Thursday, January 23, 2014

Daily Read: Franita Tolson on the Voting Rights Act Amendment Act of 2014

As we discussed yesterday, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance, as a response the the Court's holding in Shelby v. Holder that section 4(b) of the VRA was unconstitutional. 

Over at HuffPo today, LawProf Franita Tolson (pictured below) has a column entitled "The Importance of Tunnel Vision in Fixing the VRA's Coverage Formula."

Tolson

 

Tolson argues that while

there are some aspects of the legislation that may displease civil rights organizations, particularly the exemption of voter identification laws from coverage under the new formula, the proposal is a strong start to address the gaping hole in the preclearance regime created by the Court's decision in Shelby County.

But in some respects, she contends, the proposed legislation may go too far. 

She argues that the proposed amendments to section 3(c) of the VRA are "alarming because they place a bull's eye squarely on the back of section 3(c)" as well as section 2.  She notes that section 3(c) of the VRA is constitutional precisely "because its intentional discrimination requirement is identical to the constitutional standard for establishing violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments." 

She concludes that the "legislative focus should be limited to replacing the coverage formula and leaving section 3(c) alone."

Worth a read for anyone considering the proposed amendments to the VRA and the legacy of Shelby v. Holder.

January 23, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bipartisan Bills Introduced to Amend Voting Rights Act

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation last week that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance.  The legislation responds to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Shelby County v. Holder, striking Section 4(b) of the VRA, the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement.  That ruling left Section 5 preclearance nearly a dead letter (although litigants could still seek to have a court order a jurisdiction to bail-in to preclearance under Section 3). 

Our Shelby County coverage is here and here (with links to most of our other posts on the case).

The bills would update the coverage formula to include states that have 5 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years and political subdivisions that have 3 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years.  (Coverage would continue for 10 years, unless the jurisdiction gets a court order releasing it.)  This new formula would cover Georgia, Louisiana, Misissippi, and Texas, but not Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

The bills also contain a number of other provisions, perhaps most notably expanding Section 3 bail-in so that litigants can ask a court to bail-in a jurisdiction when that jurisdiction has intentionally discriminated (as now) and for any other violation of the VRA.  Ari Berman over at The Nation has a nice summary.

The new provisions will undoubtedly be challenged when and if they're enacted.  On the one hand, they address a major concern of the Court in Shelby County: they update the coverage formula to use more current violations as the basis for coverage.  But on the other hand, they still treat states differently (and potentially run afoul of the Court's new-found "equal sovereignty" doctrine), and the state-wide formula does not account for actual voter turn-out (although the political subdivision formula does) and neither formula addresses the number of elected officials--data that the Court found at least relevant in its ruling.

January 22, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

State Constitutional Challenge to Dual System of Voter Registration

Julie Ebenstein of the ACLU writes on Jurist.org that the dual system of voter registration in Kansas unlawfully denies citizens the right to vote.  Ebenstein outlines the Kansas case challenging the dual system under state constitutional provisions, filed last November and now pending in state court.

As we wrote, two states, Arizona and Kansas, adopted a dual system of voter registration in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.  In that case, the Court held that the requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration.  (The NVRA form requires applicants simply to attest to their citizenship, not to provide additional documentation.) 

Arizona and Kansas then announced that they would require voters to register separately for state and federal elections.  This created a dual system of voter registration: NVRA and state-form registrants before January 1, 2013, can vote in both state and federal elections; but NVRA registrants after January 1, 2013, can vote in only federal elections.  (NVRA registrants after that date also can't sign petitions.)  Now only state-form registrants who provide the additional proof of citizenship can vote in state elections.  State-form registrants who fail to provide the additional proof of citizenship cannot vote at all.

The ACLU and ACLU of Kansas filed suit last November challenging the dual registration system.  The complaint, filed in state court, alleges that the system violates state constitutional equal protection by distinguishing between classes of voters in the state, that state officials exceeded their state constitutional authority, and that the system wasn't properly promulgated as a rule or regulation under Kansas law.

January 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Preemption, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Obamacare Tax Credit Survives Lawsuit

Judge Paul Friedman today upheld an IRS rule that extends tax credits to individuals purchasing health insurance on a federally-facilitated exchange under Obamacare.  The ruling in Halbig v. Sebelius deals a blow to opponents of Obamacare in one of the several cases against the Act still percolating in the courts.  We wrote on some of those cases and issues most recently herePolitico reports on this case here.

The case was a challenge to an IRS rule that extended tax credits not only to health-insurance purchasers on state exchanges, but also to health insurance purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges.  That's a problem, the plaintiffs said, because the ACA didn't authorize the IRS to extend credits to purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges.

In particular, the ACA calculates the credit based in part on the premium expenses for the health plan "enrolled in [by the individual] through an Exchange established by the State . . . ."  (Emphasis added.)  But the IRS rule makes tax credits available to qualifying individuals who purchase health insurance on state-run or federally-facilitated exchanges.

A group of individuals and employers residing in states that have declined to establish state exchanges sued, arguing that the IRS exceeded its authority under the ACA in extending tax credits to individuals in states without exchanges (and where the federal government facilitates the exchange). 

You might wonder about standing, given that the rule is designed to make insurance cheaper.  The court said at least one plaintiff had standing.  That's because one plaintiff lives in a state that declined to create an exchange, plans to earn $20,000 in 2014, and does not plan to enroll in a health insurance plan.  That plaintiff also introduced evidence that the cost of minimum health insurance coverage, if unsubsidized, would exceed eight percent of his income, allowing him to qualify for an unaffordability exemption.  But the IRS rule would lower the cost of his insurance premiums so significantly that he no longer qualifies for the unaffordability exemption.  As a result, the IRS rule means that he (1) has to purchase subsidized health insurance at about $20 per year or (2) has to pay some higher amount per year as a tax penalty (for not buying health insurance).  Because the rule encourages him to buy insurance--and that costs money (more than the exemption), even if only $20 a year--he has standing.  The irony wasn't lost on the court: "Counterintuitively, by making health insurance more affordable, the IRS Rule imposes a financial cost on Klemencic."As to the merits, the court said that the ACA is ambiguous when it extends credits to purchasers on exchanges "established by the State."  That's because the ACA, taken as a whole (and not just the limited provision cited by the plaintiffs, taken in isolation), can be reasonably understood to assume that states establish exchanges, and to leave it to the federal government to step in and establish an exchange only when a state declines to do so.  When the federal government does this, the court said, then it (the federal government) creates an exchange "established by the State."  "In other words, even where a state does not actually establish an Exchange, the federal government can create 'an Exchange established by the State . . .' on behalf of that state."The court also said that other provisions of the ACA suggest that Congress intended to extend credits to purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges, and that those provisions would clash with the plaintiffs' preferred reading of the Act. 

January 15, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Argument Review in Noel Canning, Recess Appointment Authority

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the case testing whether the President may make recess appointments to positions already vacant during an intra-session recess of the Senate.  Our argument preview is here.

The Court today was especially sensitive to the many thorny doctrinal, practical, and political issues in the case, and seemed to be looking for a simple solution that would dodge them.  The ordinary appointments process (with advice and consent of the Senate), as suggested by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg (see below), may well be that solution.  If so, the Court might read the Recess Appointments Clause more restrictively in this case, limiting the President's recess-appointments authority, and giving more power to the Senate to hold up executive appointments by declining to recess.

The case presents three questions about the Recess Appointments Clause:

1. Does "the Recess of the Senate" include intra-session breaks, or recesses?

2. Do "Vacancies that may happen during the Recess" include vacancies that already existed?

3. Can the President exercise the recess-appoitnment power when the Senate convenes only every three days in pro forma sessions?

The arguments included the predictable points on text and history--interpretations of "the Recess," the clause "may happen," and historical practices and understandings.  (If anything, these arguments only revealed how indeterminate and contestable these sources can be.  See, e.g., the discussion on the OED's definitions of "happen" starting at about page 60 or so of the transcript, and the points over practices running throughout the arguments.)  The particular concern with the words "may happen" suggest one possible outcome: the Court could rule that while "the Recess" includes intra-session recesses, "may happen" extends only to vacancies that occur (not already exist) during a recess.

But the more interesting--and probably more important--points were on balance-of-powers principles and practical implications--against the obvious backdrop of partisan politics.  

Indeed, what started in the briefing as a debate principally about the meaning and practice of the Recess Appointment Clause turned quickly today into a debate about executive power and whether the Senate encroached on executive recess-appointment power by meeting in pro forma sessions and thus denying the President a recess in which to make recess appointments.  General Verrilli pushed the argument on executive authority beyond a mere point on when the Senate is in "recess," claiming broadly that the President should get to fill all vacancies.  Justice Alito put a fine point on it:

But you are making a very, very aggressive argument in favor of executive power now and it has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the Senate is in session or not.  You're just saying when the Senate acts, in your view, irresponsibly and refuses to confirm nominations, then the President must be able to fill those--fill those positions.  That's what you're arguing.  I don't see what that has to do with whether the Senate is in session.

But Noel Canning and the Senate Minority Leader both took aggressive positions the other way, saying that the Senate gets to decide when it's on recess--even saying that it's never on recess--thus severely limiting the President's recess appoitment power.  Respondents argued that the President has come to use the recess appointment power to deal with Senate intransigence, not emergencies--an argument that seemed to resonate with the Court.

Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan both seemed concerned that such an important balance-of-powers issue could turn on magic language in a Senate resolution, for example, as here, that says "No business shall be conducted."  Chief Justice Roberts said that this maybe made the point not so important.  Justice Kagan said that focusing on the phrasing of a Senate resolution could just land the case back at the Court, and that focusing on this kind of formalism suggests that it really is the Senate's responsibility to determine when it's in session or not.  But General Verrilli responded that the recess appointment power is an executive authority, "[a]nd the President has got to make a determination of when there's a recess"--that the Senate's use of pro forma sessions to stay in session (and not on recess) is an encroachment on Article II Recess Appointment power.

The Court was also concerned about how to balance text against practice.  Justice Scalia posed this question:

What do you do when there is a practice that--that flatly contradicts a clear text of the Constitution?  Which--which of the two prevails?

General Verrilli responded:

The answer is I think, given this--a practice going back to the founding of the Republic, the practice should be--the practice should govern, but we don't have that here.  This provision has been subject to contention as to its meaning since the first days of the Republic.

Justices Alito and Kagan asked the same question to Noel Canning, and got the exact opposite answer.  

The Court was also concerned about a related problem: If the government gets its way, it appears that the Senate violated the 20th Amendment and the Adjournment Clause.  Justices Breyer and Alito both suggested that the Court would rather avoid that conclusion.

These more theoretical issues are serious, to be sure, but they may not be necessary to resolve the case.  The Court was equally, or more, concerned about the practical implications of the case--in particular, how a ruling could affect already-made decisions by the NLRB, other government agencies, and even the courts (because of recess-appointed judges).  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg asked about this; Justice Scalia suggested a way out of this problem, the de facto officer doctrine; still General Verrilli said that "it certainly casts a serious cloud over the legitimacy of all those actions."

Also focusing on the practical aspects of the case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg both wondered why the President couldn't just use the ordinary appointment process (and why the Senate couldn't decline to confirm)--in other words, why the government says that the pro forma sessions and lack of intra-session recess appointment power is a problem.  Justice Scalia pointed out that the President can convene Congress (under Article II, Section 3, "He may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses"), and that Congress can get back within a day or so to deal with appointments.

Finally, Justice Breyer and Justice Kagan both asked about the politics--the shifting positions of the parties, depending on who is in the White House, and the President's use of the recess appointment power to deal with congressional intrasingence, not emergencies.  General Verrilli responded that the Senate's advice-and-consent role is much larger today than the framers anticipated, and that today it encroaches on the President's appointment power--trying to take the case out of ordinary politics and place it back in larger balance-of-powers issues.

 

January 13, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Johnson Files Suit Over Congressional "Exemption" From Obamacare

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) filed suit on Monday to halt the congressional "exemption" from Obamacare.   Here's the complaint.  We posted on the case here.

As we explained, there really is no exemption.  Instead, it's an OPM attempt to put members and staffers of Congress more-or-less in the position they were prior to Obamacare--just like any other employees of large corporations with employer-subsidized health insurance.  In other words, Obamacare treated members and staffers differently (worse) than other similarly situated employees (by requiring them to enter an exchange instead of continue their employer-subsidized health insurance), and the OPM simply acted to continue an employer subsidy for them.

Still, there's the question whether OPM had authority to do this.  That's what Johnson's suit is about (from the complaint):

The legal problem is that the OPM Rule violates the ACA and the federal statutes that apply to the [Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan].  The health plans offered through the exchanges are not OPM-negotiated large group health insurance plans.  Only OPM-negotiated and contracted-for plans can be offered to federal employees through the FEHBP.  Furthermore, the designated Exchange plans do not meet the statutory requirements for FEHBP plans administered by the OPM.  In addition, the federal government does not meet the definition of a small business and, as a result, is not eligible to participate in a SHOP exchange.  Neither the ACA nor any other applicable statute or rule permits the OPM to provide group health insurance to government employees who do not participate in the FEHBP.  Finally, the OPM Rule violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in that it treats Members of Congress and their staffs differently than other similarly-situated employees who obtain insurance coverage pursuant to the terms of the ACA.  No other employees of large employers are able to purchase insurance through small business exchanges with tax free subsidies from their employers.

What Johnson doesn't say in the complaint is that those employees of large corporations get employer-subsidized insurance, like members and staffers used to get under the FEHBP.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty brought the case.  Paul Clement, a consultant on the suit, joined Senator Johnson at a news conference yesterday:

 

January 7, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Johnson to Sue Over Congressional "Exemption" From Obamacare

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) writes in the Wall Street Journal that he'll file suit today to stop the congressional "exemption" from Obamacare.  Senator Johnson writes that the OPM rule allowing members of Congress and staffers to use the exchange and also get an employer subsidy violates the Affordable Care Act and exceeds executive authority.

The dispute over the congressional "exemption" goes way back.  But it turns out, there's no such exemption at all.  The ACA contained a provision that required members of Congress and their staffers to get health insurance on an exchange.  But that was unusual, because members and staffers already had employer-subsidized coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan.  (Exchanges are for the uninsured or employees of small corporations, not for employees of large corporations who already have coverage.  Congress, which previously provided subsidized health insurance to members and staffers, nevertheless inserted a provision in the ACA that required members and staffers to use an exchange.)  As a result, members and staffers would have lost their subsidy.  So OPM stepped in and ruled this fall that members and staffers would qualify for an employer subsidy on the exchange if they purchased insurance in a Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP.

As PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and WaPo's Fact Checker all explain, this treatment is different and unusual, but it's hardly an exemption.  Instead, the employer subsidy simply attempts to put members and staffers back in the position they would have been in if they were treated as employees with employer-subdized health insurance in any large corporation.  In other words, the ACA treated members and staffers differently (worse) than similarly situated employees in large corporations; OPM merely tried to return them to their previous situation--so that they would be treated like everybody else.

Still, there's the question whether OPM had authority to authorize subsidies for member and staffer insurance purchases on an exchange, or whether that required a congressional fix to the ACA.  Senator Johnson says OPM exceeded its authority--that this was a job (were it to be done at all) only for Congress.

January 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Court Dismisses Rangel's Censure Case

Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) earlier this week dismissed Rep. Charles Rangel's suit against House Speaker John Boehner and others growing out of Rangel's censure in 2010 for a variety of improprieties.

Rangel sued Boehner and others after politico.com posted a memo purportedly written by the chief counsel of the House Ethics Committee.  Rangel argued that that memo undermined the integrity of his censure proceeding--so much so that he had a cause of action.

The defendants moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Rangel lacked standing, the case raised a political question, the defendants enjoyed immunity from suit under the Speech and Debate Clause, Rangel's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and even if the court had jurisdiction it should exercise its discretion not to reach the merits.

Judge Bates agreed.  He concluded that Rangel lacked standing based on injury to his reputation (causation was too attenuated), his loss of status on the House Ways and Means Committee (again, no causation, because the Democrats lost seats on the Committee after the 2010 election, and it wasn't clear that Rangel's censure caused him to lose a subcommittee seat), the political exploitation of his censure by a primary opponent (because that's not an injury), or a due process injury (again, no injury).

Judge Bates also concluded that Rangel's claims were political questions, and that each defendant is immune under the Speech or Debate Clause.

December 13, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Senate Moves Nominations Under Majority Rule

The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit and Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency under its new, filibuster-free majority rule for confirmations (except Supreme Court confirmations).  WaPo's Post Politics blog reports here.  We posted earlier on Millett's nomination and on the Senate's move to do away with the filibuster for confirmations.

December 11, 2013 in Congressional Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The New Generation of Challenges to Obamacare

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, have set off a new wave of challenges to the Act, according to today's NYT.  Among these: the religious challenges to the contraception mandate; cases challenging President Obama's extension of the employer mandate deadline; and challenges to the IRS rule providing a subsidy to purchasers of health insurance on the federal exchange.

As to that last one: plaintiffs in a spate of cases argue that Section 1401(a) of the ACA provides that purchasers of health insurance on a state exchange, but not the federal exchange, get a federal subsidy; yet the IRS issued a rule that extends the federal subsidy (in the form of a tax credit) to purchasers on the federal exchange.  This, they say, violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the Tenth Amendment.

Why the Tenth Amendment?  Opponents say that under the ACA an employer who declines to extend coverage has to pay a penalty if and when the federal government gives the employer's employees a subsidy for purchasing health insurance on a state exchange.  Opponents say that the IRS rule extends this federal subsidy, and also the employer penalty, when the employer's employees purchase health insurance on the federal exchange.  According to opponents, that undermines the state's policy decision not to open a state exchange in the first place.  Or, as Indiana put it in paragraph 10 of its complaint in State of Indiana v. IRS:

[The IRS rule] contravenes the text of the ACA, thwarts Indiana's ability to execute State policy sparing employers from Employer Mandate penalties, induces Plaintiffs to reduce the hours of certain employees, including part-time and intermittent employees, to avoid having to provide all such employees with minimum essential coverage, and requires Plaintiffs to file onerous reports with the IRS detailing insurance coverage decisions.  It thereby violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Tenth Amendment, and the Court should permanently enjoin Defendants from putting it into effect.

Later, in paragraph 17, it says:

In light of the IRS Rule, the State will be forced to reduce the hours of several part-time or intermittent employees in order to avoid the "assessable payment" or employer penalty of the ACA.

According to the Notice of Final Rulemaking, the IRS considered and rejected claims that the ACA itself limits subsidies to purchasers on state exchanges when it took comments on the proposed rule.  The IRS said:

The statutory language of section 36B and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act support the interpretation that credits are available to taxpayers who obtain coverage through a State Exchange, regional Exchange, subsidiary Exchange, and the Federally-facilitated Exchange.  Moreover, the relevant legislative history does not demonstrate that Congress intended to limit the premium tax credit to State Exchanges.

December 3, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is an Implied Covenant Part of the Contract?

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, the case testing whether the Airline Deregulation Act preempts a state-law claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising out of an airline's termination of a customer's membership in its frequent flyer program.  Our argument preview is here.

Given that the Court has ruled in Wolens that the ADA does not preempt an ordinary breach-of-contract claim, arguments today turned on whether the claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is simply an incorporated contract requirement or a rule of contract interpretation (so that it's actually part of the contract, and thus not preempted), or whether it's an additional state-imposed obligation on top of the plain terms of the contract (and thus preempted).  This question is informed by the deregulatory purpose of the ADA.  Justice Breyer framed the issue this way:

I absolutely agree wtih you that--that a free market in price is at the heart of the Deregulation Act.  Given.

I also think frequent flyer programs are simply price discounts.  Given.

I also think that if you don't have contracts, you can't have free markets.  Given.

But I also think the State cannot, under the guise of contract law, regulate the prices of airlines.  If you allow that, you're going to have worse than we ever had.  It'll be 50 different systems, all right?

Justice Kagan framed it this way, suggesting a solution that would preserve the implied covenant claim:

I guess what I'm suggesting is that the implied covenant here, it's just an interpretive tool.  It says that there are certain kinds of provisions that are written very broadly or very vaguely, and an implied covenant comes in to help us interpret those kinds of provisions.  And viewed in that way, it's just a contractual device that in light of Wolens ought to be permitted.

Justice Sotomayor said it this way, and proposed a standard for distinguishing between ordinary breach-of-contract claims and implied covenant claims:

My simpler standard comes from quoting Hennepin: "Does the implied covenant claim extend to actions beyond the scope of the underlying contract, or can it override the express terms of the agreement?  If the answer is no, it's not preempted."

The question is complicated by the fact that the frequent flyer program in this case gave Northwest the "sole discretion" to terminate.  So: Is an implied covenant part of that contract, or is it an additional state-law requirement?  And what's the standard for sorting that out?

As an initial matter, any standard may not answer the preemption question categorically.  That's because different states interpret their implied covenant laws differently.  This gave the Court another problem: Does it have to sort out the particular state law on implied covenants in order to determine whether a claim in a particular state is preempted?  And might the answer change depending on the state, leading to inconsistent results and undermining the deregulatory purpose of the ADA?  Justice Scalia put this point on it:

Wow, somebody's really been given a raw deal.  You know, that's still going to be possible even if we rule for [Ginsberg] here.  It depends on what State he's from, right?

Complicating things yet more, the answer may turn on the implied covenant's waivability.  Justice Kagan made this point:

But if it can't be waived, it sure seems as though it is operating independently of the parties' reasonable expectations.

It may also turn on the fact that frequent flyer programs work for airline miles, but also for other goods and services--and thus state regulation of them may not amount to a regulation of airline price, in violation of the ADA.  Justice Alito put it this way:

I don't want to take up your rebuttal time, but if the facts were that under a particular program 90 percent of the miles were earned by purchasing things other than flying and 90 percent of the miles were spent on things other than flying, wouldn't that be very different?

This could give the Court a way out of the problem, by ruling that state implied-covenant claims based on frequent flyer programs aren't preempted because they don't regulate the price of airline tickets.  This seems unlikely, though: even if frequent flyer programs work for other goods and services, they still also work for airline tickets.

Finally, there's the presumption against preemption--and whether it has any bearing on this case.  Chief Justice Roberts seemed to think so:

I do agree, it seems pretty inconsistent with the normal presumption against preemption that we apply out of respect for the State legal regimes to say we're going to adopt a broad prophylactic rule.

But Justice Scalia thought not:

But the whole purpose of the ADA was to preempt State laws.  I mean, I can understand applying that presumption to other statutes which say nothing about preemption.  The whole purpose of the ADA was to deregulate airlines, was to say there was going to be no Federal regulation.  Let the free market handle it and there will be no State regulation.  

On the one hand, a narrow ruling in this case--one that address Ginsberg's particular claim, under Minnesota law, recognizing that this particular program gave the airline "sole discretion" to terminate--seems both likely and appropriate, especially given the particularities of this case.  But on the other hand, as at least some on the Court suggested, an overly narrow ruling, without a broader standard, leaves open the possibility (or even probability) that this very same issue, or one like it, could give the lower courts a headache in the 49 other states (where implied covenant claims might work differently).  

If Ginsberg loses, and his claim is preempted, the U.S. Department of Transportation can still investigate Northwest's frequent flyer program.  But that remedy doesn't do anything for Ginsberg.

December 3, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Conservative Constitutionalism's Surprising Talking Points

Ever since the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate in NFIB, we've been treated to a new and surprising argument by constitutional conservatives.  That argument is in favor of judicial activism.  Yes, that's right: after years of railing against activist judges, conservatives now claim that the federal courts aren't activist enough, in particular, in checking out-of-control exercises of legislative power.

In a series of new books this fall, and reviews in the WSJ here and here (h/t Jon Gutek), constitutional conservatives argue that government regulation has gone wild, and that the courts have not properly checked this growth.  Exhibit A: the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the individual mandate in NFIB.

For example, Randy Barnett, reviewing Clark M. Neily III's Terms of Engagement, argues that Chief Justice Roberts rewrote the individual mandate as a tax, using a "saving construction" as an exercise in judicial restraint in order to uphold a law validly enacted by the legislature.  George Melloan, reviewing Josh Blackman's Unprecedented and Ken Cuccinelli's The Last Line of Defense, similarly argued that Chief Justice Roberts saved the mandate by "call[ing] the act's penalty for noncompliance . . . a 'tax' and waved the ACA through."  

But this turns history on its head.  The government always defended the individual mandate under both its Commerce Clause authority and its taxing power.  It argued the tax point explicitly to the Supreme Court, starting at page 52 of its brief.  It's hardly novel, then, let alone a rewrite of the Act, that the Court upheld the individual mandate under the taxing power.  Indeed, it's exactly what the government argued.  This may not be how constitutional conservatives read the Act's mandate, but it's how all three branches of government did.  The Court's ruling on the taxing power wasn't a reach to defer to the legislature.  Indeed, it wasn't a reach at all.

Barnett's argument that the courts aren't activist enough also ignores the startling activism of the Roberts Court.  Remember, the Court rejected the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, even as it upheld it under the taxing power.  The Court also limited the Medicaid expansion component of the ACA.  We could go on and on with examples of how this Court overturned state and federal legislative acts, but this one is undoubtedly the biggest: the Court last summer rejected the coverage formula for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act--a provision enacted by a breathtaking bipartisan majority in Congress and signed by a Republican president (no big government types, these).  Given the history, it's hard to argue that this wasn't a supremely activist ruling.  This Court has demonstrated its appetite for activism.  But it's apparently not activist enough.  

Barnett goes on to argue that judicial activism in the name of legislative restraint is necessary because voters don't know enough to hold their elected representatives accountable:

In practice, the claim that laws and administrative regulations reflect the will of the public is often a fiction.  In the economic sphere, regulations are more commonly the product of pressure from politically connected and well-established companies at the expense of upstart entrepreneurs.  Because voters know little about these laws and their impact, they can't hold their representatives accountable for enacting them, and the few affected individuals can hardly influence a general election.

This seems a remarkable claim, given the political backlash to the ACA, or Obamacare, and, as Melloan notes, the political blows that Obamacare supporters suffered in the 2008 mid-terms and beyond.  Voters apparently knew how to hold Obamacare supporters accountable.  But the claim is also ironic: the very problem that Barnett describes only gets worse with more money in politics--a result that the activist Supreme Court ensured when it overturned congressional regulation of corporate campaign expenditures in Citizens United.  

These constitutional conservative talking points fall apart on their own terms.  And that's not even getting to the merits.

December 3, 2013 in Books, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Does Federal Airline Deregulation Act Preempt State Implied Covenant Claim?

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, the case testing wether the federal Airline Deregulation Act preempts a state-law claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising out of an airline's termination of a customer's membership in its frequent flyer program.  Here's my preview of the oral argument from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court cases, with permission:

FACTS

S. Binyomin Ginsberg was an active member of WorldPerks, the Northwest Airline’s frequent flyer program, since 1999. Ginsberg, an expert in education and administration, travelled frequently on Northwest to give lectures, conduct seminars and workshops, and advise other educators and administrators. In 2005, Ginsberg earned Platinum Elite Status in the WorkPerks program, the highest level of benefits available.

But in June 2008, Northwest revoked Ginsberg’s WorldPerks membership. A Northwest representative explained by phone that Northwest was revoking his membership because he had abused the program by complaining too many times and strategically booking himself on full flights in order to get bumped. A Northwest Customer Care Coordinator later sent Ginsberg an e-mail citing Paragraph 7 of the WorldPerks General Terms and Conditions and saying that “[a]buse of the WorldPerks program . . . may result in cancellation of the member’s account and future disqualification from program participation, forfeiture of all mileage accrued and cancellation of previously issued but unused awards.” The e-mail also said that Northwest may determine “in its sole judgment” whether a passenger has abused the program. The e-mail did not give any specific information about how Ginsberg had abused the program.

Ginsberg filed suit on January 8, 2009, asserting four causes of action: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) negligent misrepresentation; and (4) intentional misrepresentation. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that Ginsberg failed to show sufficient facts to support his breach-of-contract claim, and that the federal Airline Deregulation Act preempted Ginsberg’s other three claims.

Ginsberg appealed, but only as to his claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, and this appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

Congress enacted the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) in 1978, concluding that “maximum reliance on competitive market forces” would best further “efficiency, innovation, and low prices” as well as “variety [and] quality . . . of air transportation services.” As part of the Act, and in order to ensure that states would not frustrate deregulation by enacting their own regulations, Congress included a preemption provision barring any state from “enact[ing] or enforce[ing] a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” At the same time, Congress retained the Act’s already-existing “savings clause,” which preserved common law and statutory remedies.

The Supreme Court addressed the ADA’s preemption clause in two important cases. In the first case, Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374 (1992), the Court ruled that the ADA preempted state regulation of airlines’ fare advertisements. The Court held that the preemption clause’s phrase “related to” was quite broad, and that the ADA sought to preempt any state enforcement actions “having a connection with or reference to airline ‘rates, routes, or services’ . . . .” The Court had little trouble concluding that state regulation of airlines’ fare advertisements fell comfortably within that definition.

In the second case, American Airlines, Inc. v. Wolens, 513 U.S. 219 (1995), a case very similar to Ginsberg’s, the Court ruled that the ADA preempted state enforcement suits against an airline arising under state-imposed obligations (as in a state law regulating an airline), but not under an airline’s breach of its own, self-imposed obligations (as in the airline’s own contract with its customers). According to the Court, “[a] remedy confined to a contract’s terms simply holds parties to their agreement,” and does not impose additional obligations related to a price, route, or service. Wolens sued American Airlines for making retroactive changes to the terms and conditions of its frequent flyer program. The Court held that the ADA preempted Wolens’s claim under the state Consumer Fraud Act, but that it did not preempt Wolens’s claim for routine breach of contract.

Considering the broad reading of the preemption clause in Morales, the parties here argue whether Ginsberg’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing looks like more a state-imposed obligation or whether it looks more like an airline-imposed obligation under Wolens.

Northwest argues first that the plain language of the ADA preempts Ginsberg’s claim. It says that Ginsberg’s suit, which seeks reinstatement of program membership and renewed access to the reduced prices and enhanced services that come with it, is plainly “related to” Northwest’s prices, routes, and services, especially given the Court’s broad approach to the ADA’s preemption provision. Moreover, Northwest contends that Ginsberg’s claim seeks to enlarge the program’s General Terms and Conditions, a voluntary agreement between the parties, by invoking state law that is external to the agreement. In other words, Northwest says that Ginsberg’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim is no ordinary breach-of-contract claim, designed simply to enforce the terms of the agreement between the parties. Instead, it says that Ginsberg’s claim goes above-and-beyond simple enforcement of the agreement and, if allowed, would enforce state policies outside the four corners of the agreement, external to the contract. Northwest argues that this violates the Court’s rule in Wolens.

 

Next, Northwest argues that preemption of Ginsberg’s claim is consistent with the policies underlying the ADA. Northwest contends that Ginsberg’s implied covenant claim is amorphous and subject to different interpretations, and, if enforced here and elsewhere, would lead to a patchwork of state regulations over agreements like this. (In contrast, Northwest says that simple breach-of-contract claims are uniform enough across jurisdictions to avoid a patchwork result.) Moreover, Northwest argues that Ginsberg’s claim, if recognized, would create a risk of state interference with competition and commercial activity in the airline industry by substituting state law for market forces. Northwest claims that the patchwork result and state interference are both inconsistent with the goals of the ADA, to further “efficiency, innovation, and low prices” in the airline industry through “maximum reliance on competitive market forces.” (Northwest also notes that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has authority to investigate unfair practices in frequent flyer programs, so that Ginsberg and others like him may seek federal administrative relief.)

The federal government weighed in to support Northwest. Like Northwest, the government argues that the ADA preempts Ginsberg’s claim, because Ginsberg’s claim is external to his contract with Northwest. The government contends that because the district court rejected Ginsberg’s breach-of-written-contract claim on the basis that it gave Northwest complete discretion to determine Ginsberg’s status in the program, and because Ginsberg did not appeal that portion of the ruling, Ginsberg’s implied-covenant claim necessarily seeks to impose an additional, non-contractual obligation on Northwest. The government says that under Wolens this claim is preempted. But unlike Northwest the government does not argue for a categorical rule that all implied-covenant claims are preempted by the ADA, because, it says, some implied-covenant claims may require only adjudication of routine breach-of-contract claims, consistent with Wolens. The government says that only those implied-covenant claims that seek to enforce policies outside the contract, like Ginsberg’s, are preempted.

Ginsberg argues first that his implied covenant of good faith claim is not preempted under Wolens. Ginsberg says that his claim does not look outside the contract; instead, it stays within the contract. According to Ginsberg, that’s because a contract includes both express and implied terms, and his claim simply seeks to put an implied-obligation-of-good-faith gloss on the contract language that gives Northwest “sole judgment” to determine whether he abused the program. Ginsberg claims that this gloss is no extra-contractual obligation; rather, it is part-and-parcel of the contract itself. He says that courts read in an implied covenant of good faith to a contract in order to protect the contract’s express terms, and not to add an additional or external obligation or policy. Moreover, Ginsburg contends that his decision not to appeal the dismissal of his claim for a breach of the written contract does not transform his implied covenant of good faith claim into one based on extra-contractual policies, as argued by the federal government. Again, he says that the contract includes both express and implied terms, and his implied claim simply seeks to enforce the contract itself. Ginsberg says that holding Northwest to implied terms furthers the aims of the ADA, because enforcement in good faith increases the stability of contracts and reduces the costs of entering into them. Ginsberg claims that DOT enforcement does not replace the role of the courts in resolving contract disputes, whether they involve express or implied terms of a contract.

Ginsberg argues next that his claim is not preempted because it does not seek to “enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision.” Ginsberg says that the Court unanimously held that a statutory provision in the Federal Boat Safety Act that preempts enforcement of “a law or regulation” does not preempt common-law claims. For the same reasons that that provision did not preempt, Ginsberg contends that the ADA should not preempt. He also says that the word “provision” does not extend to common-law duties. As a result, Ginsberg contends that the ADA’s preemption clause does not apply, even aside from his Wolens argument.

Finally, Ginsberg argues that his claim is not preempted because it does not relate to airline prices, routes, or services. He says that his claim, unlike the claim in Wolens, does not challenge access to flights and upgrades or the number of miles needed to obtain a ticket. Instead, Ginsberg argues that his claim goes only to the termination of his WorldPerks membership. He says that this claim does not reference, does not seek to regulate, and will not affect the price, route, or service of air transportation. (Ginsberg argues that the WorldPerks program is not a “service” within the meaning of the ADA.) Ginsberg underscores this point by noting that frequent flyer miles can be earned and spent on many things other than air transportation, and that consumers can participate in a frequent flyer program without buying a single airline ticket. Finally, Ginsberg says that the DOT advises consumers to “consider legal action through the appropriate civil court” if they are unhappy with the way a frequent flyer program is administered. He says that is exactly what he did here.

SIGNIFICANCE

On one level, this case simply addresses a claim that falls between the cracks of the sharp distinction between contract-based claims and extra-contractual claims that the Court drew in Wolens. By this reckoning, the case is only another opportunity for the Court to round out its analysis of ADA preemption and to give guidance to lower courts and litigants for the next round of claims against the airlines. The case is significant, but only insofar as it deals with ADA preemption of a particular kind of claim. The parties do not argue that the Court should overturn Wolens, and they do not argue that the ADA does not preempt an ordinary breach-of-contract claim. Thus, whatever the Court likely rules in this case, Ginsberg and plaintiffs like him will continue to be able to assert an ordinary breach-of-contract claim against an airline, even if they cannot assert more. (The fact that Ginsberg appealed his implied covenant claim, but not his breach-of-contract claim, says that the implied covenant claim sweeps more broadly, and could be easier to prove, than the breach-of-contract claim. If so, a ruling favoring preemption could mean that plaintiffs would lose a broader class of claims (implied covenant claims), even if they would retain a basic breach-of-contract claim.)

On another level, the case, like many preemption cases, pits significant considerations of federal-state relations against an individual plaintiff’s ability to seek redress for injuries under state law against a corporation. In this way, the case is significant for how it balances federalism against state law remedies against corporations. To put a finer point on it, this case, like some other recent federalism cases, is likely to be seen in pro-corporation or pro-plaintiff terms, depending on the outcome. 

These cases involving federalism and individual state-law remedies sometimes come down with surprising alliances among the justices. In Wolens, for example, Justice Ginsberg wrote the Court’s opinion; it was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer. But the composition of the Court has changed in critical ways since Wolens, making predictions here even more difficult than usual. Look to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as the likely pivotal votes.

December 3, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Supreme Court Declines to Disturb Employer Mandate

The Supreme Court today declined to review a Fourth Circuit ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate.  Our post on the Fourth Circuit ruling is here.

The order rejecting cert. means that the Fourth Circuit ruling stays on the books and that the Supreme Court won't take on the employer mandate (now, and likely ever).  The Obama administration delayed implementation of the mandate (sparking bills in Congress and lawsuits to override the delay); it's now scheduled to go into effect in 2015 (and not January 1, 2014, as the law seems to require).

Recall that the Fourth Circuit ruled in Liberty University v. Lew that Congress had authority under both the Commerce Clause and the Taxing Clause to impose a mandate on employers to provide health insurance to employees.  The case was notable, because it held that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to impose the employer mandate, even though five justices on the Supreme Court ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to impose the individual mandate.  The Fourth Circuit said that in enacting the employer mandate Congress wasn't creating commerce to regulate it (as Chief Justice Roberts wrote in NFIB about the individual mandate).  Instead, the Fourth Circuit said that the employer mandate was just another federal regulation on the terms and conditions of employment between an employee and an employer, who is already in interstate commerce.

December 2, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, News, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Can a State Sue a Tribe for Off-Reservation Gambling?

That's the question before the Supreme Court today in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community.  More particularly, the case asks whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to hear a state's claim that a Native American tribe's off-reservation casino violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and whether the tribe enjoys immunity from such a suit.

With the rapid proliferation of tribal gaming, including off-reservation gaming, the case could make an important statement about the regulatory authority of the tribe, the state, and the federal government over off-reservation gaming.  It could also make an important statement about federal court jurisdiction over a state's claim that a tribe's off-reservation gaming violates federal law, and about tribal immunity for such gaming.

Here's my oral argument preview of the case, republished, with permission, from the ABA Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases:

FACTS

Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) in order to regulate gaming activities on “Indian lands.” The IGRA divides gaming into three separate classes and specifies how each class is regulated. Class I gaming includes social games and traditional tribal games; it is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the tribe. Class II gaming includes bingo and certain card games like poker; it is primarily within the jurisdiction of the tribe but subject to federal oversight.

Class III gaming, the class at issue here, includes everything else, such as slot machines and casino-style games. Class III gaming is not regulated by a uniform structure. Instead, an Indian tribe wishing to conduct Class III gaming has to adopt a gaming ordinance that is approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), a federal agency. The tribe also has to negotiate with the state where it is located and enter into a compact that will govern the gambling.

The Bay Mills Indian Community, a federally-recognized Indian tribe with a reservation in Michigan’s northern peninsula, entered into a compact with Michigan in 1993. Soon after the compact was finalized, the NIGC approved Bay Mills’s gaming ordinance. Bay Mills then proceeded to establish its own Gaming Commission. Bay Mills has continuously operated one or more gaming facilities on its reservation ever since.

In 1997, Congress passed the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. The Act appropriated funds to Bay Mills and other Michigan Indian tribes to satisfy judgments that the Indian Claims Commission had entered in favor of the tribes. The Settlement Act directed that 20 percent of the funds awarded to Bay Mills be deposited in a “Land Trust” and required that earnings from the Trust “be used exclusively for improvements on tribal land or the consolidation and enhancement of tribal landholdings through purchase and exchange.” It also said that “[a]ny land acquired with funds from the Land Trust shall be held as Indian lands are held.”

In August 2010, Bay Mills used the funds from the Settlement Act land trust to purchase approximately 40 acres of land in Vanderbilt, Michigan, about 100 miles from the Tribe’s reservation. Bay Mills constructed a small casino on the property (initially with 38 electronic gaming machines, but later expanded to 84 machines) and began operating it on November 3, 2010. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the NIGC later issued letters concluding that the Vanderbilt casino was not located on “Indian lands” as defined by the IGRA, that it was therefore not eligible for gaming under the IGRA, and that the NIGC had no jurisdiction over it.

The state filed suit against Bay Mills in federal court. The state’s counts I and II alleged that the Vanderbilt land did not constitute “Indian lands” under the IGRA, and that Bay Mills therefore violated the compact. The state’s count III alleged that Bay Mills violated the IGRA by conducting gaming outside of Indian lands and that even if the Vanderbilt land constituted “Indian lands,” Bay Mills violated 25 U.S.C. § 2719 (and therefore the compact’s requirement that gaming comply with federal law) by operating a gaming facility on land acquired after October 17, 1988, that does not satisfy any statutory exception. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which operated a competing casino about 40 miles away, filed a separate suit with similar claims the next day.

The district court consolidated the cases and entered a preliminary injunction halting the Bay Mills casino. Bay Mills appealed and moved for a stay of the injunction; the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit both denied a stay.

While Bay Mills’s appeal was pending, the state amended its complaint to add three additional claims. Count IV alleged that Bay Mills violated federal common law by operating a casino that exceeds the scope of its authority. Count V alleged that Bay Mills failed to obtain a state license for a gaming facility in violation of Michigan law. Count VI alleged that the casino was a public nuisance under state law. The state also added several defendants—the Bay Mills Tribal Gaming Commission, the Commission’s members in their official capacities, and the members of the Bay Mills Executive Council in their official capacities.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed and vacated the preliminary injunction. The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction as to counts I, II, and III. The court held that the district court had jurisdiction as to counts IV, V, and VI against Bay Mills, but that those counts were barred by tribal sovereign immunity. The court remanded the case to the district court to address the state’s counts IV-VI against the additional individual defendants.

The state brought this appeal. Little Traverse is not a party to it; neither are the individuals named in the state’s amended complaint.

CASE ANALYSIS

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. This means that their jurisdiction must be defined by statute. One common source of federal jurisdiction is found in 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which creates the so-called “federal question” jurisdiction. Under § 1331, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”

Another source of federal jurisdiction—one that goes particularly to gaming on Indian lands—is found in 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), part of the NIGC. That provision says that federal district courts have jurisdiction over “any cause of action initiated by a State or Indian tribe to enjoin a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands and conducted in violation of any Tribal-State compact . . . .”

The parties here dispute whether the federal courts have jurisdiction over the state’s claims. In particular, they dispute whether the state’s claims arising out of the Bay Mills’s alleged violation of the compact fall under § 1331 (because these claims might amount to a violation of the IGRA, a federal statute), and whether the Vanderbilt casino is “a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands” under § 2710.

But even if a federal court has jurisdiction (under §§ 1331, 2710, or some other federal statute), certain parties, like Indian tribes, enjoy immunity from suit. The Supreme Court has recognized tribal sovereign immunity, and both parties agree that “the doctrine is now part of this Court’s settled precedent . . . .” But they disagree sharply over the extent of that immunity.

The state argues first that the district court has jurisdiction over its suit pursuant to § 2710. The state says that the Vanderbilt casino is “a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands,” because Bay Mills authorized, licensed, and operated the casino from its reservation. More particularly, it contends that § 2710 extends federal court jurisdiction to the gaming itself, but also to the gaming activity, which, the state argues, includes authorizing, licensing, and operating the casino. The state claims that its interpretation of the text is consistent with the congressional intent.

The state argues next that the district court has jurisdiction over its federal claims pursuant to § 1331. The state says that it alleged a violation of the IGRA, a federal statute, when it claimed that Bay Mills violated the compact (in counts I, II, and III). It also says that nothing in the IGRA limits the federal courts’ federal question jurisdiction under § 1331.

The state argues that tribal sovereign immunity does not bar its suit for two independent reasons. First, the state contends that the IGRA abrogated tribal sovereign immunity. The state says that the Court uses a “more holistic approach” in determining whether a federal statute abrogates tribal sovereign immunity, and that the IGRA viewed as a whole (and not just § 2710) makes clear that Congress intended that a state could enforce its gaming laws in federal court against an Indian tribe engaged in off-reservation gaming. The state claims that the opposite rule would lead to an absurd result—that the state could obtain a federal court injunction to stop illegal gaming on Indian lands, but not on its own sovereign state lands. The state says that Congress could not have intended this result.

Second, the state argues that even if the IGRA does not abrogate tribal sovereign immunity, the Court should decline to extend immunity here. The state says that the Court has never expressly extended tribal immunity to a tribe’s off-reservation commercial activities, and, especially given tribal immunity’s “dubious foundation,” the Court should decline to extend it to those activities in this case.

In response, Bay Mills first argues that the state cannot claim that the Vanderbilt casino is “on Indian lands,” as it does in its first point. Bay Mills says that that argument falls outside the questions presented, which speak solely to gaming activities “outside of Indian lands.” But even if this argument were properly before the Court, Bay Mills contends that the state is wrong: the IGRA itself says that a tribe’s decision to open a gaming facility is not a “class III gaming activity.”

Next, Bay Mills argues that it is immune from Michigan’s suit under § 1710. Bay Mills claims that § 1710 only abrogates tribal sovereign immunity “on Indian lands,” and that the whole premise of the state’s claim is that the Vanderbilt casino is off Indian lands. Bay Mills says that under the plain language of § 1710, “Michigan has simply pled itself out of court.”

To the extent that Michigan and its amici argue for a Court-created exception to tribal sovereign immunity, Bay Mills argues that the Court has already rejected the proposed exceptions. Bay Mills also says that the Court has rejected pleas to overrule its tribal sovereignty immunity precedents. Bay Mills contends that it is Congress’s prerogative, not the Court’s, to alter the scope of tribal sovereign immunity, and that Congress has only reaffirmed it. Bay Mills claims that tribal sovereign immunity “has deep roots in this country’s jurisprudence,” and that there is no reason for the Court to abrogate it now.

Finally, Bay Mills argues that the Ninth Circuit decision will not leave the state without a remedy, as the state argues. Bay Mills says that Michigan most obviously can invoke the dispute resolution procedure in the compact. Bay Mills claims that Michigan could also sue tribal officials for injunctive relief. Additionally, Bay Mills argues that the state could negotiate a waiver of sovereign immunity in the next round of compact negotiations, seek federal intervention in the dispute, or even outlaw gaming throughout the state.  

The federal government, as amicus in support of Bay Mills, also argues that the federal courts lack jurisdiction over Michigan’s claims. The federal government says that § 2710 does not extend jurisdiction of the state’s claims to the district court. Contrary to the state’s argument, the federal government says that numerous provisions in the IGRA demonstrate that the phrase “class III gaming activities” refers to the games themselves, and not to authorizing, licensing, and operating games. And because the games themselves are not located on Indian lands, § 2710 is not a basis for jurisdiction. Moreover, the federal government says that § 1331 does not extend jurisdiction, because the state’s federal claims (counts I, II, and III) do not fall within § 2710, and because the compact does not contain a provision agreeing to federal court review of the state’s other claims.

Next, the federal government argues that Bay Mills enjoys tribal sovereign immunity. The federal government says that § 2710 did not abrogate sovereign immunity, because the state alleged that the Vanderbilt casino is not on Indian lands. The federal government contends that 18 U.S.C. § 1166 also does not abrogate sovereign immunity, because that statute gives the federal government (not the states) enforcement authority in Indian lands for violations of assimilated state gambling laws. The federal government says that § 1166 does not give states authority to enforce state gambling laws outside Indian lands, and even less to sue the tribe itself. The government contends that tribal sovereign immunity already extends to a tribe’s commercial activities wherever they take place, and that the Court should leave it to Congress to balance the interests of the tribes and the states and to determine the scope of immunity.

Finally, the federal government argues that Michigan has other remedies. Like Bay Mills, the federal government says that the state could seek injunctive relief against an individual tribal official. The federal government claims that the state could also negotiate a waiver of sovereign immunity in the compact. Moreover, the federal government contends that the state could request approval from the NIGC of a site-specific gaming ordinance for the Vanderbilt casino, forcing the NIGC to determine whether the site is eligible for gaming, and appeal the decision in court. Finally, the federal government notes that the state can enforce its own gaming laws against individuals involved in gaming at the Vanderbilt casino. With all these options, the federal government argues that there is no need to diminish tribal sovereign immunity to create a remedy that would resolve this dispute.

SIGNIFICANCE

At its core, this case is about the allocation of power between states and Indian tribes over the operation of an activity, tribal-sponsored gambling, that has seen astonishing growth in recent decades and today is worth tens of billions of dollars nationwide. (The NIGC tracks this growth in Gaming Revenue Reports, available at http://www.nigc.gov/Gaming_Revenue_Reports.aspx.) Both Indian tribes and states use legalized gaming more and more for revenue, economic development, and economic activity and opportunity. Within this broader context, the regulation of tribal gaming, even at the margins, is itself a high-stakes game.

To be sure, this case deals with only a small part of this larger question, that is: off-reservation gambling. And it involves only special federal jurisdictional and immunity questions that come up in the particular case when an Indian tribe purchases land to build an off-reservation casino.

Still, in the rapidly growing sector of Indian gaming, the case already matters. As Michigan indicates, it “is already aware of at least three additional lawsuits where parties have cited the Sixth Circuit’s decision here in support of a tribe’s operation (or planned operation) of a casino in violation of IGRA or tribal-state gaming compacts.” The state notes that “[a]s tribes continue to look for better casino locations . . . or new ways to profit from the explosion of casino gaming, the friction between state authority and tribal immunity will inevitably increase.” That’s not to say that Michigan’s positions in the case are (necessarily) right, but only that the issues are already significant, and only likely to grow in importance.

Moreover, the issues are highly controversial. On the one hand, many favor expanding off-reservation gaming opportunities, because Indian tribes and states can use off-reservation gaming to generate more revenue and economic development in more attractive locations off the reservations (like closer to urban centers). On the other hand, many oppose off-reservation gaming, because it encroaches on local communities. The debate is playing out in communities across the country where Indian tribes are seeking permission to conduct off-reservation gaming. The debate is also playing out in Washington, where the Obama administration moved in 2011 to loosen requirements for some off-reservation gaming, and where some in Congress have introduced legislation to tighten them. Again, this case sits right at the center of these debates.

Whatever happens in this case, though, it cannot change the basic statutory framework under the IGRA: Indian tribes will still have to adopt a gaming ordinance and negotiate a compact with the state. The compact requirement ensures that both states and Indian tribes will have a significant hand in regulating casino-like tribal gaming. But the outcome of the case may affect how Indian tribes and states negotiate their compacts and the terms they include in them.

It is important to remember that the Department of the Interior and the NIGC issued opinions that the Vanderbilt casino was not on “Indian lands” and was therefore not eligible for gaming under the NGRA. The federal government does not disavow these opinions. Indeed, the federal government sets out an array of options for Michigan to regulate the Vanderbilt casino (and other future casinos), notwithstanding (as the federal government argues) the federal courts’ lack jurisdiction over the state’s claims and Bay Mills’s immunity from suit. In other words, the Sixth Circuit ruling does not mean that Bay Mills can operate its casino, or that other tribes could operate like casinos off reservation, without at least some state and federal oversight and permission.

Finally, the case is significant because it will resolve splits in the circuits. There is disagreement among the circuits on both questions presented—the scope of federal jurisdiction, and the scope of tribal sovereign immunity.

December 2, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

United States Supreme Court Grants Certiorari on Religious Claims of Secular For-Profit Corporation

As widely expected, United States Supreme Court has granted the petitions for writ of certiorari to the Tenth Circuit's divided en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius as well as to the Third Circuit's divided opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services.  

SCOTUS
Supreme Court Justices by Donkey Hotey

 

In lengthy opinions, the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby  essentially divided 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.  The majority essentially concluded there was such a right and that the right was substantially burdened by the requirement of the PPACA that employer insurance plans include contraception coverage for employees. 

The majority of the Third Circuit panel opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation, articulated the two possible theories under which a for-profit secular corporation might possess Free Exercise rights and rejected both.  First, the majority rejected the notion that the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation could "directly" exercise religion in accord with Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n (2010), distinguishing free speech from free exercise of religion.  Second, the majority rejected the so-called "pass through" theory in which for-profit corporations can assert the free exercise rights of their owners, and concluded that the PPACA did not actually require the persons who are owners to "do" anything.

For ConLaw Profs, here are some useful links:  A discussion of the most recent circuit case, decided earlier in November by the Seventh Circuit, is here;  a digest of the previous circuit court cases and some discussion of the controversy is here, some interesting hypotheticals (good for teaching and exam purposes) as posed by Seventh Circuit Judge Rovner are here,  ConLawProf Marci Hamilton's discussion is here, a critique of the sincerity of claims in Eden Foods is here,  a discussion of the district judge's opinion in Hobby Lobby is here,  a discussion of the Tenth Circuit en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby is here, and the SCOTUSblog page with briefs is here.

[image: Supreme Court Justices by Donkey Hotey via]

~Ruthann Robson

November 26, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Religion, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reid to go Nuclear

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that he's proposing changes to the Senate rules that would abolish the filibuster for most judicial and executive branch nominees.  Reid's proposal would reportedly retain the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

Politico reports here.

Reid is reportedly prepared to go nuclear--that is, to change the rules by a simple majority vote.

Reid's proposal comes on the heels of three successful filibusters in as many weeks by Senate Republicans of President Obama's picks for the D.C. Circuit.

November 21, 2013 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Government Releases Trove of NSA Documents

The Obama administration late Monday released a trove of documents related to NSA surveillance, including key FISA court rulings and other materials going back to the Bush administration.  The NYT reports here.  Lawfare is covering the release and analyzing particular documents here.

The materials include documents on government e-mail and domestic phone surveillance, including the Bush administration's 2006 application for initial approval by the FISA court to collect bulk logs of domestic phone calls and a FISA court ruling approving a program to track e-mails during the Bush administration.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified and released the documents in response to FOIA lawsuits by the ACLU and EPIC.

 

November 19, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Fourth Amendment, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Senate Republicans Block Third D.C. Circuit Nominee in Three Weeks

Senate Republicans once again successfully blocked a nominee for the D.C. Circuit.  Today's vote, 38 to 53, fell seven short of the 60 needed to overcome the Republican filibuster of Robert Wilkins's nomination to the court.  Politico reports here.

This now puts Republicans at 3-0 in the last three weeks in blocking judicial nominees to the D.C. Circuit.  In the last two weeks, they successfully filibustered Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard.

Some Senate Democrats are making more noise about using the nuclear option, that is, getting rid of the filibuster (the cloture rule) for judicial nominees.  Republicans (still) say that the court isn't busy enough to fill the three vacancies, and that they're just doing the same thing that Democrats did when they blocked President Bush's nominee to the court, Peter Keisler. 

Active judges on the court are evenly divided between those appointed by Democrats and those appointed by Republicans.  But five of the court's six senior judges--who still sit and decide cases--are appointed by conservatives.  Indeed, 15 of the last 19 appointments to the court were by Republican presidents.

November 18, 2013 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How the President Should Deal With the Debt Limit

Neil H. Buchanan (GW) argues at the Jurist.org that the President should just pay the nation's bills if Congress fails to increase the debt ceiling.

Buchanan summarizes an argument that he and Michael Dorf made over three articles last year in the Columbia Law Review--one, two, and three--that the President should do the least constitutional damage if ever faced with a trilemma involving taxing, spending, and a debt ceiling that don't add up. 

Buchanan and Dorf argue that Congress would create this trilemma if it failed to increase the debt limit: Congress would have authorized a particular level of taxation; Congress would have authorized a higher level of spending; and Congress would have capped the debt limit at a level lower than authorized spending.  All three are congressional acts that the President must enforce, but if the President enforces any two, he necessarily violates the third.

So: what to do?

Buchanan and Dorf argue that the constitution requires the President to take the action (1) that exercises as little legislative power as possible and (2) in a way that allows Congress to later enact legislation that can undo his actions, if it so desires.

Those two criteria mean that the President should, even must, violate the debt limit.  That's because violating the debt limit (but complying with the taxing and spending measures passed by Congress) is the choice that's least legislative in nature, and the one that Congress can later undo (by enacting taxing and spending measures that add up). 

Buchanan explains why this solution is novel--but also why it's right:

Bizarrely, the shared assumption among Republicans and Democrats alike has been that the president must simply default on the government's spending obligations, if he is ever faced with a trilemma. . . .

The reason that is so bizarre is that it simply presumes that duly-enacted spending laws can be ignored by the president.  They cannot.  We are not taking about choosing to increase or decrease future levels of spending, after all.  We are, instead, contemplating having the president refuse to honor legal claims for payment from the federal government, choosing not to pay the government's legal obligations, in full, on the date that they are due.

November 17, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)