Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Backpage.com's challenge to a subpoena issued by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was moot. The court dismissed Backpage.com's case and vacated earlier district court rulings.
The case arose when the Subcommittee sought to enforce its subpoena for Backpage.com documents to aid its investigation into the web-site's facilitation of sex trafficking. While the case worked its way between the district court and the D.C. Circuit, Backpage.com voluntarily provided the Subcommittee with a good many of the documents the Subcommittee sought (but withheld some other documents under claims of privilege). Before the D.C. Circuit could rule on Backpage.com's challenge to the subpoena, the Subcommittee wrapped up its investigation based on the released documents and issued its final report. The Subcommittee then moved to dismiss the case as moot.
In its ruling yesterday, the D.C. Circuit agreed with the Subcommittee. The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the district court might still order some relief (for example, an order that the Subcommittee destroy or return the documents still in its possession), thus keeping the case alive, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering a congressional committee to release documents used in a lawful investigation. In particular, the court wrote that under circuit law "the Clause affords Congress a 'privilege to use materials in its possession without judicial interference,' even where unlawful acts facilitated their acquisition." (Unlawful acts did not facilitate their acquisition here; instead, Backpage.com provided them.) In short, once documents come into the hands of a committee, "the subsequent use of the documents by the committee staff in the course of official business is privileged legislative activity."
The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the Subcommittee waived its privilege by voluntarily subjecting itself to the court's jurisdiction (when it filed to enforce the subpoena): "[w]hen Congress petitions the court in a subpoena enforcement action, Congress does not waive its immunity from court interference with its exercise of its constitutional powers."
The court also rejected Backpage.com's argument that the case was capable of repetition but evading review. The court said a repeat was simply too speculative.
The ruling doesn't leave future subjects of congressional subpoenas without a remedy. According to the court, such subjects should refuse to comply during the legal proceedings so that the courts can hear their objections on the merits.
In other words, Backpage.com's mistake was voluntarily releasing the documents in the first place.
The separation-of-powers part of the ruling stands in contrast to the Court's holding in Church of Scientology of California v. United States, a case that the D.C. Circuit distinguished. In Church of Scientology, the IRS filed a petition to enforce a summons against a state-court clerk for tape recordings related to the Church in district court, and the Church intervened to oppose. While the case was on appeal, the clerk released the tapes to the IRS, at while point the appellate court dismissed the case as moot. The Supreme Court reversed, however, explaining that the case remained alive because the district court could still issue relief to the Church--a "destroy or return" order.
The D.C. Circuit said that Church of Scientology was different, however, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering that same kind of relief against Congress.
Monday, May 15, 2017
A panel of the Ninth Circuit - - - Judge Ronald Gould, Judge Richard Paez, and Senior Judge Michael Hawkins - - - heard oral arguments in Hawai'i v. Trump, the appeal from the preliminary injunction against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780) (colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0").
Arguing for the DOJ in favor of the United States was Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who also argued the same position a week ago in the Fourth Circuit en banc argument in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Indeed, there were specific references in the Ninth Circuit argument to that argument with regard to the scope of the injunction in Hawai'i v. Trump. The argument spent a fair amount of time on the statutory claims, which were a basis of Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang's injunction on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, but were not the basis of the injunction by Hawai'i District Judge Derrick Watson, who ruled on the basis of the Establishment Clause. The issue of standing also peppered the arguments. Wall's argument in the Ninth Circuit seemed less emphatic about the "presumption of regularity" entitled to the President than the argument last week, perhaps because of intervening events. Wall certainly did, however, hammer the Government's point that the deferential standard of Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972) should apply. And although it was not specifically referenced, the dissent from en banc review in a Ninth Circuit precursor case, Washington v. Trump, which largely rested on Mandel, implicitly shaped the arguments.
For his part, arguing for Hawai'i, Neal Katyal, formerly with the Department of Justice, stressed that the Ninth Circuit's panel opinion in Washington v. Trump should be the model. Katyal argued that the EO was unprecedented.
The video of the argument is worth watching, not only for its explication of the issues, but also as examples of excellent appellate advocacy.
However, there was a quite odd interchange regarding Neal Katyal's previous litigation stances. At around 52:03 in the video above, Senior Judge Hawkins said to Katyal, "You have argued in the past to give deference to the Executive in immigration matters." After Katyal's acknowledgement, Judge Hawkins refers to an amicus brief in United States v. Texas and reads a passage. The brief to which Hawkins seems to have been referring is Brief of Former Commissioners of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service as Amici Curiae In Support Of Petitioners and the portions seem to be from page 12 of the brief, supporting the Congressional grant of wide authority to make decisions regarding deferred action in immigration deportations. After Katyal's response, Judge Hawkins made a second reference: "You also wrote a brief in Flores-Villar." The brief to which Hawkins refers is Katyal's brief as Acting Solicitor General for the Respondent United States in Flores-Villar v. United States, involving a mother-father differential for unwed parents. Judge Hawkins reads the following passage without the case references or citations:
[T]he United States’ “policy toward aliens” is “vitally and intricately interwoven with * * * the conduct of foreign relations,” a power that likewise is vested in the political Branches. Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 588-589 (1952). “Any rule of constitutional law that would inhibit the flexibility of the political branches of government to respond to changing world conditions should be adopted only with the greatest caution.” Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. 67, 81 (1976).
Katyal responds that when he was with the United States Government he tried to convince the United States Supreme Court of this, but the Court "did not bite." Recall that Flores-Villar was a 4-4 affirmance of the Ninth Circuit.
Certainly, both United States v. Texas, which has usually surfaced in the context of a state's standing, and Flores-Villar are somewhat pertinent immigration cases involving the scope of judicial deference. Nevertheless, specific references to an individual attorney's briefs does seem unusual.
May 15, 2017 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Recent Cases, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, April 7, 2017
For a deeper dive into the constitutional law, check out these:
Here are links to the cited OLC memos:
For a broader, historical approach, check out this CRS report on Congressional Authority to Limit U.S. Military Operations.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Tenth Circuit Upholds Prairie-Dog Protection Under Endangered Species Act Against Commerce Clause Challenge
The Tenth Circuit today rebuffed a challenge to the Endangered Species Act and ruled that Congress had authority to enact the Act under the Commerce Clause. The ruling in PETPO v. FWS upholds the Fish and Wildlife Service's regulation protecting Utah prairie dogs.
The ruling deals a(nother) blow to challengers of ESA regs that protect purely intra-state species and reaffirms federal authority to protect those species under the Commerce Clause. (Because the court held that the prairie-dog reg was authorized under the Commerce Clause, it did not separately address whether it's authorized under the Necessary and Proper Clause.)
We might keep an eye on this case and any others like it. If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, he could tilt the balance on the Court against ESA regs--and in favor of yet more restrictions on congressional authority under the Commerce Clause. (Remember that Justice Scalia concurred in Gonzales v. Raich, the basis for the Tenth Circuit's ruling. Judge Gorsuch might not agree, or might see this case through the Lopez- and Morrison-lenses of the plaintiffs. Judge Gorsuch was not on the Tenth Circuit panel in this case.)
The court applied the test from Gonzales v. Raich, which upheld the federal prohibition on home-grown marijuana for medical use because it was part of a larger regulatory scheme (the federal Controlled Substances Act), which itself was authorized under the Commerce Clause. At the same time, the court specifically rejected PETPO's argument that it should consider the prairie-dog regulation only in isolation (like the Gun-Free School Zones Act in U.S. v. Lopez or the individual cause of action in United States v. Morrison)--not as part of the larger ESA scheme. By analyzing the reg under Raich (and not under the provision-specific approach in Lopez and Morrison), the court aligned with other circuits that have ruled on the question.
The court summarized its test:
In short, the Commerce Clause authorizes regulation of noncommercial, purely intrastate activity that is an essential part of a broader regulatory scheme that, as a whole, substantially affects interstate commerce (i.e., has a substantial relation to interstate commerce). Therefore, to uphold the challenged regulation here, we need only conclude that Congress had a rational basis to believe that such a regulation constituted an essential part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme that, in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce.
The court rejected PETPO's contention that it shouldn't apply Raich, because PETPO lodged a facial challenge to the specific prairie-dog provision under Lopez and Morrison, and not "an application to a particular subset of activity, as in Raich." The court said,
the real crux of PETPO's challenge is not a challenge to any particular FWS regulation but to Congress's power to authorize regulation of the Utah prairie dog. Although PETPO is, in a sense, correct that the prohibition on take of the Utah prarie dog is "a particular challenged provision," this prohibition finds its place within the broader regulatory scheme of the ESA's protections of endangered and threatened species. More specifically, the prohibition at issue is an instance of Congress's broad authorization to use regulations to extend the take protections that endangered species enjoy to those listed as threatened.
The court said that "the Court in both Lopez and Raich looked past the larger enactment and characterized the Gun-Free School Zones Act as an independent statute."
The court also rejected PETPO's argument that the ESA "is a comprehensive scheme to provide for environmental conservation, not [to] regulate a market." The court said that this was based on too cramped a reading of Raich, which, the court said, doesn't require a "comprehensive economic scheme." Instead, Raich only required a "comprehensive regulatory scheme" that has a "substantial relation to commerce." The court said that the ESA prohibitions easily meet this standard, based on their plain economic effects (some of which PETPO itself raised as the harms that formed the basis of its suit).
The court went on to hold that Congress had a rational basis for thinking that the prairie-dog-protection reg constituted an essential part of the ESA, a comprehensive regulatory scheme, that, "in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce."
Monday, January 30, 2017
Check out Marc Thiessen's piece in WaPo, arguing that Senate Republicans should use the nuclear option--destroy the filibuster--for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Politico reports that Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) plans to filibuster any Trump Supreme Court nominee who is not Merrick Garland.
Said Merkley: "This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat. We will use every lever in our power to stop this."
Is turnabout fair play for the Republicans' refusal to give Garland a hearing? Or is a Democratic filibuster (because Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing) different than a Republican refusal to give a hearing at all?
Monday, November 28, 2016
House Democrats today issued a(nother) letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chafetz to conduct oversight hearings on conflicts between President-Elect Trump's business interests and his role as President. (They issued an earlier letter two weeks ago.)
Although you have stated publicly that you will hold Mr. Trump to the same standards as President Obama and Secretary Clinton, you have not responded to Ranking Member Cummings' letter, and you have not taken steps to conduct basic oversight of these unprecedented challenges.
The letter goes on to outline the many now-familiar conflicts between Trump's overseas and domestic business interests and his role and his family's roles through the transition and into his presidency.
The letter quotes Chafetz's own words, from before the election, way back in August:
If you're going to run and try to become the president of the United States, you're going to have to open up your kimono and show everything, your tax returns, your medical records. You are just going to have to do that. It's too important. . . . I promise you, I don't care who is in the White House. My job is not to be a cheerleader for the president. My job is to hold them accountable and to provide that oversight. That's what we do.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Judge Amos L. Mazzant (E.D. Tex.) granted a nationwide injunction today against the Obama Administration in enforcing its new overtime rules.
The ruling is a blow to President Obama's effort to update the overtime requirements through administrative rulemaking, and not legislation. The nationwide injunction seems extreme, but, as Judge Mazzant noted, this district-court-issuing-a-nationwide-injunction-thing seems to be a growing trend among district court judges striking President Obama's administrative initiatives.
At the same time, the new Trump Administration will almost surely undo these rules, anyway.
So the big loser is the lower-income (between $23,660 to $47,892 per year), salaried worker. That person, covered by the now-enjoined rule, won't qualify for overtime. (The court said that the FLSA requires a "duties" test. So if DOL can reissue regs around duties, some of these workers may still qualify. But don't count on this with the new administration.)
The government can appeal, but the conservative Fifth Circuit seems likely to affirm. And again: The Trump Administration will almost surely undo this, anyway.
Recall that DOL issued rules raising the "executive, administrative, and professional" exemption from the FLSA requirement that employers pay overtime to workers. In particular, DOL issued rules that said that employees who earn up to $47,892 per year (up from $23,660 per year) fell outside the exemption, and therefore qualified for mandatory overtime. The new rules also set an automatic update that adjusts the minimum salary level every three years.
States and business organizations sued, arguing that the rules violated the Administrative Procedures Act, because they weren't authorized by the FLSA. The state plaintiffs threw in a claim that the new rules and the entire FLSA violated the Tenth Amendment and federalism principles. Because this claim ran headlong into Garcia (which upheld the application of the FLSA to the states), the states, for good measure, went ahead and boldly argued that the court should overturn Garcia.
The court agreed with the APA claim, but disagreed about Garcia. As to the APA, the court said that the language of the FLSA--"executive, administrative, and professional" employees are exempt from the overtime mandate, and that DOL can promulgate regs to implement this exemption--required that the government consider employees' duties, and not just income, in determining whether an employee qualifies. Because the new regs only considered income, they violated the FLSA.
As to Garcia: the court flatly rejected the call to overturn it. This is hardly a surprise: It's still good law, after all. It seems the states were banking on a favorable ruling from the Fifth Circuit and a split Supreme Court. (That sounds familiar.)
Or they were banking on a differently comprised Court entirely--one friendly to their anti-Garcia claim. And who knows? Now they might get it.
The House of Representatives last week filed a motion at the D.C. Circuit to delay the government's appeal of a district court ruling that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers under the Affordable Care Act without congressional authorization of funds. We posted on that ruling here.
The move seeks to halt the appeal and give President-Elect Trump and House Republicans time to figure out what to do next.
Recall that the district court ruled that the Obama Administration could not spend money on reimbursements for insurers on the ACA exchanges without an authorization from Congress. Because Congress hadn't authorized the expenditure, the Administration couldn't spend the money. (The ACA provision providing for insurer reimbursement is important, even critical, to the success of the exchanges--it's designed to keep insurance rates affordable. Congress zero-funded the line-item, though.)
If the appeals court affirms the district court ruling, and if (as expected) Congress declines to fund the line-item for insurer reimbursement, insurers would have to dramatically increase rates or drop out of the exchange markets. On the other hand, the D.C. Circuit could rule that the House lacks standing, or it could rule for the Administration on the merits.
A halt to the appeal would allow the incoming administration some time to decide how to deal with the suit, insurer reimbursements, and Obamacare in general.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Tenth Circuit ruled in Mojsilovic v. State of Oklahoma that the state's sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' forced-labor claim under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The ruling ends this case.
The plaintiffs, Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic, were hired by the University of Oklahoma on H-1B visas to conduct DNA sequencing and issue typing and to make transfectants and tissue cultures. Their supervisor, Dr. William Hildebrand, forced them to work longer hours than permitted by their visas, without pay, for his private corporation, Pure Protein, on threat of having their visas revoked. The Mojsilovic's sued under the TVPRA, seeking monetary damages under the Act; the University asserted sovereign immunity; and the district court dismissed the case.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that Congress enacted the TVPRA under its Commerce Clause authority (and not its Thirteenth Amendment authority), and so could not abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. In any event, the court said that any abrogation wasn't sufficiently clear in the language of the TVPRA. (The TVPRA applies to "whoever," without specifically naming "states.")
The ruling, while not surprising under the Court's abrogation doctrine, illustrates the impact of the rule that Congress cannot abrogate state sovereign immunity using its Commerce Clause authority. It means that states and state agencies can get away with trafficking, slavery, involuntary servitude, forced-labor, and the like without incurring TVPRA liability.
Congress could, of course, change this by making clear that the TVPRA is enacted under the Thirteenth Amendment and clearly abrogating state sovereign immunity.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The Second Circuit last week rejected claims that the federal government exceeded its authority and violated the Enclave Clause in taking about 13,000 acres of land in central New York into trust on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.
The ruling is a victory for the Nation and its ability to self-govern. In particular, under federal land-into-trust law, it means that the Nation's land is not subject to state and local taxes and zoning and regulatory requirements, and that (unless the Nation consents) New York lacks criminal and civil jurisdiction over Nation members on the land.
The ruling is also a reaffirmation of the federal government's land-into-trust powers, by which the federal government can take state land into trust for Native American nations, and the very limited restrictions on federal power to take and regulate land under the Enclave Clause. (The Enclave Clause, Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 17, is a favorite of those who argue against federal authority to hold and regulate lands other than Washington, D.C., even though that reading is not supported by the text, history, or precedent of the Clause.)
The case arose when the federal government took about 13,000 acres of land in New York into trust on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation, pursuant to authority under the Indian Reorganization Act. (The dispute goes back much farther, however.) The Oneida Nation already owned the land--it purchased it on the private market--but sought the trust in order to govern itself and avoid state taxes and certain regulations. Plaintiffs (two towns, a civic organization, and some individuals) sued, arguing that the land-into-trust procedures violated the Indian Commerce Clause, state sovereignty, and the Enclave Clause. (Plaintiffs asserted that they'd be harmed by the Nation's casino, and the inability to collect taxes on the land where it sits.)
The Second Circuit flatly rejected those claims. The court ruled that under the Indian Commerce Clause the federal government has plenary authority to regulate with respect to Native American nations, including authority to take land in trust for nations, and that this authority wasn't correlated to the Interstate Commerce Clause or otherwise bound only to purely intra-state activities. The court also ruled that no constitutional provisions protected "state sovereignty" as against the land-into-trust procedures.
As to the Enclave Clause claim, the court, drawing on longstanding precedent, wrote that "state consent is needed only when the federal government takes 'exclusive' jurisdiction over land within a state." (This follows from precedent and the plain language of the Clause itself: "The Congress shall have Power . . . To exercise exclusive Legislative in all Cases whatsoever, over such District . . . as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings[.]") Because the federal government's land-into-trust procedures leave some authority to a state (like civil and criminal law as against non-members, and the power to impose a sales tax on sales to non-members), it did not need "Cession of" the state under the Enclave Clause.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
In the wake of Senator McCain's statements last week--first saying that Senate Republicans would block any SCOTUS nominees by a President Clinton, then (kind of) walking it back--conservative scholars are starting to outline the case for absolute obstruction and even permanently reducing the size of the Supreme Court.
Ilya Shapiro makes the case at The Federalist; Michael Stokes Paulsen makes the case at the National Review. Both argue that the Constitution doesn't require the Senate to consider, much less approve, any nominee; and both note that nothing in the Constitution sets the number of justices at 9. Beyond those points, their arguments turn on politics alone--that obstruction will give the advantage to conservatives, at least until the 2020 election, and maybe beyond.
This flies in the face of Senate Republicans' stated reason for refusing to give Judge Garland a hearing (let the people decide, through the presidential election). When that explanation wears out, expect them to adopt these new, "constitutional" arguments.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Michael Gerhardt (UNC) and Richard Painter (U. Minn.) recently released The New Normal: Unprecedented Judicial Obstruction and a Proposal for Change, an ACS Issue Brief that criticizes Senate obstruction of judicial nominees and proposes a solution.
Gerhardt and Painter argue that the majority and minority leaders in the Senate should enter into a pact "to keep their respective members completely committed to the objectives of allowing every judicial nomination the opportunity to receive a hearing and making public the reasons for any opposition." "An agreement between the majority and minority is the same mechanism that was used in 2013 to fix the problem with anonymous holds over judicial nominations, and it is the only kind of mechanism that can guarantee that our federal courts, including the Supreme Court, will be fully staffed and capable of exercising their constitutional functions as the third branch of government."
Gerhardt and Painter's latest solution complements their earlier ones, from this 2011 ACS Issue Brief. There the authors prescribed this four-part plan:
1. Nominees should get a Judiciary Committee hearing within 90 days of nomination;
2. The Senate should bar the use of anonymous holds;
3. Every nominee should come to the Senate with a presumption that the nominee will get a prompt Judiciary Committee hearing, with the burden falling on any senators who oppose the nomination "to make their case publicly"; and
4. When a nominee is reported out of committee, there's a presumption "that a majority 'yes' votes are needed to confirm the nominee," with an up-or-down vote within 120 days of the nomination.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
In his opinion and order in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, United States District Judge Sean Cox of the Eastern District of Michigan, the judge held that the funeral home is "entitled to a RFRA exemption from Title VII and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it."
The funeral home, a for-profit closely-held corporation, relied upon the United States Supreme Court's closely-divided and controversial decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) which allowed a religious exemption under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage.
Rather than contraception, the issue in Harris Funeral Homes is the funeral home's sex-specific dress code and its termination of Stephens, an employee transitioning from male to female for failure to wear the mandated male-specific clothing. The primary shareholder of the funeral home, Thomas Rost, stated his beliefs that the Bible teaches "that a person's sex is an immutable God-given gift" and "that is wrong for a biological male to deny his sex by dressing as a woman." More importantly for his RFRA claim, Rost stated that he himself “would be violating God’s commands” if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home’s biologically-male-born funeral directors to wear the skirt-suit uniform for female directors while at work, because Rost “would be directly involved in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.”
Recall that under RFRA, a threshold question is whether the person's religious belief are sincerely held. Hobby Lobby having determined that a company's major shareholder's belief is the relevant one, the EEOC conceded that the "Funeral Home's religious beliefs are sincerely held." The next question is whether the neutral law of general applicability - - - here, Title VII - - - is a substantial burden on the person's religious beliefs. The district judge found that allowing an employee to wear a skirt would impose a substantial burden on the ability of Rost to conduct his business in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs and that the economic consequences of back pay would be "severe." The burden then shifts in RFRA to the government to satisfy strict scrutiny as well as a least restrictive means requirement. Recall that the stated purpose of Congress in passing RFRA was to "restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner" (1964), which Congress believed the Court had departed from in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), although Congress also added the "least restrictive means" language.
And in his Harris Funeral Homes decision, Judge Cox ultimately relied on the least restrictive means requirement. However, first Judge Cox treated the traditional strict scrutiny questions. Judge Cox assumed "without deciding" that the EEOC had a compelling governmental interest, although Judge Cox expressed doubts whether this was true. Indeed, Judge Cox interpreted the passage in Hobby Lobby stating that the decision provided "no such shield" to equal employment laws (and thus refuting a claim made by the dissent) as essentially dicta:
This Court does not read that paragraph as indicating that a RFRA defense can never prevail as a defense to Title VII or that Title VII is exempt from the focused analysis set forth by the majority. If that were the case, the majority would presumably have said so. It did not.
Moreover, Judge Cox relied on Hobby Lobby to contend that a general interest in ending employment discrimination is not sufficient, it must be focused on the particular person burdened: "even if the Government can show that the law is in furtherance of a generalized or broad compelling interest, it must still demonstrate the compelling interest is satisfied through application of the law to the Funeral Home under the facts of this case." (italics in original). Although Judge Cox wrote that he "fails to see how the EEOC has met its requisite 'to the person'-focused showing," he nevertheless stated he would assume it was met.
As to the least restrictive means, Judge Cox's solution is a gender-neutral dress code:
Yet the EEOC has not challenged the Funeral Home’s sex-specific dress code, that requires female employees to wear a skirt-suit and requires male employees to wear a suit with pants and a neck tie, in this action. If the EEOC were truly interested in eliminating gender stereotypes as to clothing in the workplace, it presumably would have attempted to do so.
Rather than challenge the sex-specific dress code, the EEOC takes the position that Stephens has the right, under Title VII, to “dress as a woman” or wear “female clothing” while working at the Funeral Home. That is, the EEOC wants Stephens to be permitted to dress in a stereotypical feminine manner (wearing a skirt-suit), in order to express Stephens’s gender identity.
If the EEOC truly has a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that Stephens is not subject to gender stereotypes in the workplace in terms of required clothing at the Funeral Home, couldn’t the EEOC propose a gender-neutral dress code (dark-colored suit, consisting of a matching business jacket and pants, but without a neck tie) as a reasonable accommodation that would be a less restrictive means of furthering that goal under the facts presented here? Both women and men wear professional-looking pants and pants-suits in the workplace in this country, and do so across virtually all professions.
Of course, the courts have not ruled favorably on challenges to sex-specific dress and grooming codes in the employment context.
Interestingly, Judge Cox also rejected the EEOC's gender discrimination claim based on the funeral home company's clothing allowance policy: there is a monetary clothing allowance to male employees but not female employees. Judge Cox found that this issue was not properly brought by the EEOC.
The EEOC is sure to appeal. If individual employers can claim exemptions to Title VII under RFRA, it could have widespread consequences.
Although it is also possible that a new Congress could amend RFRA.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The D.C. Circuit yesterday upheld a lower court's dismissal of David Patchak's long-running attempt to stop the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band's casino in Wayland Township, Michigan, based on a federal law that stripped the courts of jurisdiction over the case.
The ruling ends this dispute in favor of the Band and its casino, with little or no chance of further appeals.
The case started when David Patchak sued the Interior Department for putting certain land in Wayland Township in trust for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians to build a casino. Patchak, a neighboring property owner, argued that Interior lacked authority under the Indian Reorganization Act and sought damages for economic, environmental, and aesthetic harms.
The case went to the Supreme Court on justiciability grounds, and the Court ruled in 2012 that Patchak had prudential standing.
After that ruling came down, Congress enacted a stand-alone law that affirmed that Interior had authority to put the land in trust and divested the courts of jurisdiction over Patchak's case. The act, in relevant part, read:
NO CLAIMS -- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action (including an action pending in a Federal court as of the date of enactment of this Act) relating to the land described in subsection (a) shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.
The district court then dismissed Patchak's case, and yesterday the D.C. Circuit affirmed.
The court first rejected Patchak's claim that the jurisdiction-stripping provision violated the separation of powers. The court looked to the familiar distinction (recently sharpened by the Court's ruling in Bank Markazi) between a congressional act that applies a new legal standard in pending civil cases (which is OK) and an act that "prescribes a rule of decision" in those cases (which is not). The court said that this act falls squarely in the former class, even though Congress set the legal standard in a separate, stand-alone statute (and not the statute at issue in the case, the IRA).
The court next rejected Patchak's various individual-rights claims. The court said that the Act did not violate Patchak's First Amendment right to access the courts, because that right isn't absolute, and it yields to Congress's power to set the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts. The court said that the Act also did not violate Patchak's due process rights (because the legislative process provided Patchak any process that he might have been due) and the Bill of Attainder Clause (because the Act wasn't punishment).
Given the Supreme Court's powerful reaffirmation of congressional authority of federal court jurisdiction in Bank Markazi, the D.C. Circuit's ruling almost certainly ends Patchak's challenge.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
The Supreme Court today deadlocked 4-4 in the case challenging President Obama's deferred action plan for certain unauthorized immigrants, or DAPA. The Court's ruling in United States v. Texas affirms the Fifth Circuit's ruling in the case. (Our preview of the case is here.)
While the Court's non-decision today has no precedential value, as a practical matter it upholds a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of DAPA issued by district Judge Hanen. The ruling thus effectively halts enforcement of DAPA and sends the case back to Judge Hanen for proceedings on the merits. Here's the Fifth Circuit's summary of its ruling (which, again, is upheld under today's 4-4 split):
Reviewing the district court's order for abuse of discretion, we affirm the preliminary injunction because the states have standing; they have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their procedural and substantive APA claims; and they have satisfied the other elements required for an injunction.
Note that the Fifth Circuit ruling doesn't touch the Take Care Clause issue--an issue that the Supreme Court asked the parties to brief and argue, even though the government didn't seek review on this issue. Note, too, that the Fifth Circuit upholds a district judge's preliminary injunction that applies nationwide (and not, as would ordinarily be the case, in the judge's district only).
We don't know the justices' positions on particular issues in the case--standing, APA--because the per curiam order (as is customary for a 4-4 split) simply says that "[t]he judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court." Still, this appears to be one of those cases where Justice Scalia's absence matters: he would have likely voted with the four (likely the conservatives, although we don't know for sure) to uphold the Fifth Circuit, creating a five Justice majority opinion that would have created precedential law.
The government may petition the Court (now) for rehearing (after a ninth justice is confirmed).
Friday, June 3, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Friends of Animals v. Jewell that Congress did not violate separation of powers when it enacted legislation ordering the Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate a categorical exemption for captive-bred animals under the Endangered Species Act.
The ruling is a blow to endangered-species advocates, because it permits the FWS to grant an exemption to the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without going through the previous individualized-exemption application process. In other words, FWS can now grant a blanket exemption to all holders of captive-bred endangered species without publicizing individual applications and individual exemptions--and also without allowing interested parties to weigh in.
The case arose when the FWS issued the Captive-Bred Exemption to the ESA's general prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species. The Exemption meant that all captive-bred herds of three antelope species got an automatic pass, without having to go through the individual-application process in Section 10(c) of the ESA.
But Friends sued, arguing that the Exemption violated Section 10(c) of the ESA. The district court agreed, citing the plain language of Section 10(c), which says, "[t]he Secretary shall publish notice in the Federal Register of each application for an exemption or permit which is made under this section." (Emphasis added.)
After the district court struck the Exemption, the FWS backed off and withdrew the Exemption. But then Congress passed "Section 127," which ordered the FWS to "reissue the final rule published on September 2005," that is, the Exemption.
Friends sued again, this time arguing that Section 127 violated separation of powers--in particular, the rules in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc. and United States v. Klein. (These cases were on full view in the Court's recent ruling in Bank Markazi.) The lower court dismissed the case, and the D.C. Circuit today affirmed (although on slightly different grounds).
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 127 violated Plaut, because Section 127 is prospective legislation (and not a retroactive revival of a dismissed case, in violation of Plaut):
Section 127 is not retroactive legislation because it does not establish what the law was at an earlier time. Likewise, Section 127 does not apply to a case already decided and does not overturn the court's determination in [the earlier case]--it simply alters the prospective effect of [the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without an individual exemption] by exempting U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species from the Act's . . . prohibitions going forward.
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 27 violate Klein, because Section 127 simply "amends applicable law":
On the record before us, we have no trouble in concluding that Section 127 amended the applicable law and thus does not run afoul of Klein. Section 127 directed the Secretary of the Interior to reissue the Captive-Bred Exemption "without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule." By issuing this legislative directive, Congress made it clear that, with respect to U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species, individual permits are no longer required to engage in activities otherwise prohibited by [the ESA].
The court also held that Friends had informational standing, based on the language of the ESA, which says that "[i]nformation received by the Secretary as part of any application [for an exemption] shall be available to the public as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding." According to the court, this was enough for Friends, an endangered-species advocacy organization, to assert informational standing.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Court said no. It held that "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation" (emphasis added), but then sent the case back for determination whether there was a concrete injury in this case.
The ruling makes clear that if Robins, the plaintiff, can show a concrete harm, he will have standing. But it makes equally clear that Congress cannot simply create standing by authorizing a new individual cause of action. A plaintiff still has to show a particularized and concrete injury.
The case involves the congressionally-created individual cause of action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the FCRA, Congress granted adversely affected individuals a right to sue reporting agencies for failure to "follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates." Robins sued Spokeo under the provision, arguing that Spokeo posted incorrect information about him on its website. The Ninth Circuit held that Robins had standing.
The Supreme Court today vacated that decision and remanded. Justice Alito wrote for the Court and held that standing requires both a "particularized" injury and a "concrete" injury. The Ninth Circuit analyzed whether Robins's injury was particularized, but not whether it was concrete. Justice Alito wrote that a procedural harm--like the one here, because the FCRA establishes a procedure for reporting agencies to follow--could create a concrete injury, but the Ninth Circuit didn't analyze this in Robins's case. Therefore, the Court remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm.
At the same time, Justice Alito made clear that Congress could "elevat[e] to the status of legally cognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries that were previously inadequate in law." But if so, a plaintiff still has to sufficiently allege both particularized and concrete injuries to meet the Article III standing requirement. This means that a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury alone wouldn't have standing, but a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury with a concrete and particularized harm would.
Congress' role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to vindicate that right. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.
Justice Thomas concurred and reached the same result by drawing on the difference between suits vindicating private rights and suits vindicating public rights. (Justice Thomas's "public rights" are probably broader than procedural claims like Robins's, and so this approach is probably more restrictive on standing.)
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor. She argued that Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm, and that remand wasn't necessary.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges without a valid congressional appropriation. Judge Collyer enjoined any further reimbursements to insurers until a valid appropriation is in place, but she stayed that injunction pending appeal.
Because of the stay, the ruling will have no immediate effect on government subsidies to insurers (and thus no immediate effect on the overall ACA, reductions in cost-sharing for certain purchasers on exchanges, or any other feature of the Act). But if Judge Collyer's ruling is upheld on appeal, and if Congress fails to specifically appropriate funds for Section 1402 reimbursements, or if the stay is lifted, this could deal a significant blow to the ACA. That's because the Act would require exchange insurers to provide a cost-sharing break to certain purchasers on the exchange, but the government wouldn't be able to reimburse the insurers for those costs, as the Act assumes. This could drive up costs, or drive insurers off the exchanges, or both--in any event, undermining the goals of the ACA.
The case involves Section 1402 of the ACA, which provides reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges. Those reimbursements are designed to off-set reductions in deductibles, co-pays, and other cost-sharing expenses that the ACA requires exchange insurers to provide to lower-income insurance purchasers on an exchange. In other words, the ACA requires exchange insurers to cut cost-sharing costs for certain purchasers; and Section 1402 authorizes the government to reimburse insurers for those cuts.
But Congress didn't specifically appropriate funding for Section 1402. The administration nevertheless provided reimbursements on the theories that 1402 reimbursements are part of the integrated package that makes the ACA work, and that 1402 appropriations are covered in appropriations for other provisions in the Act.
Judge Collyer rejected these arguments. In particular, she wrote that Section 1402 is separate and distinct from other portions of the Act and requires its own, specific appropriation--not an inferred appropriation, based on a holistic reading of the Act, or based on appropriations for other features of the Act. (Behind these legal arguments is the idea that everyone understood that spending for Section 1402 reimbursements would be covered by appropriations for other portions of the Act. But "everyone understood" doesn't get very far in court.)
Moreover, she said that the government's attempts to leverage King v. Burwell to argue that Section 1402 funding is a necessary part of an integrated ACA fall flat:
This case is fundamentally different from King v. Burwell. There, the phrase "established by the State" . . . became "not so clear" when it was "read in context." . . . Simply put, the statute could not function if interpreted literally; it had to be saved from itself. . . .
The problem the Secretaries have tried to solve here is very different: it is a failure to appropriate, not a failure in drafting. Congress's subsequent inaction, not the text of the ACA, is what prompts the Secretaries to force the elephant into the mousehole.
Judge Collyer's ruling is obvious not the end of this matter: the government will surely appeal. In the meantime, her stay (alone) should allow government continued spending on insurer reimbursements, and thus (alone) won't have any significant impact on the ACA.
Judge Collyer earlier ruled that the House of Representatives had standing to bring this case, but that it lacked standing to challenge another administration act, delay of time when employers had to provide minimum health insurance to employees.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The Supreme Court ruled today in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that Congress did not tread on the courts' territory in violation of the separation of powers by enacting a statute that ensured that the plaintiffs in an enforcement action would get the assets that they sought (and therefore win).
The ruling backs off the rule in United States v. Klein--that Congress can't legislate a rule of decision in a case--and thus gives somewhat wider berth to Congress (relative to Klein) to enact laws that impact currently pending cases. At the same time, however, the ruling reiterates familiar limits on Congress's authority over the judiciary.
This is the case in which over 1,000 victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism and their families filed in the Southern District of New York to enforce their monetary judgments against Iran--through assets owned by Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, held in a New York bank account--for sponsoring terrorism.
While this claim was pending, Congress passed a law saying that, if a court makes specific findings, "a financial asset . . . shall be subject to execution . . . in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by" certain acts of terrorism. The law goes on to define available assets as "the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No. 10 Civ. 4518 (BSJ) (GWG), that were restrained by restraining notices and levies secured by the plaintiffs in those proceedings."
In other words, the newly enacted law, 22 U.S.C. Sec. 8772, ensured that the plaintiffs in this case would get these assets, notwithstanding the Bank's defenses.
The Bank claimed that the law violated the separation of powers--in particular, that Congress overstepped by directing the outcome of a case, in violation of United States v. Klein.
But the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for all but Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor (and Justice Thomas, for a part of the opinion). She wrote that Congress may amend the law and apply the amendment to pending cases, even when the amendment is outcome determinative. She then said that's exactly what Congress did here: it wrote a law that covers all the various post-judgment execution claims that were consolidated in this case. She said it did not create a "one-case-only regime."
Justice Ginsburg also wrote that the law related to foreign policy--an area where the courts traditionally defer to the President and Congress. "The Executive has historically made case-specific sovereign-immunity determinations to which courts have deferred. Any exercise by Congress and the President of control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign-government-owned property in the United States, is hardly a novelty."
Along the way, Justice Ginsburg backed off on Klein. She wrote that Klein has been called "a deeply puzzling decision," and that "[m]ore recent decisions, however, have made it clear that Klein does not inhibit Congress from "amend[ing] applicable law." At the same time, she reiterated familiar limits: "Necessarily, [the courts' authority] blocks Congress from 'requir[ing] federal courts to exercise the judicial power in a manner that Article III forbids," "Congress, no doubt, 'may not usurp a court's power to interpret and apply the law to the [circumstances] before it," and "our decisions place off limits to Congress 'vest[ing] review of the decisions of Article III courts in officials of the Executive Branch.'" "Congress, we have also held, may not 'retroactively comman[d] the federal courts to reopen final judgments." Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc.
Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. He argued, in short, "[n]o less than if it had passed a law saying 'respondents win,' Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties' specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory"--and therefore violates the separation of powers.