Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Daily Read: Corey Robin on Dignity (and Whitney Houston)

Over at his eponymous blog, CUNY-Brooklyn Political Science professor Corey Robin has an interesting take on the controversial passage from Justice Thomas's dissent in Obergefell criticizing the "dignity" rationale of Kennedy's opinion for the Court by stating in part that slaves" did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. " 

Robins's post, "From Whitney Houston to Obergefell: Clarence Thomas on Human Dignity," is worth a read, and even worth a listen if you are so inclined.

 

220px-Whitney_Houston_Welcome_Home_Heroes_1_cropped

 

June 30, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fundamental Rights, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Thirteenth Amendment, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Court Grants Certiorari in Fisher v. UT Austin (Redux)

The Court has granted certiorari in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which means the affirmative action in university admissions will be making its second trip to the United States Supreme Court.  Justice Kagan is recused.

Large_university-of-texas_seal_rgb(199-91-18)Recall that in June 2013, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge).  The Court remanded the case for a  "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation."  The  opinion,  authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal"  of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.

On remand, recall that by a divided opinion, a panel of the Fifth Circuit held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

The Court's grant of certiorari might mean that the Court - - - or at least 4 of its members - - - disagrees with the Fifth Circuit's application of narrowly tailored.  Justice Kagan's recusal could be an important factor in any decision.

Fisher graduated from another university in 2012, but the courts have rejected arguments regarding mootness.

 

June 29, 2015 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Race, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Constitutional Concerns in the Supreme Court's Fair Housing Act Case

The Court's closely divided opinion in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs  v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., centers on the issue of whether the Fair Housing Act, 42 U. S. C. §3601 et seq., authorizes disparate impact (as distinguished from disparate treatment) claims.  Writing for the Court, Justice Kennedy held that it does.  Kennedy's statutory construction largely rests on interpretations of two precursor discriminatory statutes: Title VII (regarding employment) and the ADEA (prohibiting age discrimination).  It also rests on Congress's 1988 amendments to the FHA which seemingly ratified the availability of disparate-impact liability. 

751px-Fair_housing_protest,_Seattle,_1964Dissenting, Justice Thomas argued that the recognition of disparate-impact in Title VII by the Court in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971), was incorrect then and that error should not be repeated.  In the primary dissent, by Justice Alito, and joined by Thomas, Scalia, and Chief Justice Roberts, the Court's opinion in Griggs is less disparaged.  Instead, Alito argues that Griggs does not support the disparate impact interpretation of FHA, and that nothing in the FHA itself supports such an interpretation.  Moreover, the dissent argues that disparate impact liability will have "unfortunate consequences" of increasing liability, echoing the dissent's graphic opening "No one wants to live in a rat's nest." 

While a statutory interpretation question, Kennedy's opinion for the Court contains two important constitutional law matters.

First, the Court states that disparate-impact liability "has always been properly limited in key respects that avoid the serious constitutional questions that might arise under the FHA, for instance, if such liability were imposed based solely on a showing of a statistical disparity."  Statistics are insufficient because there may be valid interests being served by the housing developers "analogous to the business necessity standard under Title VII" and thus "a defense against disparate-impact liability."  Additionally, there must be a "robust causality requirement": "racial imbalance" without a specific link to the defendant's policy or policies causing the disparity cannot be sufficient.  These "safeguards" are necessary lest FHA enforcement "set our Nation back in its quest to reduce the salience of race in our social and economic system."

Second, should a court find a disparate-impact violation of FHA, the remedies a court can order must be constitutional:

Remedial orders in disparate-impact cases should concentrate on the elimination of the offending practice that “arbitrar[ily] . . . operate[s] invidiously to discriminate on the basis of rac[e].” Ibid. If additional measures are adopted, courts should strive to design them to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means. See Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U. S. 469, 510 (1989) (plurality opinion) (“[T]he city has at its disposal a whole array of race- neutral devices to increase the accessibility of city contracting opportunities to small entrepreneurs of all races”). Remedial orders that impose racial targets or quotas might raise more difficult constitutional questions.

While the automatic or pervasive injection of race into public and private transactions covered by the FHA has special dangers, it is also true that race may be considered in certain circumstances and in a proper fashion. Cf. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 551 U. S. 701, 789 (2007) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (“School boards may pursue the goal of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds and races through other means, including strategic site selection of new schools; [and] drawing attendance zones with general recognition of the demographics of neighborhoods”). Just as this Court has not “question[ed] an employer’s affirmative efforts to ensure that all groups have a fair opportunity to apply for promotions and to participate in the [promotion] process,” Ricci, 557 U. S., at 585, it likewise does not impugn housing authorities’ race-neutral efforts to encourage revitalization of communities that have long suffered the harsh consequences of segregated housing patterns. When setting their larger goals, local housing authorities may choose to foster diversity and combat racial isolation with race-neutral tools, and mere awareness of race in attempting to solve the problems facing inner cities does not doom that endeavor at the outset.

[ellipses in original].

Thus, Kennedy for the Court reiterates the so-called "affirmative action" cases that would be used to measure any remedies ordered for a finding of racial discrimination.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, who joined Kennedy's opinion here, might not subscribe entirely to those views given their other opinions on race and equal protection.  

[image: Fair Housing Protest, Seattle 1964, via]

June 25, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Court Decides Specialty License Plate is Government Speech in Sons of Confederate Veterans License Plate

In a closely - - - and interestingly - - - divided opinion today in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Court's majority decided that Texas's specialty license plate program is government speech and therefore rejected the First Amendment challenge to the denial of a specialty license plate requested by the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Justice Breyer delivered the Court's opinion, joined by four Justices, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and - - - Thomas.  The dissenting opinion by Justice Alito was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, and Kennedy.  And while Justice Breyer has become known for his appendices, this opinion has a simple one: the image of the rejected Sons of Confederate Veterans plate.  Meanwhile, Alito's dissenting opinion has a more extensive appendix; it includes the images of 58 specialty plates that Texas has approved.

No-pix-license-plate-021413As was evident in the oral arguments, and is frequently the case in First Amendment speech controversies, there was a definite choice of doctrine at stake.  Recall that the Fifth Circuit's divided opinion, reversing the district judge, found that the denial violated the First Amendment as impermissible viewpoint and content discrimination.  The Court today not only rejected that view, but it rejected the applicability of any forum analysis.  Instead, the Court applied the doctrine of government speech articulated in the Court's unanimous Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2009) finding that there is no meaningful distinction between the privately placed monuments in Summum and the license plates in Texas.  This was raised at numerous points in the oral arguments and echoes the opinion of Judge Jerry Smith who had dissented in the Fifth Circuit's divided opinion.  Breyer did note that there were some aspects of Summum that were not exactly parallel, such as the permanence of the monuments in Summun, the opinion states that this was important because the public parks in Summun are traditional public forums, which is not the case for license plates.

And as for that other and most famous license plate case, Wooley v. Maynard (1977), the Court's majority opinion distinguished Walker because "compelled private speech is not at issue."  And indeed, if there is any compulsion of conveying ideological messages to be protected against here, it is that of the state being compelled to "include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates."

Justice Alito's dissenting opinion has at its base a common-sense disagreement.  Noting the proliferation of specialty plates, supported by his Appendix, he asks:

As you sat there watching these plates speed by, would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars? If a car with a plate that says “Rather Be Golfing” passed by at 8:30 am on a Monday morning, would you think: “This is the official policy of the State—better to golf than to work?” If you did your viewing at the start of the college football season and you saw Texas plates with the names of the University of Texas’s out-of-state competitors in upcoming games— Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, the University of Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State—would you assume that the State of Texas was officially (and perhaps treasonously) rooting for the Longhorns’ opponents? And when a car zipped by with a plate that reads “NASCAR – 24 Jeff Gordon,” would you think that Gordon (born in California, raised in Indiana, resides in North Carolina) is the official favorite of the State government?

Thus, he argues that what Texas has done by selling space on its license plates is to create a "limited public forum."

Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans could have wide-ranging effect. Does it give unfettered discretion to governments to decide license plate matters given that it is now government speech?  Consider that the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; that the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; and that a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld. 

Additionally, recent controversies about advertising on public transport, as in New York, the Sixth Circuit and Ninth Circuit,  could be reconceptualized after Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans.

June 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Second Circuit Gives Detainee Case Against Ashcroft, Mueller the Go-Ahead

The Second Circuit ruled today that a civil rights case by former alien detainees against former AG John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Zigler, and officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center can move forward.

The ruling is not a decision on the merits, but instead says that the bulk of the plaintiffs' case against the officials is not dismissed and can proceed to discovery.

Still, the ruling is significant, to say the least. It means that officials at the highest level of the DOJ will have to answer in court for their actions that led directly to the wrongful detention and mistreatment of aliens who were mistakenly swept up in the 9/11 investigation, even though, as the court said, "they were unquestionably never involved in terrorist activity."

The case, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, over thirteen years old, challenges the defendants' moves that resulted in the detention and mistreatment of aliens in the post-9/11 investigation, even though they had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or terrorist activities. In particular, the plaintiffs claimed that they were detained between three and eight months, without individualized suspicion and because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, and subjected to various forms of mistreatment.

The plaintiffs alleged that the DOJ defendants took certain actions that resulted in their detention and unlawful treatment, with knowledge that the plaintiffs were wrongfully detained and mistreated. They also alleged that the MDC defendants took official actions that led to their abuse and knew about certain "unofficial abuse."

The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, on qualified immunity grounds, and, for some claims, that Bivens did not extend a cause of action. The district court dismissed all claims against the DOJ defendants and some claims against the MDC defendants.

The Second Circuit (mostly) reversed and allowed the case to move forward. The court said that the plaintiffs adequately pleaded their constitutional claims (and met the Iqbal pleading standard) that the DOJ and MDC defendants acted directly to violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Key to the ruling was the plaintiffs' carefully pleaded complaint, which incorporated most of two reports of the DOJ's Office of Inspector General, helping plaintiffs to meet the plausibility test. Also key was the plaintiffs' allegations that the DOJ defendants received regular information on the post-9/11 investigation, including detainees, and that they ordered and implemented certain policies and took certain actions that resulted directly in the plaintiffs' wrongful detention.

Along the way, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had Bivens claims (except for their free exercise claim), even though the DOJ defendants didn't argue Bivens on appeal. The court also ruled that the defendants weren't entitled to qualified immunity, because the law on pretrial detention and mistreatment was clear at the time.

The court concluded:

The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy.

Holding individuals in solitary confinement twenty-three hours a day with regular strip searches because their perceived faith or race placed them in the group targeted for recruitment by al Qaeda violated the detainees' constitutional rights. To use such a broad and general basis for such severe confinement without any further particularization of a reason to suspect an individual's connection to terrorist activities requires certain assumptions about the "targeted group" not offered by Defendants nor supported in the record. It assumes that members of the group were already allied with or would be easily converted to the terrorist cause, until proven otherwise. Why else would no further particularization of a connection to terrorism be required? Perceived membership in the "targeted group" was seemingly enough to justify extended confinement in the most restrictive conditions available.

Judge Reena Raggi dissented.

June 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Does Immigration Marriage Case Foreshadow Same-Sex Marriage Case?

In United States Supreme Court's fragmented and closely divided decision in Kerry v. Din, the majority rejected the procedural due process argument of a naturalized American citizen to an explanation of the reasons supporting a denial of a visa to her noncitizen husband.  Justice Scalia, writing for the plurality and joined by Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts, concluded that she had no cognizable liberty interest attributable to her marriage.  Justice Kennedy, joined by Alito, would not reach the liberty interest issue because the process here was all that was due.  Justice Breyer, dissenting, and joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, would affirm the Ninth Circuit and find that she had a cognizable liberty interest and that more process was due in the form of a more precise and factual explanation.

So what might this mean for Obergefell?  Most obviously, the dissenting opinion by Breyer, and joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, articulates an expansive liberty interest in marriage under the Due Process Clause that could be easily imported into Obergefell.  On Justice Kennedy's concurrence, joined by Alito, the clear signal is that Justice Scalia's refusal to recognize a liberty interest in marriage is not one to which they are subscribing - - - in this case.  Given that Justice Kennedy, as author of the Court's opinions Windsor, Lawrence, and Romer v. Evans, is being closely watched as potential author of an opinion in favor of Obergefell, there is nothing in Din that would mitigate that judgment. As for the plurality, Justice Scalia's derogation of substantive due process has a familiar ring that might be echoed in his opinion in Obergefell, with an emphasis on history.  While Justice Thomas is widely expected to agree with Scalia's position, does the Chief Justice's joining of Scalia's opinion in Kerry v. Din signal a disapproval of recognizing any liberty interest in marriage?  Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  Consider this:

Unlike the States in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1 (1967), Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374 (1978), and Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78 (1987), the Federal Govern­ment here has not attempted to forbid a marriage. Although Din and the dissent borrow language from those cases invoking a fundamental right to marriage, they both implicitly concede that no such right has been infringed in this case. Din relies on the “associational interests in marriage that necessarily are protected by the right to marry,” and that are “presuppose[d]” by later cases estab­lishing a right to marital privacy.

Indeed, under this view, as the Court made clear in Zablocki, there must be a "direct and substantial" interference with marriage in order for there to be a liberty interest.  The Court in Zablocki distinguished Califano v. Jobst, 434 U.S. 47 (1977) - - - which the Court in Din does not cite - - - which found no constitutional infirmity with altering social security benefits upon marriage.  In short, the marriage was not "forbidden," it was simply subject to certain regulations in another the complex social security scheme, not unlike the complex immigration scheme.

So for those who might attempt to predict the various positions of the Justices in Obergefell based on Kerry v. Din, there is certainly much "play."

418px-Henri_Rousseau,_dit_le_Douanier_-_The_Wedding_Party_-_Google_Art_Project
Henri Rousseau, "The Wedding Party," circa 1905, via

June 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Gender, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sixth Circuit Rejects Establishment Clause Claim Despite Bible Verse on Students' Report Cards

Reversing the district judge, a panel opinion of the Sixth Circuit in Smith v. Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners found that there was no Establishment Clause violation when a Tennessee public school board contracted with a "religious institution," Kingswood Schools, Inc.,  to provide "alternative-school" services for students suspended or expelled from their "ordinary schools."  The county school board entered into the contract because of a funding shortfall and over seven years paid Kingswood, 1.7 million dollars; the arrangement ended when the county resumed providing alternative-school services.

395px-Nave_window,_St._Patrick's_Cathedral,_Harrisburg_Historic_District
"But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God" Stained glass mage via

The majority's opinion by Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, coupled with a separate concurring opinion by Judge Alice Batchelder, illustrates the disarray of Establishment Clause doctrine.   Yet both the majority and concurring opinion settle on the "endorsement test" and find it is not satisfied.  Specifically, the majority considered the "voluntary assemblies" as well as whether the  "Biblical quotes on the report cards, family-feedback forms and—for those who sought them out—the annual report and school- improvement plan" constituted endorsement.  As the majority described:

Students were required to submit a weekly family-feedback form—signed by their parents—in order to advance within the day program. That form contained the following quote from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus . . . said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Parents were also required to sign report cards, which contained the same Biblical text. Kingswood’s director testified that the scripture—from the Gospel of Luke—could be interpreted as an invitation into the kingdom of God. The same passage appeared, accompanied by crosses, on the school’s Easter 2006 letter. The letter claimed: “Kingswood School is unique because we offer children a Christian environment of love and encouragement. . . . Kingswood remains one of the few places where children in need can get help in a Christian environment. We are a non-profit faith based ministry . . . .”

Those who sought out the 2005 Annual Report saw that it contains a picture of the chapel and says that each child will receive Christian religious training, and that emphasis is placed upon “instilling in each child a personal faith in God, and the assurance of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.” The “school improvement plan,” completed before the Jefferson County contract and still in effect afterward, stated the belief that schools must provide for “spiritual growth” in order to serve the “‘whole’ student.”

The Kingswood website also contained some religious references. It claimed, for example, that “Kingswood has survived independently by remaining true in faith to the principles of a Christian education without being bound to the doctrine of a particular denomination or sect’s control.” It states that the school will take care of a child’s “spiritual and religious life,” although it will not compel a student to adopt any particular religious doctrine. The website refers to Kingswood as a “Christian charity,” and explains its “Methodist-rooted beginnings.” It says that the school “has observed a Christian approach that has remained inter- faithed and unaffiliated with a particular Christian denomination.”

In its analysis, the court characterizes the Christian language as "de minimus" and concludes that a "reasonable observer would view all of these in the specific context of the arrangement that Kingswood had with Jefferson County."  The arrangement saved taxpayer money and the court found it noteworthy that no parents or students complained.  Instead, it reiterates that the complaint was by teachers of the public school who were terminated.  The complaint was originally dismissed for lack of standing; the Sixth Circuit reversed en banc in 2011.  The concurring opinion goes further and calls the case an "employment-contract dispute masquerading as an Establishment Clause case." 

Yet the Establishment Clause disarray is not attributable to the procedural posture or the application of the so-called "endorsement test," but to questions about the test to be applied.  According to the majority, there are "three main jurisprudential threads": the Lemon test; the endorsement test as a refinement of Lemon; and the "historical practice" test as articulated in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the closely-divided 2014 decision by the United States Supreme Court upholding a town council's prayer.  The majority finds the historical practice test inapposite, but the concurrence argues for its application.

Interestingly, the court majority distinguishes Doe v. Elmbrook School District, in which the Seventh Circuit en banc found that an Establishment Clause violation existed when the school held graduation ceremonies in a church. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in Elmbrook, over a dissent by Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas), arguing that the lower court's opinion is "fundamentally inconsistent" with a "number of points" "made clear" by Town of Greece v. Galloway. In her concurrence, Judge Batchelder essentially agrees with Justice Scalia. Judge Batchelder asks whether the school board's "contract would be historically acceptable to the Framers," seemingly assumes that it would be, and then would engage in a "fact-sensitive" inquiry regarding coercion.  Judge Batchelder characterizes the biblical references as "innocuous," so presumably she would not find them coercive.

Yet bible verses on mandatory student correspondence that must be signed by parents on a weekly basis does seem to raise the specter of coercion - - - even if no parents or students of the "alternative-school" complained.

 

June 14, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2015

D.C. Circuit Vacates Military Commission Conspiracy Conviction

The D.C. Circuit today vacated the conspiracy conviction by military commission of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul, an alien enemy combatant who one time bragged about his role in the 9/11 attacks. The court said that the conviction for inchoate conspiracy--a charge that's not an offense under the international law of war--violated the Article III power of the judiciary "by authorizing Executive Branch tribunals to try the purely domestic crime . . . ."

The ruling is a victory of Bahlul and a blow to the government in conducting military commissions. In short, the case says that the government's charge in a military commission must be recognized as violation of the international law of war, and that Congress lacks authority to define an otherwise domestic crime as an international law of war in order to vest a military commission with authority to convict for its violation.

But while the ruling is significant, it's almost certainly not the last word on this case that's already gone up and down the judicial hierarchy. In particular: It's gone en banc at the D.C. Circuit before, and seems likely to go en banc again, if not farther, to the Supreme Court.

The court ruled first that Bahlul's structural challenge (that his conviction violated Article III) was not waivable, and that the court could therefore hear it--and to hear it de novo--even though he didn't raise it below.

The court went on to say that while the government could conduct law-of-war military commissions under Ex Parte Quirin, Quirin and its progeny limit the charges to "offenses against the law of war." But the court held that inchoate conspiracy isn't one of those offenses, that even the government agreed that it isn't, and that Congress didn't have power to define it as such: "Congress cannot, pursuant to the Define and Punish Clause, declare an offense to be an international war crime when the international law of war concededly does not." The court held that because conspiracy is only a domestic offense, and not an international law offense, the Bahlul's conviction by military commission (an Article I tribunal, not an Article III court) impermissibly intruded into the Article III role of the courts.

The court rejected the government's arguments that historical practice and the Necessary and Proper Clause (augmenting the Define and Punish Clause) did the trick.

Judge Tatel, concurring, explained why he joined the en banc court when it previously said that the Ex Post Facto Clause did not prevent Congress from granting military commissions jurisdiction over conspiracy, but now joined Judge Rogers in saying that separation-of-powers did:

The answer is the standard of review. The en banc Court came down the way it did, and I voted the way I did, because al Bahlul had forfeited his [previous] ex post facto challenge by failing to raise it before the Commission, so our review was for plain error. Applying that highly deferential standard, the Court concluded that it was "not 'obvious that conspiracy was "not . . . triable by law-of-war commissions" at the time al Bahlul committed his crimes.

But the court reviewed Bahlul's structural challenge de novo. And "[i]n my view, whether Article III prohibits military commissions from trying conspiracy turns on what Ex Parte Quirin says and what Hamdan does not"--that "the law-of-war exception is exclusively international," and does not include domestic crimes.

Judge Henderson wrote a lengthy dissent, arguing that the majority's approach to Congress's power to define the international law of war would restrict Congress to only what the international community has said, and, worse, by the judiciary's reckoning:

My colleagues contend--as a matter of constitutional law, not simply comity--that the Congress cannot authorize military-commission trials unless the international community agrees, jot and tittle, that the offense in question violates the law of war. And the contend of international law is to be determine by--who else?--the Judiciary, with little or no deference to the political branches.

June 12, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Clean Air Act Survives Federalism Challenges

The D.C. Circuit this week upheld a key authority of the EPA for enforcing the Clean Air Act against federalism and congressional authority challenges. The per curiam ruling rejected other challenges to EPA action, as well, and means that the case is dismissed. The ruling leaves intact the EPA's authority to designate geographic areas as noncompliant with the Clean Air Act and to take certain enforcement actions.

The federalism challenge in the case, Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality v. EPA, sought to exploit the plurality's ruling in NFIB, where the Court held that Obamacare's Medicaid expansion couldn't condition a state's entire Medicaid grant on the ACA's Medicaid expansion. But the court rejected that argument, easily distinguishing Medicaid expansion and the EPA's actions here, as described below.

The case tested EPA's authority to designate certain geographic areas as noncompliant with the Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standards. A variety of plaintiffs lodged complaints, but only two, Wise County, Texas, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, raised constitutional claims. They argued that the EPA's designation of Wise County as a nonattainment area violated the Tenth Amendment and due process, and exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.

The court rejected these arguments. The court ruled that the Clean Air Act "authorizes the EPA to promulgate and administer a federal implementation plan of its own if the State fails to submit an adequate state implementation plan." The court said that's not commandeering, because the federal government isn't requiring the state or state officers to implement the federal plan.

The court also ruled that the Clean Air Act's sanctions for noncompliance--re-direction of a portion of federal highway funds to federal programs that would improve air quality--were not unduly coercive under NFIB. That's because they don't come close to the size of a state's federal Medicaid grant, and because it wasn't a new program that came as a surprise to the states. Indeed, the condition has been on the books (and states have taken advantage of it) for decades.

The court said that the Clean Air Act's delegation of authority to the EPA to designate areas as noncompliant is well within Congress's Commerce Clause authority. The court said that dirty air blows across state lines, causing a substantial effect on interstate commerce, and that the activities in Wise County that led to the dirty air themselves have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

Finally, the court rejected a due process claim that the EPA administrator for Region 6 was biased. The court said that the administrator's past professional activities and statements did not rise to the level of an "unalterably closed mind" or an inability or unwillingness "to rationally consider arguments."

As mentioned, the court rejected other arguments against the EPA's authority, too, mostly under the APA.

June 5, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, News, Spending Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

New York Court Allows Bar Admission for "Undocumented" Immigrant

A New York appellate court has held that an "undocumented" immigrant can be admitted to the state bar and the practice of law in its opinion in In the Matter of Application of Cesar Adrian Vargas.

Vargas
Cesar Vargas via

The court considered whether Vargas (pictured right), an "undocumented" immigrant who does posses documents authorizing him to be in the United States and to work under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, could be admitted to the New York bar.  The court determined that under state law he could.  Importantly, the court also determined that pursuant to the Tenth Amendment, this state law should prevail.

The statutory landscape is somewhat complex.  As the court explains most succinctly:

[The issue is] whether such an individual is barred from admission to the practice of law by a federal statute, 8 USC § 1621, which generally prohibits the issuance of state professional licenses to undocumented immigrants unless an individual state has enacted legislation affirmatively authorizing the issuance of such licenses.  This presents an issue of first impression in New York and, in terms of the applicability of 8 USC § 1621 and its compatibility with the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, an issue of first impression nationwide.


We hold that a narrow reading of 8 USC § 1621(d), so as to require a state legislative enactment to be the sole mechanism by which the State of New York exercises its authority granted in 8 USC § 1621(d) to opt out of the restrictions on the issuance of licenses imposed by 8 USC § 1621(a), unconstitutionally infringes on the sovereign authority of the state to divide power among its three coequal branches of government.  Further, we hold, in light of this state’s allocation of authority to the judiciary to regulate the granting of professional licenses to practice law (see Judiciary Law § 53[1]), that the judiciary may exercise its authority as the state sovereign to opt out of the restrictions imposed by section 1621(a) to the limited extent that those restrictions apply to the admission of attorneys to the practice of law in the State of New York.  

In essence, the court holds that a federal statute cannot constitutionally require that only a legislative enactment of a state will satisfy the statute's opt-out provision. 

While the court noted that it is "unusual" for a state court to pass judgment on the constitutionality of a federal statute, it is not unprecedented. 

The court found that the Tenth Amendment is implicated because "although Congress has left the ultimate determination whether to extend public benefits, including professional licensure, to the states, it has, at the same time, prescribed the mechanism" - - - exclusively legislative - - - "by which the states may exercise that authority."  But in New York,  the legislature has "determined that the state judiciary is the sovereign authority vested with the responsibility for formulating the eligibility qualifications and processes governing the admission of attorneys and counselors to the practice of law."  Thus, the court concludes that the legislative limitation in the federal statute "cannot withstand scrutiny under the Tenth Amendment."

The court analogized to Gregory v. Ashcroft (1991) in which the United States Supreme Court relied on the Tenth Amendment to reject a federal age discrimination claim by state judges to Missouri's mandatory retirement age of 70.  

Although Gregory addressed the state’s interest in determining who holds office, the State of New York has no less an interest in determining which of its branches of government is empowered to exercise the discretion authorized by section 1621(d) to determine who may be licensed as an attorney and counselor-at-law.  Indeed, the role of New York courts in regulating attorneys is deliberate, well-considered, and time-tested.  There are sound reasons why, in New York, the responsibility for attorney admissions is vested in the state’s judiciary rather than in other branches or departments of government.  As Judge Benjamin Cardozo declared nearly 90 years ago, an attorney is “an officer of the court, and, like the court itself, an instrument or agency to advance the ends of justice.”

The court then cites the "variety of rules governing the admission and conduct of attorneys" that the New York  judicial branch formulates and oversees: the Rules of Professional Conduct;  the State Board of Law Examiners;  the 50-hour pro bono requirement for new attorney admissions;  the licensure of legal consultants; the admission of counsel pro hac vice;  the payment of biennial attorney registration fees;  the parameters of attorney advertising;  the requirements for attorney-client retainer agreements;  and the imposition of discipline upon attorneys who violate the state’s ethics rules.

For the court, the "ability, indeed the right, of the states to structure their governmental decision-making processes as they see fit is essential to the sovereignty protected by the Tenth Amendment."  Thus, the federal statute cannot limit the decision regarding noncitizen licensure to only one branch of a state's government.

While equal protection and other constitutional arguments were raised in the case, the court's interpretation of the federal statute and its own conclusion regarding the applicant's suitability for bar admission obviated consideration of those arguments.

[full disclosure: Vargas is a graduate of CUNY School of Law].

June 3, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Should the Supreme Court Grant Certiorari to Federal Courts Declaring State Laws Unconstitutional?

Dissenting in a denial of certiorari today in County of Maricopa, Arizona v. Lopez-Valenzuela, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, argued that the Supreme Court should review decisions by lower federal courts invalidating state "constitutional provisions."  At issue in Lopez-Valenzuela is Arizona's "Proposition 100" a ballot measure passed by Arizona voters that amended the state constitution to preclude bail for certain serious felony offenses if the person charged has entered or remained in the United States illegally and if the proof is evident or the presumption great as to the charge. 

Magician_Raphael_1825
"A magician raising a ghost" circa 1825 via

The Ninth Circuit en banc held the measure unconstitutional as violative of due process, over dissents by Judges Tallman and O'Scannlain.

Justice Thomas notes that

Congress historically required this Court to review any decision of a federal court of appeals holding that a state statute violated the Federal Constitution. 28 U. S. C. §1254(2) (1982 ed.). It was not until 1988 that Congress eliminated that mandatory jurisdiction and gave this Court discretion to review such cases by writ of certiorari. See Pub. Law 100-352, §2, 102 Stat. 662.

More provocatively, Justice Thomas implicitly evokes the "Ghost of Lochner" by pointing out that the Ninth Circuit's decision rested on substantive due process grounds and quoting from West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U. S. 379, 391 (1937) and Nebbia v. New York, 291 U. S. 502, 537–538 (1934), which specifically disapproved Lochner v. New York (1905). 

For Justice Thomas, the Court's refusal to grant certiorari is "disheartening," : "there are not four Members of this Court who would even review the decision below."  (Note that Justice Alito also dissented, although he did not join Justice Thomas's opinion, for a total of three Justices who would have granted certiorari). 

For Justice Thomas, the Court's "indifference to cases such as this one will only embolden the lower courts to reject state laws on questionable constitutional grounds."

June 1, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Supreme Court Dodges First Amendment Issue in Facebook Threats Case

In its highly-anticipated opinion in Elonis v. United States seemingly involving the First Amendment protections for threatening language posted on Facebook, the Court deflected the constitutional issue in favor of statutory interpretation. 

No-facebookRecall that while the question presented in the certiorari petition focused on the First Amendment and pointed to a split in the circuits regarding an application of Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003) to a conviction of threatening another person: did it require proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening.  However, the Court's Order granting certiorari instructed:

In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: "Whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U. S. C. §875(c) requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten."

And at oral argument, much of the discussion delved into common law and Model Penal Code doctrine, even as these were intertwined with First Amendment considerations. 

Today's opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, disentangles the First Amendment from the analysis.  It concludes that as a matter of statutory interpretation, the instructions to the jury that guilt could be predicated on a "reasonable person" standard merited reversal. 

Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant’s mental state. That understanding “took deep and early root in American soil” and Congress left it intact here: Under Section 875(c), “wrongdoing must be conscious to be criminal.”

However, whether or not that mental state could include "recklessness" was not decided by the Court.  Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the seven Justice majority, specifically disagreed with Justices Alito and Thomas, who each wrote separately, regarding the suitability of reaching the "recklessness" issue.  Roberts wrote:

In response to a question at oral argument, Elonis stated that a finding of recklessness would not be sufficient. Neither Elonis nor the Government has briefed or argued that point, and we accordingly decline to address it.

Moreover, although the Court  may be “capable of deciding the recklessness issue,” (quoting the opinion of ALITO, J.), Roberts wrote that "following our usual practice of awaiting a decision below and hearing from the parties would help ensure that we decide it correctly."

Here is the Court's First Amendment "discussion":

Given our disposition, it is not necessary to consider any First Amendment issues.

Justice Alito would reach the First Amendment issue and hold that a recklessness standard would comport with the First Amendment.  Justice Thomas, dissenting, would affirm the Third Circuit's "general intent" standard and hold that Elonis' statements were "true threats" unprotected by the First Amendment.

Interestingly, Chief Justice Roberts's opinion does include extensive quotes from the postings, including Mr. Elonis's reference to "true threat jurisprudence."  It does not, however, include some of the more problematical sexual language.

June 1, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

DC Circuit Paves Way for Release of G-Mo Forced-Feeding Videos

The D.C. Circuit declined to intervene to reverse a lower court ruling that requires the government to move toward releasing videos of forced-feeding of a Guantanamo detainee. The decision means that the government and attorneys for detainee Abu Wa'el (Jihad) Dhiab will have to work together to agree on redactions and a proposal as to "how the videotapes can be made available to the public most efficiently," pursuant to the earlier district court orders.

Still, it may be some time, if ever, before the videos are released. That's because the redaction process could take a long time, even assuming the government doesn't foot-drag or tie up the process in further litigation. Or: after redaction, there may be nothing of substance to release; or the district court might decline to order release pursuant to the agreed-upon process; or the appeals court might reject release when the case inevitably comes back. In short: this is a victory for those seeking release, but it doesn't mean that we'll see release any time soon.

The case, Dhiab v. Obama, grows out of Dhiab's habeas petition, his hunger strike, and the government's efforts to force-feed him. Dhiab moved to stop the forced-feeding, and, in considering that motion, the district court reviewed 32 classified videotapes of Dhiab's forced-feedings. News media organizations intervened to get copies of the tapes, and the district court ordered the parties (1) to cooperate to redact the tapes and (2) to propose how the videos could be released. The order did not specifically require release.

The government appealed, but the D.C. Circuit declined to hear the merits. The appeals court ruled that it lacked appellate jurisdiction over the case, because the district court's orders weren't final, appealable orders (because they didn't conclusively resolve the matter, and the government still had opportunities under the district court orders to challenge the release). The court also ruled that it didn't have mandamus jurisdiction (for largely the same reasons).

The ruling paves the way for the release of redacted videos. But don't expect that to happen any time soon. Redaction will take some time, and even if the government doesn't deliberately foot-drag, redactions and the joint proposal for release will undoubtedly get tied up in lengthy litigation at the district court, and again on appeal.

May 31, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Fifth Circuit Denies Stay in Texas's DAPA Challenge

The Fifth Circuit this week denied the government's motion for a stay of Judge Hanen's nationwide injunction against the government's deferred action program for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents, or DAPA. The denial is not a final ruling on the merits (the court wrote that "we do not decide whether the Secretary has the authority to implement DAPA" at this "early stage of the case"); it says only that Texas's challenge to the program is sufficiently likely to succeed to withstand the government's motion for a stay. Still, the ruling presages the likely result on the merits and makes the case look even more likely to end up at the Supreme Court.

We last posted on the case here.

The court addressed two issues: Texas's standing to challenge DAPA, and the state's claim that DHS violated the Administrative Procedures Act in failing to use notice-and-comment rulemaking before implementing DAPA.

The court held that Texas had standing, because it'll cost the state some $130 under state law to subsidize each driver license for each DAPA beneficiary. The government argued that Texas could avoid the economic injury by changing its license-fee structure, and that in any event the many economic benefits of the DAPA program would offset the costs for the state.

The court rejected the former argument, saying that the "forced choice" itself is an injury:

The flaw in the government's reasoning is that Texas's forced choice between incurring costs and changing its fee structure is itself an injury: A plaintiff suffers an injury even if it can avoid that injury by incurring other costs. And being pressured to change state law constitutes an injury.

The court rejected the latter argument, saying that the economic offsets are of a different type--and that the injury therefore still stands, notwithstanding any economic benefits that the program may bring to the state.

Because the court said that Texas had standing based on its economic harm, it did not rule on Texas's claim that it had standing based on the district court's "abdication theory" (that Texas had standing because the federal government "abdicated" its "responsibility" to enforce the law in an area where it has exclusive authority).

The court said that Texas easily falls within the zone of interests of the INA, because "Congress permits states to deny many benefits to illegal aliens," and "the states seek only to be heard in the formulation of immigration policy before [the government] imposes substantial costs on them." The court also said that the INA doesn't bar judicial review.

The court held that DAPA amounts to "nonenforcement" of the INA, because it is the "affirmative act of conferring 'lawful presence' [quoting Johnson's memo] on a class of unlawfully present aliens." "[T]hat new designation triggers eligibility for federal and state benefits that would not otherwise be available."

On the merits, the court held that DAPA is not a mere policy statement (as the government argued), but rather is a "substantive" rule that requires notice and comment under the APA. According to the court, that's because DAPA doesn't really offer enforcement discretion, and it's more than internal procedural guidance (it's substantive, according to the court).

As to the nationwide injunction, the court only said that anything short of a nationwide ban would result in a "patchwork system" that would detract from the uniformity that Congress sought in the INA.

Judge Higginson dissented. He argued that "Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit caselaw forecloses plaintiffs' arguments challenging in court this internal executive enforcement guideline," and that "DHS is adhering to the law, not derogating from it." He argued that DAPA amounts to discretionary enforcement guidelines that aren't subject to notice-and-comment rulemaking under the APA.

May 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No Standing for Homebuilders to Challenge Endangered Species Designation

The D.C. Circuit ruled in National Association of Home Builders v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge settlement terms between the Service and environmental groups that would set designation of endangered species back on pace. The ruling means that the case is dismissed and should put the Service back on course to meet settlement deadlines for designating endangered species.

The case arose out of a ten-year backlog at the Service in designating endangered species. (The backlog grew out of a regulatory designation, "warranted-but-precluded," that allowed the Service to back-burner formal designation of a particular species as endangered. Some 250 species were on the list.) Environmental groups sued to get the Service moving, and the Service entered into settlement agreements designed to put the designation back on pace. But then Homebuilders sued (under the ESA's citizen suit provision and the APA) to stop the implementation of the settlement agreements--to stop the Service from putting endangered species designation back on pace.

The court said that Homebuilders lacked standing. The court ruled that Homebuilders lacked procedural standing (on the theory that the organization and its members didn't have a chance to comment on the settlement agreements), because under circuit law there's no procedural right to comment at the warranted-but-precluded stage. That's because nothing requires notice-and-comment at this stage, nothing gives Homebuilders a statutory right to sue, and Homebuilders couldn't show that the procedures were designed to protect its interests.

The court also ruled that Homebuilders couldn't identify a particular harm. Homebuilders sued to stop the settlement agreement, not to stop a designation of any particular species. And the court said that the settlement agreement simply required the Service to make a decision (one way or the other) within a timeline, and not necessarily to designate any particular species as endangered.

Finally, the court rejected Homebuilders' claim that the settlement would harm members, because members put resources into protected certain species, and designation would moot those efforts. The court said that these efforts were dictated by state and local law, or by members' independent efforts (designed to persuade the Service that a particular species didn't need protection, because it was already protected). Because the efforts weren't Service-mandated, they weren't "fairly traceable" to the Service's challenged actions.

May 27, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Second Circuit Upholds DMV Ban of "Choose Life" License Plate Against First Amendment Challenge

In its divided opinion in Children First Foundation v. Fiala, the Second Circuit held that the Commissioner of Motor Vehicle's rejection of "Choose Life" license plates for the state's specialty plate program is constitutional.  Judge Pooler, joined by Judge Hall, reversed the district judge's conclusion that the rejection violated the First Amendment. 

The Second Circuit's divided opinion enters the fray of what might be called the developing doctrine of license plates, be they state-mandated, vanity, or as here, "specialty" plates issued by the state as a means of raising revenue. As we've discussed, the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld.  

The progenitor of this doctrine is the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard (1977) involving compelled speech.  This Term the Court heard oral arguments in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans; a divided Fifth Circuit had held that the rejection of the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate (featuring the Confederate flag) was a violation of the First Amendment as impermissible content and viewpoint discrimination.  The Second Circuit stayed the mandate of its decision pending the outcome of Walker. 

The specialty license plate litigation involves the intersection of a number of First Amendment doctrines.  As Judge Pooler's opinion in Children First Foundation expressed its holding:

We conclude that the content of New York’s custom license plates constitutes private speech [rather than government speech] and that the plates themselves are a nonpublic forum. CFF’s facial challenge fails because New York’s custom plate program did not impermissibly vest the DMV Commissioner with unbridled discretion in approving custom plate designs. Furthermore, that program, as applied in this case, was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires of restrictions on expression in a nonpublic forum.

License
Judge Pooler's well-structured opinion supports this conclusion.  First, the court considers whether the license plate is government speech or private speech.  If the speech is government speech, then the First Amendment has little application. (Recall that this was the position of the dissenting judge in the Fifth Circuit's decision in Sons of Confederate Veterans).  Agreeing with other circuits, the court reasons that an application of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum (2009) and Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n (2005) leads to " little difficulty concluding that such an observer would know that motorists affirmatively request specialty plates and choose to display those plates on their vehicles, which constitute private property."

Next, Judge Pooler's opinion considers the type of forum and concludes it is a "nonpublic forum," rejecting a comparison to a designated public forum formed when the government accepts advertising on buses.   Nevertheless, the opinion notes that the prohibition of "unbridled discretion" as a type of prior restraint is prohibited even in nonpublic forums. 
 
However, the court finds that the DMV does not exercise unbridled discretion that renders the DMV specialty license plate program facially unconstitutionally.  The court does note that the statute and regulation afford the DMV "broad discretion" and - - - standing alone - - - their ability "to provide an adequate safeguard against the Commissioner’s exercise of unbridled authority is dubious."  This argument is the centerpiece of Judge Livingston's extensive dissent.  For the majority, the agency policies and practices, written and unwritten, are highly pertinent.  The court specifically considers whether there was a uniform application.  It approvingly notes that the DMV denied a vanity plate for "RU486," with its reference to the so-called "morning-after pill."  And the court distinguishes specialty plates like "Cop Shot" and "Union Yes":

bringing to justice individuals who have attacked police officers cannot reasonably compare—either by its very nature or by the level of contentiousness that surrounds it—to the issue of abortion. With respect to the decision to issue a “Union Yes” plate, while the myriad issues pertaining to organized labor in the United States are social and political in nature, there is no basis to conclude that the Department failed to apply the policy against creating plates that touch upon contentious political issues as opposed to having applied the policy and merely reaching a different result than it did with the “Choose Life” plate.

Finally, regarding the as-applied challenge, which in some respects overlaps with the facial challenge, the court noted that while the distinction between viewpoint and content discrimination can be "hazy," a rejection of all abortion-related speech in a nonpublic forum is the type of content related policy that is subject only to a reasonableness requirement.  The court recognized the state's legitimate interests of avoiding road rage and avoiding the appearance of the government endorsing one side in a contentious political debate.  Interestingly, regarding "road rage," the court rejected CFF’s contention that because the “Choose Life” plates have been "available for purchase in other states for twelve years with no definitive proof of ill effects," this  and concluded that this did not render unreasonable New York’s decision, especially given the timing of the application and ejection when "the DMV was aware of violent protests and bombings at abortion clinics." 
 
Additionally, the court rejected CFF's due process and equal protection claims.
 
The Second Circuit's opinion is sure to be reevaluated when the United States Supreme Court renders its decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, as the court recognized when it stayed its mandate.  The court's delivery of its decision before Walker could be subjected to much speculation.

 

May 27, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Supreme Court to Review Batson Challenge in Georgia Death Penalty Case

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Foster v. Humphrey to the Georgia Supreme Court denying post-conviction relief. 

According to the petition, in 1987, an all-white jury convicted Timothy Tyrone Foster, a "poor, black, intellectually compromised eighteen year old" of the murder of an elderly white woman.  At trial, one black potential juror was removed for cause, and the prosecutors removed all four of the remaining black prospective jurors by peremptory strike, and proffered race-neutral reasons when defense counsel raised a challenge under the then-recent case of  Batson v. Kentucky (1986).  The judge rejected defense counsel's argument that the race-neutral reasons were pretexual and denied the Batson challenge.  The Georgia courts affirmed.

FosterImageAlmost twenty years later, pursuant to a request under the state open records act, Foster gained access to the prosecution team's jury selection notes, which included highlighting the black potential jurors (image at right), circling the word "black" as an answer to the race question on the juror questionnaire, identifying the black potential jurors as B#1, B#2, and B#3 in the notes, and a draft affidavit by the prosecution investigator stating "“if we had to pick a black juror then I recommend that [Marilyn] Garrett be one of the jurors; with a big doubt still remaining.”  (The affidavit was originally submitted to the court with all mentions of race excised). 

In the post-conviction proceeding, the court held that "[t]he notes and records submitted by Petitioner fail to demonstrate purposeful discrimination on the basis that the race of prospective jurors was either circled, highlighted or otherwise noted on various lists."  The Georgia Supreme Court declined review.

In granting certiorari, the United States Supreme Court could certainly agree with the Georgia courts and simply affirm.  Assuming the Court granted certiorari because of some disagreement with the conclusions, the Court might take a broader approach.  According to the petition in Foster, the prosecution "proffered a combined forty reasons for striking" the four black potential jurors.  Because there are almost always "neutral" reasons for exercising a peremptory challenge - - - given that it can be based on essentially a "hunch" - - - proving racial motivation and discrimination can be difficult.  The Court has the opportunity to revisit Batson and the problem of distinguishing between race-neutral and pretextual reasons, perhaps providing a more workable and fair rule.

 

 

May 26, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Habeas Corpus, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Supreme Court Finds Qualified Immunity for San Francisco Officers in Mental Disability

The United States Supreme Court's opinion in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan arises from an incident in which two police officers shot Teresa Sheehan, a woman suffering from a schizoaffective disorder who was living in a group home for those with mental illness. 

San_francisco_montage_asemblageThe seemingly primary issue upon which certiorari was granted was whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, 42 U. S. C. §12132, required law enforcement officers  to "provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.”  The Court, in an opinion by Justice Alito, found fault with the attorneys litigating on behalf of San Francisco and dismissed this first question presented as improvidently granted.  In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Kagan, also faulted the attorneys for San Francisco, noting that the Petition for Certiorari

assured us (quite accurately), and devoted a section of its argument to the point, that "The Circuits Are In Conflict On This Question.”

But, Justice Scalia continued,

Imagine our surprise, then, when the petitioners’ principal brief, reply brief, and oral argument had nary a word to say about that subject.

Instead, the petitioners argued that "the issue is not (as the petition had asserted) whether Title II applies to arrests of violent, mentally ill individuals, but rather how it applies under the circumstances of this case, where the plaintiff threatened officers with a weapon."

We were thus deprived of the opportunity to consider, and settle, a controverted question of law that has divided the Circuits, and were invited instead to decide an ADA question that has relevance only if we assume the Ninth Circuit correctly resolved the antecedent, unargued question on which we granted certiorari.

Scalia had especially harsh words for the attorneys for San Francisco, casting aspersion on their integrity:

Why, one might ask, would a petitioner take a position on a Circuit split that it had no intention of arguing, or at least was so little keen to argue that it cast the argument aside uninvited? The answer is simple. Petitioners included that issue to induce us to grant certiorari.

Scalia states that the Court would never have granted certiorari on the first question as it was argued in the briefs and would certainly have never granted certiorari on the"fact-bound" qualified immunity issue.  Scalia, with Kagan, dissented from the Court's holding on the qualified immunity issue:

I would not reward such bait-and-switch tactics by proceeding to decide the independently “uncertworthy” second question. And make no mistake about it: Today’s judgment is a reward. It gives the individual petitioners all that they seek, and spares San Francisco the significant expense of defending the suit, and satisfying any judgment, against the individual petitioners. I would not encourage future litigants to seek review premised on arguments they never plan to press, secure in the knowledge that once they find a toehold on this Court’s docket, we will consider whatever workaday arguments they choose to present in their merits briefs.

The Court, absent Justice Breyer who did not participate in the case, did "reward" San Francisco by finding that the police officers were protected by qualified immunity: "no precedent clearly established that there was not 'an objective need for immediate entry' here."  The somewhat particular facts - - - the situation involved an entry and then a re-entry of Sheehan's room - - - nevertheless involved a "straightforward" and exceedingly brief qualified immunity analysis. 

And a reversal of the Ninth Circuit.

While the attorneys for the City and County of San Francisco may have endured a scolding, Scalia is correct that the Court's decision is ultimately a reward.

[image via]

May 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Disability, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DC Circuit Holds No Clearly Established Right Not To Be Tasered

In its opinion in Lash v. Lemke, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the grant of a summary judgment in favor of law enforcement officers in a suit filed by an Occupy D.C. protestor for a violation of Fourth and First Amendment rights.

Judge Griffith, writing for the court, and joined by Chief Judge Garland and Judge Kavanaugh, described the arrest of Ryan Lash at the Occupy DC encampment in January 2012 by United States Park Police Officers Tiffany Reed, Frank Hilscher, and Jennifer Lemke:

Officer Tiffany Reed, who had been following Lash as he hurried through the tents, stepped up behind Lash and seized his arms from the rear. Lash pulled his arms away and held them in front of his body, continuing to walk away as he insisted that he was innocent. Reed again sought to restrain Lash from behind and Lash again pulled his arms away from her. Reed then took hold of Lash’s left arm while Hilsher approached and seized his right arm. Lemke approached at the same time and drew her Taser from its holster, holding it ready.

Though Lash’s arms were now held by two different officers, he continued to struggle to keep his feet while Reed and Hilsher worked for several moments to gain control of him. Lemke, standing nearby and behind the trio, fired her Taser into Lash’s lower back. He fell to the ground, and the officers handcuffed him.

Lash argued that Lemke’s use of the Taser constituted excessive force in violation of Lash’s Fourth Amendment rights and was motivated by retaliatory animus against his protected expression in violation of his First Amendment rights.  The defendant officers raised qualified immunity and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor.

Relying on Ashcroft v. al- Kidd (2011), the DC Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the "claimed right, whether it exists or not, is by no means 'clearly established.'"  In so doing, however, the court acknowledged that this inquiry cannot be abstract, but must occur "in the specific context of the case."  This "context," the court further acknowledged, depended on whether Lash was "resisting arrest." 

This would seemingly make summary judgment - - - requiring no genuine disputes of material fact - - - difficult, but the court interestingly relied on multiple video-recordings of the "episode" which rendered Lash's description a "visible fiction."   

Here is one of the videos of the incident:

 

The court further rejected Lash's arguments regarding the video as conclusive:

Lash argues that we may not rely on the videorecordings in this way because they “cannot fully convey everything that people at the scene felt” such as “how much force one person is exerting” or “the level of detail a person will experience in the moment.” This is no argument at all. The Supreme Court has explained that we determine whether a right is clearly established based on the “objective legal reasonableness of an official’s acts,”  protecting officers from liability unless “it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.”  Subjective factors like those Lash identifies here cannot shed any light on whether a reasonable officer in these circumstances would have believed her actions violated Lash’s clearly established rights. It is that objective test, not Lash’s knowledge or Lemke’s thoughts, that determines the scope of qualified immunity. The videorecordings in the record provide us all we need to determine what a reasonable officer would have known at the scene. And we do not hesitate to conclude from the videorecording that there is “no genuine issue of material fact” regarding Lash’s active resistance.

[citations omitted]

Given the increased use of videorecordings in cases against police officers, the court's discussion of 'what the video shows' might be expected to be used in other cases.

Here, however, the court concludes that Lash was "actively resisting arrest," and thus there was no clearly established right not be subject to a Taser. 

 As to the First Amendment claim, the court quickly found that Lash did not show the officer had "retaliatory animus."

 

May 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Film, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Obamacare Opponents Lack Standing--Again

Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled in American Freedom Law Center v. Obama that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the federal government's "transitional policy" and "hardship exemption," which permit individuals temporarily to maintain health insurance coverage through plans that are not compliant with the general requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the government's exemption--but a fully predictable one.

The plaintiffs' theory of standing turned on market forces driving up an AFLC staff member's premiums. It goes like this: When the federal government temporarily exempted certain individuals from enrolling in non-compliant plans (in reaction to the political blow-back after many folks received notices that their insurance would be cancelled and changed to comply with the ACA), this depleted the pool of individuals enrolling in ACA-compliant plans; and that drove up the costs of those plans. Plaintiff Muise was enrolled in such a plan, and, indeed, saw his premiums rise.

In short, Muise argued that his premiums rose in his compliant plan because the government's exemption meant that fewer people enrolled in compliant plans.

Judge Walton disagreed. He noted that insurance premiums can fluctuate for any number of reasons, not just the government's exemption, and that the plaintiff's theory suffered from other defects in the causal chain. Quoting from the government's motion to dismiss:

[the] [p]laintiffs have not established any of the links in the causal chain . . . that would be necessary to their apparent theory of standing to challenge this particular exemption. [The] [p]laintiffs have not alleged, for example, that there are individuals in Michigan with cancelled policies; that any such individuals consider the other policies available to them to be unaffordable; that any such individuals have availed themselves of [the defendants'] "hardship" exemption for consumers with cancelled policies; that, but for this exemption, any such individual would have purchased "minimum essential coverage" . . .; that in purchasing such coverage, that individual would have entered the same risk pool as these [p]laintiffs; and that such individual's addition to the risk pool would have lowered [the] [p]laintiffs' premiums.

The ruling is consistent with similar rulings in other district courts.

May 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)