Monday, August 5, 2013
Recall that the district court dismissed the case for lack of standing and for raising a political question. The defendants in their brief raised those issues and another ground for dismissal: the claims are barred by the Speech or Debate Clause. The defendants said that "[u]nder that Clause, Senate officers are absolutely immune from suit for any actions assisting the Senate in carrying out debate under its rules because such acts fall squarely within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity protected from questioning by the Clause." Brief of Appellees at 21.
Common Cause responded:
Actions that violate the Constitution are not "within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity"--they are ultra vires. As the Supreme Court held in Powell, Dombrowski and Kilbourn, "legislative employees who participated in the unconstitutional activity" are not immune from suit under the Speech or Debate Clause and are "responsible for their acts." Powell.
Reply Brief at 30.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
The Third Circuit has had yet another opportunity to review the constititionality of the city of Hazleton's extensive immigration ordinances in its new opinion in Lozano v. City of Hazleton [Pennsylvania]. Recall that the United States Supreme Court granted the City's petition for a writ of certiorari and vacated the Third Circuit's previous decision in light of Chamber of Commerce of United States of America v. Whiting.
In 2010, the Third Circuit panel, affirming the district court, had rendered an extensive 188 page opinion in unanimously finding that the two ordinances of Hazleton, Pennsylvania regulating immigration were pre-empted by the federal immigration scheme. The employment provision in Hazleton made it unlawful “for any business entity” to “recruit, hire for employment, or continue to employ” or “permit, dispatch, or instruct any person” who is an “unlawful worker” to perform work within Hazleton, and required employer affidavits. The ordinances also had a housing provision making it unlawful for landlords to rent to unlawful residents.
In its new opinion, the panel - - - again consisting of Chief Judge McKee and Judge Nygaard, with the previous designated judge now replaced by Judge Vanaskie - - - found that Whiting, as well as the Court's subsequent decision in Arizona v. United States regarding the notorious SB1070, did not command a different result. Instead, the court again concluded that " both the employment and housing provisions of the Hazleton ordinances are pre-empted by federal immigration law.”
Regarding the employment provisions of the Hazleton ordinance, the Third Circuit panel found that the Court's opinions in Whiting and Arizona did alter some of its previous analysis, but that the employment provisions of the Hazleton ordinance were so broad in their coverage of both actors and activities that they were an obstacle to the federal immigration law and were thus pre-empted.
As to the housing provisions, the court found:
No part of Whiting or Arizona considered provisions of a state or local ordinance that, like the housing provisions here, prohibit, and define “harboring” to include, allowing unauthorized aliens to reside in rental housing. Moreover, nothing in Whiting or Arizona undermines our analysis of the contested housing provisions here. On the contrary, the Court‟s language reinforces our view that Hazleton‟s attempt to prohibit unauthorized aliens from renting dwelling units in the City are pre-empted.
Thus, the Third Circuit reaffirmed its view that the Hazelton ordinance is unconstitutional as pre-empted.
In considering whether or not to pursue a second petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, the City of Hazleton will undoubtedly be considering the extensive litigation costs it has already expended and deciding whether it should spend even more, although reportedly some costs have been paid by private contributions.
Monday, July 29, 2013
opinion, a panel of the Third Circuit in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services has held that a private for-profit secular corporation, in this case making wood cabinetry and employing almost one thousand people, does not meet the threshold for raising a claim that the ACA's requirement that its health insurance include contraceptive coverage for its employees.
Writing for the majority, Judge Robert Cowen, joined by Thomas Vanaskie, acknowledged in a footnote the contrary decision of a majority of the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, but simply stated it respectfully disagreed. Instead, affirming the district judge, the majority skillfully 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). The majority noted that Citizens United was grounded in the notion that the Court has a long history of protecting corporations' rights to free speech and that there was no similar history regarding corporations' religious rights:
In fact, we are not aware of any case preceding the commencement of litigation about the Mandate, in which a for-profit, secular corporation was itself found to have free exercise rights. Such a total absence of caselaw takes on even greater significance when compared to the extensive list of Supreme Court cases addressing the free speech rights of corporations.
The majority distinguished religious organizations, such as those involved in Gonzalez v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006) or Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), because these are not "secular, for-profit corporations."
Second, the majority rejected the so-called "pass through" theory in which for-profit corporations can assert the free exercise rights of their owners. The majority noted that the Hahn family own 100 percent of the voting shares of Conestoga and that the Hahns practice the Mennonite religion. However, it rejected the theory that had been applied by the Ninth Circuit in two non-ACA mandate cases, stating the theory "rests on erroneous assumptions regarding the very nature of the corporate form." For the majority, it is a "fundamental principle" that "incorporation‘s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created the corporation." Rather, "by incorporating their business, the Hahns themselves created a distinct legal entity that has legally distinct rights and responsibilities from the Hahns, as the owners of the corporation." Moreover, because
Conestoga is distinct from the Hahns, the Mandate does not actually require the Hahns to do anything. All responsibility for complying with the Mandate falls on Conestoga.
(emphasis in original).
The majority's RFRA analysis is exceedingly brief, simply stated that since the corporation cannot exercise a religion it cannot assert a statutory RFRA claim.
In a 66 page dissent that is twice as long as the majority opinion, Judge Kent Jordan criticizes the majority for concluding that the "Hahns' choice to operate their business as a corporation carries with it the consequence that their rights of conscience are forfeit." Judge Jordan's dissent is clearly deeply felt, stating that
the government claims the right to force Conestoga and its owners to facilitate the purchase and use of contraceptive drugs and devices, including abortifacients, all the while telling them that they do not even have a basis to speak up in opposition. Remarkable.
I reject that power grab and would hold that Conestoga may invoke the right to religious liberty on its own behalf.
Indeed, Judge Jordan's dissent demonstrates how deeply the divisions abide on this issue. Coupled with the similarly split opinions in Hobby Lobby, in which the majority agrees with Judge Jordan, it's clear that if - - - and most likely when - - - this issue reaches the United States Supreme Court, it will be very contentious.
July 29, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 25, 2013
AG Eric Holder announced today that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal district court in Texas to bail-in Texas for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. The move, the Department's first after the Supreme Court struck the Section 4 coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County v. Holder, is part of Holder's announced strategy to use still-available portions of the Voting Rights Act (like bail-in and Section 2 litigation) to enforce voting rights.
If successful, bail-in would mean that Texas would be subject to the preclearance requirement, notwithstanding the Court's ruling in Shelby County. That's because the Court in Shelby County struck the coverage formula for preclearance (in Section 4 of the VRA), but didn't touch other portions of the VRA, including the bail-in provision in Section 3(c). (It also didn't touch Section 5, the preclearance provision.) Under the bail-in provision in Section 3(c), the DOJ can seek continued federal court monitoring of an offending jurisdiction, a freeze on the jurisdiction's election laws, and a requirement that the jurisdiction get permission, or preclearance, from the court or the DOJ before it makes any changes to its election laws.
AG Holder cited the federal court's rejection of preclearance to Texas's redistricting, which the court said had both the purpose and effect of discriminating in the vote, as support for his action. (Recall that the Supreme Court vacated that federal court's rejection of preclearance shortly after it handed down Shelby County.)
If successful, AG Holder will subject Texas again to preclearance. This approach, seeking individual jurisdiction bail-in under Section 3(c) of the VRA, is a more tailored way to target particularly offending jurisdictions than the coverage formula in Section 4, struck by the Court in Shelby County. Still, it may face some of the same problems that Section 4 faced in Shelby County--particularly, it may run up against the new "equal state sovereignty" doctrine that we wrote about here.
July 25, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
The D.C. Circuit struck a congressional act that required the State Department to include "Israel" on the passport of any U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem. The court in Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State ruled that the law interfered with the President's exclusive power to recognize foreign countries.
The case will likely go (back) to the Supreme Court, this time on the merits. This is a significant separation-of-powers case, with important implications, and even if the Court ultimately agrees with the D.C. Circuit, it'll almost certainly want to put its own stamp on the substantive questions.
The problem was that long-standing State Department policy and practice did not recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel. The Foreign Affairs Manual, the State Department regs, reflected this, saying that passports issued to U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem should use just "Jerusalem" as the place of birth, not "Jerusalem, Israel," or "Israel."
Congress moved to direct the State Department to use "Israel," however, as part of its broader effort in 2002 to change U.S. foreign policy and identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Bush signed the larger bill, but issued a signing statement on those portions of the bill, including the portion that required the use of "Israel" on passports of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem, saying that those portions interfered with the President's foreign affairs powers.
Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem to U.S. citizens. His parents sought to designate his place of birth as "Jerusalem, Israel," on his passport, but the State Department refused. The Zivotofskys sued, and after going up and back to the Supreme Court, the case landed again in the D.C. Circuit.
The D.C. Circuit started with the so-called recognition power--the power to recognize foreign countries. The court reviewed the original intent, early and later practices, and Supreme Court rulings on the recognition power and found that it belonged to the President alone. (It found original intent inconclusive, however.)
It said that Congress's attempt to require the use of "Israel" interfered with that power and thus struck the provision.
The court rejected Zivotofsky's argument that Congress has a "passport power" that it properly exercised here. The court said that, whatever the extent of its passport power, Congress was quite obviously trying to do more than just regulate the contents of passports here: it was trying to set U.S. foreign policy. The court said that this interfered with the President's power to recognize foreign countries.
The court also rejected Zivotofsky's argument that the use of "Israel" didn't affect foreign affairs or recognition, because the State Department used the country-of-birth simply to identify the passport holder. The court said that the State Department said that this would affect foreign affairs, and that it's not the court's place to second-guess the executive branch on this.
(The court also said that President Bush's signing statement was irrelevant to its analysis, and that Zivotofsky's argument that the State Department policy discriminates against supporters of Israel was waived.)
Judge Tatel, concurring, came to the same conclusion, but started with the passport power. Judge Tatel argued that the passport power, whatever it is, can't interfere with the President's recognition power.
July 23, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, July 19, 2013
Justice John Paul Stevens in the New York Review of Books writes a thoughtful "dissent" in the Court's ruling in Shelby County around his review of Gary May's outstanding book Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (Basic). Justice Stevens's piece is mostly an indictment of Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion in Shelby County, based on some of May's study of voting discrimination; but he also has quite kind things to say (and justifiably so) about May's excellent history. (Our posts on Shelby County itself are collected here.)
Justice Stevens writes that May takes a longer, more detailed view of the history of voting than Chief Justice Roberts did in Shelby County--a view that Justice Ginsburg also took in her dissent in that case. He notes that Chief Justice Roberts didn't even mention anything before 1890 in his opinion, and glossed over significant details since.
And Justice Stevens takes on Chief Justice Roberts's new-found doctrine of "equal state sovereignty"--a doctrine that drove a good part of the result. Justice Stevens says that unequal treatment of states is woven right in to the fabric of the Constitution itself. In particular, the three-fifths clause gave southern states a "slave bonus" in political power, giving those states disproportionate representation and even leading to the election of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams in 1800. If the original text of the Constitution itself can treat states so dramatically differently, why this new doctrine of equal state sovereignty? (We posted on this new doctrine here.) (It can be no answer that the Reconstruction Amendments abolished the three-fifths counting system, for the Reconstruction Amendments themselves were specifically designed to give Congress power over the states, and led to dramatically different treatment of the states. It similarly can be no answer that the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments protect state sovereignty (even if they do), because the Reconstruction Amendments came after them. As last-in-time, they at least inform the meaning of the earlier amendments, even if they don't do away with them entirely.)
July 19, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, History, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) earlier this week rejected hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees' suit for an injunction against the government to stop it from force-feeding them. The ruling in Aamer v. Obama is the second recent case coming out of the federal courts rejecting an anti-force-feeding claim. Here's our post on the first.
Judge Collyer, like Judge Kessler in the earlier case, ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2), which deprives courts of jurisdiction to hear an action related to "any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement" of an alien detainee at Guantanamo.
Judge Collyer went on to address the merits, too. She wrote that the government is "responsible for taking reasonable steps to guarantee the safety of inmates in their charge," that there is no right to suicide or assisted suicide, and that the government has a legitimate penological interest in preventing suicide. Moreover, she wrote that the government has put controls in place so that the procedure really isn't so bad, and that the government made adjustments to the force-feeding schedule for the Ramadan fast.
July 18, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Scott Bombay, over at Constitution Daily, reports on a recent order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, directing the Justice Department to conduct a "declassification review" of a April 25, 2008, ruling and legal briefs involving Yahoo! The move could lead to release of documents that reveal some of the FISC's secret workings--in particular, according to Yahoo!, "how the parties and the Court vetted the Government's arguments supporting the use of directives" to gather information about subscribers without their knowledge. (Yahoo!'s interest is in showing that it vigorously defended its users' privacy.)
But Bombay notes that when the Justice Department finishes its classification job, there may not be much left of the ruling or the briefs to help us understand much of anything.
FISC Presiding Judge Reggie Walton ordered the Justice Department to report back to him by July 29 about when the documents could be ready for public inspection.
Lazarus says, referencing Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur's letter to Congressman Fred Upton, that delayed enforcement, or temporary postponements, of tax reporting and payment requirements are routine across Republican and Democratic administrations. Moreover, the administration's delay is well within the courts' zone of tolerance under the Administrative Procedure Act:
To be sure, the federal Administrative Procedure Act authorizes federal courts to compel agencies to initiate statutorily required actions that have been "unreasonably delayed." But courts have found delays to be unreasonable only in rare cases where, unlike this one, inaction had lasted for several years, and the recalcitrant agency could offer neither a persuasive excuse nor a credible end to its dithering.
In other words, the courts give the administration some room, and the administration's delayed enforcement of the employer mandate, just one year while the administration gears up for it, is well within that space.
Mazur's letter also cites the IRC:
The Notice [of delayed enforcement] is an exercise of the Treasury Department's longstanding administrative authority to grant transition relief when implementing new legislation like the ACA. Administrative authority is granted by section 7805(a) of the Internal Revenue Code.
This authority has been used to postpone the application of new legislation on a number of prior occasions across Administrations.
In response to the White House announcement that it will delay enforcement of the so-called employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans introduced two bills, H.R. 2667 and H.R. 2668, that would amend the ACA to delay the effective date of the employer mandate and the individual mandate, respectively.
The White House promised a veto, saying that legislation authorizing a delay for the employer mandate is unnecessary (because according to the White House it can do this unilaterally) and that legislation authorizing a delay for the individual mandate would raise health insurance premiums and result in fewer insured.
The bills were clearly designed to highlight the Republicans' complaint that the administration is treating businesses more favorably than individuals and to force the administration to own up to its more favorable treatment of businesses. The White House didn't bite. (The Hill covered the politics here.)
But there's still this problem: It's not at all clear on what authority the administration can delay the enforcement of the employer mandate. As we wrote earlier, the ACA says that the employer mandate "shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013." That doesn't leave much wiggle room.
If the administration doesn't enforce the employer mandate until later, it's not clear that anyone could complaint (that is, that anyone would have standing to sue in federal court to compel enforcement). So the administration, as a practical matter, may not need a legal theory for delayed enforcement.
Friday, July 12, 2013
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit upheld the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling in Liberty University v. Lew deals a significant blow to challengers of the Act's requirement that large employers provide affordable health care coverage to full-time employees and dependents or pay a fine. Unless and until it's appealed to the full Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court--and unless and until one or the other reverses--the ruling upholds the employer mandate.
The ruling is notable, because it says that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the employer mandate. (Recall that five Justices on the Supreme Court said last summer in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that Congress exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the individual mandate.) What's the difference? See below.
The case is a hold-over from the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. Recall that the Court in that case held that the Anti-Injunction Act did not bar a the suit challenging the individual mandate, and that the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress's taxing power. The Court also remanded Liberty University to the Fourth Circuit for a ruling consistent with NFIB. (The Fourth Circuit previously held that the Anti-Injunction Act deprived it of jurisdiction to rule on the merits and dismissed the case.)
The Fourth Circuit followed NFIB's lead and ruled that the employer mandate (like the individual mandate in NFIB) was not a "tax" for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. (The court also ruled that Liberty University had standing to lodge its pre-enforcement challenge of the employer mandate, and that the individual named plaintiffs had standing to challenge the individual mandate.)
On the merits, the court ruled that the employer mandate is a valid exercise of Congress's Commerce Clause authority. (Recall that five members of the Supreme Court in NFIB said that the individual mandate exceeded Congress's Commerce Clause authority, even if it fell within Congress's taxation power.) What's the difference between the employer mandate and the individual mandate? In short, unlike individuals who have not purchased health insurance, employers operate in interstate commerce, and health insurance is part of their employees' compensation package, which itself is regulable under the Commerce Clause. The Fourth Circuit explained:
To begin, we note that unlike the individual mandate . . . the employer mandate does not seek to create commerce in order to regulate it. In contrast to individuals, all employers are, by their very nature, engaged in economic activity. All employers are in the market for labor. And to the extent that the employer mandate compels employers in interstate commerce to do something, it does not compel them to "become active in commerce," [NFIB, emphasis in original]; it merely "regulate[s] existing commercial activity," id., i.e., the compensation of employees . . . .
Further, contrary to Liberty's assertion, the employer mandate does not require employers to "purchase an unwanted product." . . . Although some employers may have to increase employee compensation (by offering new or modified health insurance coverage), employers are free to self-insure, and many do.
(Interestingly, the court dropped a footnote, note 7, that says, "We express no opinion as to whether the limitation on the commerce power announced by five justices in NFIB constitutes a holding of the Court." We covered that topic here.)
Following NFIB, the court also upheld the individual mandate under Congress's taxing power, and applied that ruling to uphold the employer mandate under Congress's taxing power.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' religion claims--based on the First and Fifth Amendments (equal protection) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
July 12, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thomas Edsall set out the case earlier this week in the NYT for why the Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby County will have a devastating impact on the already-declining political power of blacks in the South (and around the country). The core thesis: Southern state legislatures have redrawn districts in a way that increases black representation but decreases black political power. They've also enacted other laws, like voter-ID, that primarily hit black, Hispanic, and poor communities.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ) introduced a resolution, H. Con. Res. 45, saying that President Obama violated Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution by postponing the requirement that employers with more than 50 employees provide health insurance or pay a fine. (Article II, Section 3 says that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.") The Hill reports here; we posted on Michael McConnell's piece in the WSJ here.
According to the resolution, the Affordable Care Act sets a specific date, December 31, 2013, after which the employer mandate "shall" take effect:
Whereas section 1513(d) of such Act states that the employer mandate "shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013";
This is right, and it seems pretty firm.
Lyle Denniston argues (correctly) over at Constitution Daily, the blog of the U.S. Constitution Center, that administrative agencies enjoy some flexibility in enforcing federal law. In particular, agencies may sometimes require time to be able to write regs to effectively enforce the law.
But here the language of the ACA is clear on the date of its application, and the administration's delay doesn't seem to have anything to do with its ability to enforce the employer mandate. Instead, the delay seems designed to meet the concerns of business owners--a policy consideration, not an administrative one.
The best way for the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to work this one out would be to amend the ACA, to give employers another year--simply change that date to December 31, 2014. This is a simple step, but an unlikely one in the current political climate, where pols can score points instead of making policy.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) this week reluctantly denied a Guantanamo detainee's plea to stop his force-feeding. Detainee Jihad Dhiab requested expidited consideration because of the risk that force-feeding during the day will deprive him of the Ramadan fast, which started July 8.
Dhiab is an 11-year detainee at Guantanamo who has received no habeas or military commission proceeding to determine the merits of his case. He was cleared for release two years ago.
Judge Kessler wrote that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear Dhiab's petition, because 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2) deprives courts of jurisdiction to hear an action related to "any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement" of an alien detainee at Guantanamo. She wrote that "the Court feels just as constrained now, as it felt in 2009, to deny this Petitioner's Application for lack of jurisdiction."
Judge Kessler went on to address the merits, though, and to urge President Obama to stop the force-feeding:
The Court also feels constrained, however, to note that Petitioner has set out in great detail in his papers what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. . . .
Even tough this Court is obligated to dismiss the Application for lack of jurisdiction, and therefore lacks any authority to rule on Petitioner's request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue. . . .
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that "[t]he Preisdent shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . ." It would seem to follow, therefore, that the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority--and power--to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The White House responded at the daily press briefing yesterday that the President doesn't want these detainees to die, and that he maintains his position that Guantanamo should close.
July 10, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, after Edward Snowden leaked an order of that court directing Verizon to turn over "comprehensive communications routing information" to the NSA. We posted here on EPIC's petition to the Supreme Court to overturn that order.
In particular, critics are taking aim at the FISC's secrecy, the un-adversarial nature of its proceedings, and the appointment process for its judges. (The FISC's decisions, though tremendously important, are classified; only the government, and not private individuals subject to surveillance, gets to make arguments to the FISC; and the Chief Justice alone appoints and details sitting federal judges to the FISC.)
Eric Lichtblau framed some of the issues last week in the NYT, and Orin Kerr reacted on Volokh. The WSJ reported on the expanding definition of "relevant" in the FISC's jurisprudence--important because under federal law the FISC can order the production of tangible things that are "relevant to an authorized investigation." That question--how far does "relevant" extend--is front-and-center in EPIC's petition at the Supreme Court.
Bloomberg editors took aim at the FISC's "missing checks and balances," adopting a recommendation by Kerr that an independent office in DOJ should advocate for privacy at the FISC, in order to create some measure of adversity before the court. Bloomberg editors also recommended changing the appointment process--a recommendation echoed at Bloomberg by Noah Feldman and Ezra Klein. In particular, critics worry that the current method of appointment could lead to a kind of group-think among judges on the FISC--a worry that seems supported by the government's breathtaking success rate at the court.
There is some legislation in Congress to address these concerns, one way or another. For example, H.R. 2440, the FISA Court in the Sunshine Act of 2013, would require the disclosure of FISC decisions, or an explanation why they can't be disclosed. H.R. 2475, the Ending Secret Law Act, and S. 1130, would do the same thing. H.R. 2586, the FISA Court Accountability Act, would provide for the appointment of FISC judges by the Chief Justice and by congressional leaders.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, today asked the Supreme Court to vacate the order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, compelling the disclosure of domestic phone records by Verizon. We previously posted on the FISC order here.
EPIC filed a petition for a writ of mandamus directly with the Supreme Court, bypassing the usual route through the lower courts, because of the unique nature of the FISC order. EPIC claims that FISC Judge Roger Vinson ordered the disclosure of domestic phone records in violation of the FISC's statutory authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. But EPIC says that under the FISA, the only court that can reverse Judge Vinson's order is the Supreme Court. Moreover, the order creates exceptional circumstances relating to the invasion of privacy, privileged communications, and the First Amendment that warrant mandamus relief. Thus, the mandamus petition.
On the merits, EPIC argues that Judge Vinson exceeded his authority under FISA:
[T]he FISC issued an order requiring disclosure of records for all telephone communications "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." The Business Records provision does not enable this type of domestic programmatic surveillance.
Specifically, the statute requires that production orders be supported by "reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation. . . . ." 50 U.S.C. Sec. 1861(b)(2)(A). It is simply unreasonable to conclude that all telephone records for all Verizon customers in the United States could be relevant to an investigation. Thus, the FISC simply "ha[d] no judicial power to do what it purport[ed] to do."
Petition at 18.
EPIC also argues that the order violates the separation of powers, insofar as it compels the disclosure of phone records of the judicial and legislative branches to the executive branch.
July 8, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Jonathan Hafetz (Seton Hall), author of Habeas Corpus After 9/11: Confronting America's New Global Detention System, wrote at Al Jazeera that "there appears to be real momentum behind new efforts to reform Guantanamo policies."
In particular, Hafetz points to loosened restrictions on the administration's transfer of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, approved last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Still, the bill has to clear the full Senate, where it will surely meet some resistance, and, as Hafetz points out, the House version contains the old restrictions.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
We posted on two state efforts in Texas and North Carolina to enact election laws that would have required federal preclearance before last week's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. In Texas, the laws were denied preclearance by a three-judge federal court; those rulings, Texas v. Holder and Texas v. United States, were vacated by the Supreme Court two days after Shelby County came down, making way for the laws to go on the books.
I posted at the ACSblog on what this all means, and how it illustrates the stunning impact of Shelby County. In short, the federal courts in the two Texas cases held that Texas's proposed voter-ID law and its redistricting plan for congressional and state legislative districts would likely have a retrogressive effect on the voting rights of racial minorities. (One of those courts also found that Texas drew its redistricting map with a discriminatory purpose.) Now that those cases are vacated, and now that the Texas AG has ordered the laws enforced, we'll soon get a fuller picture of the impact of Shelby County.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
North Carolina Republicans wasted little time in introducing legislation to tighten voting rules after the Supreme Court last week struck the coverage formula for preclearance in the Voting Rights Act. North Carolina was partially covered by the preclearance provision in Section 5 of the VRA, before the Court struck the coverage formula in Section 4 last week in Shelby County v. Holder. The LA Times first reported this weekend that state Republicans intended to tighten voting rules under their new-found, unfettered authority to act without federal preclearance. Legislation was introduced Tuesday.
SB 721, "Election Omnibus," introduces a voter ID requirement, tightens felon disenfranchisement rules, and limits early voting days.
(State Democrats introduced a competing measure, S 708, the Ella Baker Voter Empowerment Act, that would open up voting in the state.)
North Carolina was a partially covered jurisdiction under Section 4 (before Shelby County struck Section 4): 40 out of 100 of its counties were covered. That meant that those counties had to gain federal preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA before making any changes to their election laws--and to show that their proposed changes wouldn't produce a racially retrogressive effect.
But now that Section 4 is off the books, those counties don't need to gain federal preclearance. And the state can much more easily change its election laws--and enact bills like SB 721.
Still, North Carolina election laws are subject to Section 2 litigation under the VRA.
Last Term's opinions - - - especially its opinions regarding the constitutionality of the VRA in Shelby, of DOMA and Prop 8 in Windsor and Perry, and of UT's affirmative action plan in Fisher - - - continue to spark debate and commentary. As well they should. But much of our discussions focus on individual Justices: Is Justice Kennedy the "first gay Justice?" Is Justice Alito really rude? Is Chief Justice Roberts playing a "long game?" And what about the tumblr "Notorious R.B.G.? Or @SCOTUS_Scalia, a twitter account?
In their 2010 law review article, Judicial Duty and the Supreme Court’s Cult of Celebrity, available on ssrn, Craig Lerner and Nelson Lund observed that there was a huge dissonance between the personality portrayed in confirmation hearings and the outsized personality on the bench and suggested four Congressional reforms. Their first proposal:
Congress should require that all Supreme Court opinions, including concurrences and dissents, be issued anonymously. This should lead to fewer self-indulgent separate opinions, more coherent and judicious majority opinions, and more reason for future Justices to treat the resulting precedents respectfully.
They contend, "[t]ruly unpretentious judicial servants should have no need to put their personal stamp on the law, and the practice of doing so has contributed to unnecessary and unhealthy flamboyance in the Court’s work."
Their article contains an excellent discussion of the problem of "celebrity," but little discussion of the constitutionality of a Congressional mandate for anonymity or for their other proposals. Certainly, should the anonymity proposal be enacted, there would be a constitutional separation of powers challenge. Although who would have standing? And what about recusal?
[image DonkeyHotey via]
July 2, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)