guardianship proceeding.

February 10, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Japan's Abe Plans to Revise Pacifist Constitution

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been making noises about revising the country's pacifist constitution--and this time not just in the interpretation. The talk comes in the wake of, and in apparent reaction to, the recent killings of two Japanese hostages by ISIS.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the pacifist provision, reads:

Renunciation of War. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Recall that PM Abe previously interpreted Article 9 to allow collective self-defense. This time, the buzz is that Abe will move to amend the text.

The Japan Times reports here.

February 5, 2015 in Comparative Constitutionalism, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Right to Strike in Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that the Saskatchewan Public Service Essential Services Act (PSESA), which limited the ability of public sector employees who perform essential services to strike, violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the same time, the court upheld an act that increased the level of required written support, and reduced the time period for receiving support, to certify a union.

In striking the PSESA, the court held that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2(d), free association,  protects a fundamental right to strike, and that the PSESA wasn't saved by Section 1, the "reasonable limits" provision. The court wrote that the right to strike is "an indispensable component of" the right to bargain collectively, and "essential to realizing" the values of "human dignity, equality, liberty, and respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy." The court also noted that "international obligations also mandate protecting the right to strike . . . ."

The court said that the breach of Section 2(d) wasn't justified by Section 1, which "guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in [the Charter] subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." The court wrote that the maintenance of essential public services is obviously "pressing and substantial," but that the PSESA wasn't sufficiently tailored. In particular, the court said that the PSESA allows too much given in defining "essential services" and the employees who perform them.

Two justices dissented, arguing that the political branches should have the flexibility to determine the scope of workers' ability to strike.

February 3, 2015 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, First Amendment, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nebraska Supremes Uphold Keystone Law

The Nebraska Supreme Court today upheld the state law delegating authority to the governor to approve the Keystone pipeline and to use eminent domain to access land along the pipeline route. The ruling does not affect fight in Washington, however, where today the House passed a bill to approve the pipeline, and where President Obama promised to veto it.

The Nebraska case arose out of a Nebraska law that delegated to the governor the power to approve the pipeline. (The former governor did so.) Taxpayers sued, arguing that the law violated the state constitution.

Four (of seven) judges agreed. They said that the law violated a state constitutional provision that reserves to the Public Service Commission this kind of decision. That provision says,

There shall be a Public Service Commission . . . . The powers and duties of such commission shall include the regulation of rates, service and general control of common carriers as the Legislature may provide by law. But, in the absence of specific legislation, the commission shall exercise the powers and perform the duties enumerated in this provision.

The four judges wrote that "we have held that the PSC has 'independent legislative, judicial, and executive or administrative powers' over common carriers, which powers are plenary and self-executing." Moreover, "specific legislation" means "specific restrictions," not "general legislation to divest the PSC of its jurisdiction and transfer its powers to another governmental entity besides the legislature." Thus the legislative delegation over Keystone to the governor improperly intruded upon the power of the PSC under the state constitution.

But under another state constitutional provision, four judges aren't enough to rule a law unconstitutional. The state constitution requires a super-majority of five (of seven) judges to rule a law unconstitutional. So even though a majority held the delegation unconstitutional, it's not. That means the law stays in place, the delegation is good, and the governor's action approving Keystone is untouched.

Before ruling on the merits, the court also ruled on taxpayer standing. The same four judges that argued that the delegation was unconstitutional also held that taxpayers had standing. (The other three argued that there was no standing, and that the standing decision also required a super-majority.) The court invoked its "great public concern" exception to the general rule against taxpayer standing. Under that exception, the court can take up a taxpayer case when it involves an issue of "the Legislature's obedience to the fundamental distribution of power in this state": "when a taxpayer claims that the Legislature enacted a Law that undermines the fundamental limitations on government powers under the Nebraska Constitution, this court has full power and the responsibility to address the public rights raised by a challenge to that act." The "great public concern" exception gives the Nebraska courts more leeway in taking up taxpayer cases than the Supreme Court's standing rules under Article III.

 

January 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, News, Separation of Powers, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Montana Supremes Grant Right to Counsel in Private Adoption, Termination Cases

The Montana Supreme Court ruled in In the Matter of the Adoption of AWS and KRS that state constitutionaly equal protection guaranteed the right to counsel for an indigent mother in a private termination-of-parental rights proceeding.

The ruling means that poor parents in Montana now have a constitutional right to an appointed attorney to represent them in private cases (like adoptions) involving the termination of their parental rights.

The ruling also illustrates how state constitutional rights can be more generous than federal constitutional rights. (Under Lassiter v. Dep't of Social Services, there is no categorical constitutional right to counsel in a termination proceeding under the Fourteenth Amendment.)

The Supreme Court applied Montana state constitutional equal protection, which the court said "provides even more individual protection than the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

The court noted that parents subject to state-initiated termination of parental rights (as in an abuse-and-neglect proceeding) have a state statutory right to counsel, but that parents subject to private termination of parental rights (as in an adoption, as in this case) don't. Because the underlying right--the right to parent--is fundamental, the court applied strict scrutiny to the distinction.

The court said that the only reason for not providing counsel in the private termination case was money. And that's not a sufficiently important state interest under strict scrutiny. So the indigent parent in a private termination case gets an attorney, too, as a matter of state constitutional equal protection.

The court suggested that an attorney in a state-initiated termination proceeding might be constitutionally compelled, or at least the issue raises a serious constitutional question, under the Montana constitution. (Under the Fourteenth Amendment and Lassiter v. Dep't of Social Services, there is no categorical constitutional right to counsel, and the answer depends on a Mathews v. Eldridge balancing.) This means that the state legislature can't solve the equal protection problem by taking away the statutory right to counsel for parents in a state-initiated termination proceeding; instead, it has to ratchet-up the rights of parents in a private termination proceeding.

For more information on civil right to counsel, or Civil Gideon, check out the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, an outstanding organization that is the clearinghouse for the excellent work in this area.

December 10, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Twenty Years of South African Constitutionalism: Conference

November 14- 16, 2014 at New York Law School.

The full program is here.

 

ZA Conference

November 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Conferences, Courts and Judging, Scholarship, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

State Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot

In addition to the candidates, Tuesday's ballots contained a wide variety of proposed state constitutional amendments--from protecting and curtailing fundamental rights, to taxes, to structure and governance issues.

Maybe most notably, Colorado and North Dakota voters rejected a personhood amendment, while Tennessee voters approved an amendment giving lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.

Here's a sampling of other approved amendments:

Alabama voters passed an amendment to ban the use of foreign law in state courts, and another one to strengthen the state's constitutional right to hunt.

Illinois voters passed an amendment banning discrimination in the vote and another one that expands the rights of crime victims in the criminal justice system.

Mississippi voters aproved an amendment creating a right to hunt and fish.

Missouri voters approved an amendment to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes against children, and another one to limit the governor's ability to withhold money from the state budget.

North Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing criminal defendants to choose a judge or a jury trial.

South Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing certain nonprofits to hold raffles and use proceeds for charitable causes, and another allowing the governor to appoint the head of the South Carolina National Guard with consent of the Senate.

Tennessee approved four amendments: one to give lawmakers more power to regulate and restrict abortions; two to give more power to the governor in appointing judges (and to take that power away from a judicial nominating commission); three to forbid a state income tax; and four to allow the legislature to authorize lotteries to certain nonprofits.

Utah voters passed an amendment clarifying the term of an appointed lieutenant governor.

Virginia voters approved an amendment that exempts from local property taxes the home of a surviving spouse of an armed forces member who was killed in action.

Wisconsin voters approved an amendment that prevents governors and legislators from using state transportation funds for other purposes.

Here's a sampling of rejected amendments:

Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a personhood amendment.

Florida voters rejected a medical marijuana amendment. (Voters in other states also voted on marijuana initiatives, but Florida's was a proposed constitutional amendment.)

Idaho voters rejected an amendment that would allow the legislature to veto rules put in place by executive branch agencies.

Missouri voters rejected an amendment to evaluate K-12 teachers based on student performance instead of seniority, and another amendment to create a limited early voting period.

North Carolina voters rejected a personhood amendment.

November 5, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Elections and Voting, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Arkansas Supreme Court Strikes Voter ID

The Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday struck the state's voter ID requirement under the state constitution. The unanimous ruling means that Arkansas will not use Act 595's voter ID requirements in the upcoming elections.

The ruling is based on state constitutional law only, and therefore won't and can't be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The state high court ruled that Act 595's voter ID requirement added a voter requirement to those set in the state constitution. Arkansas's constitution, art. 3, Section 1, says,

Except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, any person may vote in an election in this state who is:

(1) A citizen of the United States;

(2) A resident of the State of Arkansas;

(3) At least eighteen (18) years of age; and

(4) Lawfully registered to vote in the election.

The court said, "These four qualifications set forth in our state's constitution simply do not include any proof-of-identity requirement." The court struck Act 595 on its face.

The court also rejected the argument that voter ID was simply a procedural method of identifying a voter, and therefore constitutional under a state constitutional provision allowing such methods:

We do not interpret Act 595's proof-of-identity requirement as a procedural means of determining whether an Arkansas voter can 'lawfully register[] to vote in the election.' Ark. Const. art. 3, Sec. 1(4). Under those circumstances, Act 595 would erroneously necessitate every lawfully registered voter in Arkansas to requalify themselves in each election.

Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson concurred in the result, but because Act 595 failed to get a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the legislature as required by a 1964 amendment to the constitution that sets the requirements for identification and registration of voters (and does not include photo ID) and allows for legislative amendment of those requirements if the legislature votes by two-thirds in both houses.

October 16, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Louisiana Supremes Uphold Ban on Firearms for Ex-Felons

The Louisiana Supreme Court this week upheld the state's prohibition on the possession of firearms by convicted felons against a challenge that the law violated the state's gun-rights amendment.  The court described the prohibition as "effective, time-tested, and easily understandable," and said that "[c]ommon sense and the public safety allow no other result."

Lousisiana's gun-rights amendment is notable because it explicitly sets strict scrutiny as the standard for laws infringing on the right to keep and bear arms:

The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed.  Any restriction on this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.

Article I, Section 11.  Louisiana voters enacted the amendment to ensure that laws regulating guns are subject to the strictest standard of review (and not some lower standard that the courts might have used under the Second Amendment and Heller.)  The previous version of the state constitution read, "The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but this provision shall not prevent the passage of laws to prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on the person." 

The court, with little analysis, concluded that Louisiana's law banning the possession of guns by convicted felons for a period of 10 years after their release met strict scrutiny.  The court said that the state had a compelling interest in public safety, and that this ban was easily narrowly tailored to meet that interest (again, with little serious analysis).  The court also looked to legislative history of the amendment that suggested that the amendment wouldn't affect gun laws already on the books at the time of the amendment.

The court's cursory analysis (under strict scrutiny, no less) says that certain gun restrictions get a free pass, and that provisions like Louisiana's amendment are strong on paper but but weaker in application.  It also suggests that the amendment, with its strict scrutiny test, bit off more than it can chew.

July 3, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Second Amendment, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | 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)

Daily Video: Brenda Cossman on Canada's Parliamentary Responses to Bedford Decision

Recall that in Canada v. Bedford, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared several provisions of Canada's criminal code regulating prostitution and sex work to be inconsistent with the Canadian Constitution's Charter of Rights and thus unconstitutional.  The Court suspended the declaration of invalidity for one year from its December 2013 decision to allow Parliament to act.

Parliament is acting, but not in the manner that some anticipated.

Here's University of Toronto Law Professor Brenda Cossman discussing the proposed law in a video for Canada's Globe & Mail:

Globe and Mail
full video here

 If Parliament does pass this legislation, it seems as if it will be swiftly challenged.  And perhaps the Canada Supreme Court will have a chance to reconsider whether giving Parliament a chance to correct the defects is the best way to proceed.

 

June 5, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Academic Freedom in Saskatchewan

Can a tenured professor, serving as a dean (or executive director) of the university's school of public health be terminated for publicly criticizing the university's restructuring plans?

University of saskatchewan logoThis does not involve the new Kansas social media policy for academics, but the question that arose at the University of Saskatchewan this week;  there's a good overview and links to the letter itself in this article from the Globe & Mail.

For Americans the situation seems close to the famous letter to the editor protected by the First Amendment in  Pickering v. Board of Education.  But recall Mr. Pickering was merely a teacher while Professor Buckingham at University of Saskatchewan was a dean charged with implementing the very policies he was criticizing, a situation akin to the one the Sixth Circuit confronted in Dixon v. University of Toledowhen considering a university human resources officer who made public statements inconsistent with the university's anti-discrimination policy that she had to enforce.

In recognition of this distinction, it seems now Buckingham has only been relieved of his duties as an administrator and may return to campus, seemingly complete with tenure.

Canadian ConLawProf Michael Plaxton (at the University of Saskatchewan) has a nuanced discussion in the Globe and Mail today.

 

May 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, First Amendment, Teaching Tips | 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)

Abe to Reinterpret Japan's Pacifist Constitution

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to change Japan's pacifist constitution--not by amending it, but by reinterpreting it.

Abe is expected to announce a plan to amend several laws that would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to engage in collective self-defense, that is, military defense of allied countries even when Japan is not directly threatened.  This will mark a shift in the role of Japan's military overseas, which is currently limited to non-combat peacekeeping duties under Article 9 of the Constitution.  Article 9 reads:

Renunciation of War.  Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.  The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Abe's plan is designed to sidestep the more cumbersome constitutional amendment process.  But it has drawn critics: a high-profile group of scholars and writers have denounced the plan, and there's a campaign afoot to get Article 9 (the traditional, pacifist version) on the Nobel Committee's radar screen for the Peace Prize as a way to push back against Abe's reinterpretation.

If successful, Abe's plan would change 60 of practice under Article 9--without a constitutional amendment.

We posted on the issues hereThe Financial Times covered Abe's plan here; The Christian Science Monitor covered it here.

May 13, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, International, Interpretation, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

State Constitutional Paramount Allegiance

Matt Ford writes over at The Atlantic that there's an irony in rancher Cliven Bundy's land claim against the federal Bureau of Land Management, now brewing in Nevada.  That's because the very state constitution that Bundy so forcefully defends (in the spirit of states' rights, state sovereignty, and the like) contains a "paramount allegiance" clause, enshrining federal supremacy right there in the document.  Here it is, from Article I, Section 2, in the Declaration of Rights:

All political power is inherent in the people.  Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it.  But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizens is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.  The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existence, and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.

Ford explains that the clause originated in Nevada's first constitutional convention in 1863, and that state constitutional framers, overwhelmingly unionists, retained it in 1864. 

Nevada isn't the only state with a Paramount Allegiance Clause.  As Ford explains, Reconstruction-era state constitutions throughout the South had one.  While most were dropped in subsequent revisions, some states, like Mississippi and North Carolina, still have it.

April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Federalism, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

A Conversation with the Chief Justice of the South African Con Court

Drew Cohen recently published A Constitution at a Crossroads: A Conversation with the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights.  The interview covers transformative constitutionalism (including judicial transformation and the role of judges) and current constitutional issues in South Africa, with some background and context for the uninitiated.  It's a terrific piece on the current and future state of South African constitutionalism; it has some gems on comparative constitutionalism, as well.

Cohen, a contributor to U.S. News & World Report and The Huffington Post, is a former foreign law clerk to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, whom he interviewed for this piece.

Here's a clip of the Chief Justice's response to Cohen's question whether South African judges should be "umpires":

Given our background and our Constitution, judges do not have the luxury to sit back and pretend that we do not have serious challenges, which can be addressed through a passive justice system.  I do not think we can afford to be the type of umpires Chief Justice Roberts had in mind.

Whatever we, as judges, do must facilitate nation-building so far as the case makes it possible by actively addressing the socioeconomic challenges that still confront certain sectors of the community as well as addressing the position of women in every sector of our society.  Whereas that may not be feasible for judges in the U.S., it must [be the case] in South Africa.  We have a different set of challenges that require judges to be somewhat proactive in the manner in which they approach their judicial responsibilities.

On the use of foreign law:

Once our jurisprudence gets settled, once it gets to the point that everyone can say that it is fairly well developed, there will be very little reason to rely as much as we used to on the jurisprudence of other countries.  With that said, obviously, we will still need to have some regard to the latest developments in comparable jurisdictions.  This is particularly true with regards to the area of socioeconomic rights and property law.

On closing the gap between reality and an aspirational Constitution:

What the Court can do, however, is interpret the Constitution in a manner so as to ensure that every official who has a constitutional responsibility to close that gap . . . are held accountable.

I think that the Court, however, has done fairly well in its efforts to close that gap.  Look at our judgments dealing with socioeconomic rights[,] . . . health issues[,] . . . housing[,] . . . natural resources . . . .

On the next big issues:

The next major court battles will involve the agricultural sector.  If you look at the agricultural sector then you will realize that a very large percentage of commercial farmers are still those from the previously advantaged group[] . . . .  For the few [previously disadvantaged] that have received land through the government's redistribution system, it does not look like enough was done to empower them to be able to use the land productively.  So, I think a lot needs to be done in the area of land redistribution but this must occur in a very, very slow and careful process.

April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, International, Interpretation, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

India's Supreme Court Recognizes Transgender Constitutional Rights of Equality as "Third Gender"

In its opinion National Legal Services v. India, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the constitutional rights of transgender persons, including the right not to be denominated as either "male" or "female." 

 The opinion by K.S. Radhakrishnan begins with an invocation of the "trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo" but rather quickly also invokes the cultural roots and importance of the community: "TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts." 

436px-Constitution_of_IndiaThe judgment rests on an interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution of India, including Article 14 (equality before law); Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of various grounds, including sex); Article 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment, including sex); Article 19 (including freedom of expression); and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).  The judgment engaged in some originalist reasoning that broadly interpreted "sex" to include sex-stereotyping:

Constitution makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. Biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression ‘sex’ used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male or female.

Given this interpretation, the Court not suprisingly ruled

We, therefore, conclude that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.

The Court has some interesting discussions of dress and grooming as an aspect of gender which included references to US cases and is further discussed here. 

The Court also specifically disavowed any relationship between its present judgment in National Legal Services v. India and the controversial opinion Koushal v. NAZ Foundation decided in December in which the Court - - - or as the Court states here "A Division Bench of this Court" reversed the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court that §377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional under the India Constitution and upheld India's sodomy law as constitutional:

we express no opinion on it [Kousal] since we are in these cases concerned with an altogether different issue pertaining to the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community and their gender identity and sexual orientation.

In a separate judgment, A.K. Sikiri did not mention the sodomy decision in Koushal v. Naz Foundation, but the judgment's expansive rhetoric could be read as an implicit disagreement with that decision as well as serving as a further butressing of today's judgment.  The concurring opinion elaborated on the importance of TG persons and communities to India's culture. It referenced Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Amartya Sen as providing the "jurisprudential basis for doing justice to the Vulnerable Groups which definitely include TGs."  It explicitly stated the "dynamic" and "living character" of the Constitution and its interpretation.  It considered judicial review in the context of democracy (including, implicitly, "sexual democracy") and decidedly opined that it is the role of the judiciary to "ensure access to justice to the marginalized section of the society," and that undoubtedly "TGs belong to the unprivileged class which is a marginalized section."

The judgment not only requires the government to recognize a "third gender" and to grant "legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender," but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and "seriously address" various problems. 

April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)