Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Court Leans Toward Agent in Cross-Border Shooting Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Hernandez v. Mesa, the case testing whether the family of a Mexican youth can sue a border patrol agent for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations for shooting and killing the youth while the agent was on the U.S. side of the border, but the youth was in the concrete border culvert, 60 feet into Mexico.

The parties briefed three issues--whether a formalist or functionalist approach governs the Fourth Amendment's application outside the U.S., whether the officer enjoyed qualified immunity for the Fifth Amendment violation, and whether Bivens provided a remedy--but only two were really on display today: the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment, and Bivens. And if the arguments are any prediction, it looks like a closely divided Court could rule for the agent. But the case could also be a good candidate for re-argument, when a ninth Justice joins the Court.

The plaintiffs' biggest problem was defining a workable test for the application of the Fourth Amendment. The formalist approach has the benefit of providing a bright-line for the application of the Fourth Amendment--the actual border. But the functional approach (or something like it) is more flexible in a situation like this, where the difference in a remedy could (absurdly, to some) be measured in the 60-foot distance between Hernandez and the U.S. border when he was shot.

Trying to walk a line between a rigid-border approach and a functional approach without any clear and determinate limits, the plaintiffs argued for a test that would apply the Fourth Amendment only in the culvert area straddling the border--an area that includes both U.S. and Mexican territory, but just barely. They justified this case-specific approach on the number of cross-border shootings that occurred of late: a particular problem demands a particular solution.

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan seemed on board with this approach; Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito did not. If the Court splits 4-4 on the issue (as seems likely), the lower court ruling simply stays in place. That ruling said that neither the Fourth nor Fifth Amendment applied, and that Hernandez therefore had no federal constitutional remedy.

But whatever the Court says about the "extraterritorial" application of the Fourth Amendment, there's another issue--a threshold one: Bivens. Here, the Justices seemed to divide along conventional political lines. Justice Kennedy well outlined the conservatives' case when he asked the plaintiffs this:

Since 1988, this Court has not recognized a single Bivens action. We look for special considerations. You've indicated that there's a problem all along the border. Why doesn't that counsel us that this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs where the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be? It seems to me that this is an extraordinary case for us to say there's a Bivens action in light of what we've done since 1988 where we haven't created a single one.

The four conventional progressives pushed back, equally hard.

If the Court divides 4-4 on Bivens, as seems likely, it might not matter to the outcome, because a 4-4 split on extraterritoriality would hand the win to Mesa, the border agent. But a 4-4 split on Bivens would leave open a substantial question that the Court itself directed the parties to answer: does Bivens provide a remedy here? Because there's no lower-court ruling on Bivens (the en banc Fifth Circuit did not address the issue, and only reinstated the non-Bivens portions of the panel ruling), a 4-4 split would not even leave in a place a lower court ruling. Given that the Court itself added this question--suggesting that it would like an answer--a 4-4 split may mean that the Court holds this case over for re-argument with a ninth Justice.

February 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ninth Circuit Stays En Banc Consideration of Washington v. Trump

The Ninth Circuit issued an Order staying the en banc consideration of Washington v. Trump based on the Department of Justice's representation that “the President intends to issue a new Executive Order” and has urging the Court to “hold its consideration of the case until the President issues the new Order.”  Recall that the Executive Order at issue is Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." (There have reportedly been conflicting versions of the EO). Recall also that the Ninth Circuit panel had issued an opinion in an emergency appeal denying a stay of the injunction from Washington District Judge Robarts in Washington (and Minnesota) v. Trump. 

A week ago, the court had instructed the parties to file simultaneous briefs regarding en banc review, in response to a sua sponte request (by a judge who remains anonymous) that a vote be taken as to whether panel opinion should be reconsidered en banc.

The DOJ Brief on behalf of the United States argued that while the panel opinion "readily meets the normal standards for rehearing en banc,"

Nevertheless, the United States does not seek en banc review of the merits of the panel’s ruling. Rather than continuing this litigation, the President intends in the near   future to rescind the Order and replace it with a new, substantially revised Executive Order   to eliminate what the panel erroneously thought were constitutional concerns. Cf. Op. 24   (declining to narrow the district court’s overbroad injunction because “[t]he political   branches are far better equipped to make appropriate distinctions”). In so doing, the   President will clear the way for immediately protecting the country rather than pursuing   further, potentially time-consuming litigation. Under the unusual circumstances presented   here—including the extraordinarily expedited proceedings and limited briefing to the   panel, the complexity and constitutional magnitude of the issues, the Court’s sua sponte   consideration of rehearing en banc, and respect for the President’s constitutional   responsibilities—the government respectfully submits that the most appropriate course   would be for the Court to hold its consideration of the case until the President issues the  new Order and then vacate the panel’s preliminary decision. To facilitate that disposition,   the government will notify the Court of the new Order as soon as it is issued.  

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"Sea-Tac Airport protest against immigration ban. Sit-in blocking arrival gates until 12 detainees at Sea-Tac are released"
by Dennis Bratland via

For his part, the President of the United States in a press conference, addressed the issue by claiming that a "bad court" from a circuit "in chaos" and "frankly in turmoil" and that issued a "bad decision." He insisted that the roll out of the Executive Order was "perfect."  But although he did say "we are appealing that," he also said there would be a "new order" "sometime next week, toward the beginning or middle at the latest part. …….."

As far as the new order, the new order is going to be very much tailored to the what I consider to be a very bad decision.
But we can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways, more. But we’re tailoring it now to the decision, we have some of the best lawyers in the country working on it.
And the new executive order, is being tailored to the decision we got down from the court. OK?

 

February 16, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Habeas Petition by DACA Recipient Detained by ICE Agents

A habeas petition filed in Ramirez Medina v. US Department of Homeland Security avers constitutional violations of procedural due process and substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment as well as unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

The petition comes amidst reported "raids" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) across the country.  Ramirez, who is a 23 year old non-citizen, had been granted employment authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2014, and it was renewed in 2016.  According to the allegations in the petition, he was not the target of ICE agents, but encountered them when the agents arrested his father.  When the ICE agents asked him if he was "legally here," Mr. Ramirez responded that was, relying on his employment authorization under DACA.  Nevertheless, as the petition alleges

ICE agents then took Mr. Ramirez to a processing center in Seattle, Washington. When he again informed them about his work permit, one of the ICE agents stated: “It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country.” At this point, the ICE agents had Mr. Ramirez’s wallet, which contained his work permit, which clearly identified him as a DACA recipient with a “C-33” code, which reflects a work authorization issued pursuant to DACA. Despite this fact, Mr. Ramirez was questioned further, fingerprinted, booked, and taken to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington.

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image: ICE agent making arrest via

The first count argues that the detention (apparently still continuing) is a violation of procedural due process rights.  Ramirez alleges an interest in his liberty, but also alleges a property interest by virtue of the promises made in the DACA program.  Thus, the Matthews v. Eldridge balancing test should apply, affording Ramirez both notice and hearing, as well as application of the extant policies - - - which provide he should not be detained - - - given his DACA status.  The second count of substantive due process alleges that Ramirez's liberty is a fundamental interest of which he has been wrongly deprived.  And lastly, the Fourth Amendment claim alleges an absence of probable cause for his arrest.

The Western District of Washington Magistrate has set a hearing for the morning of Friday, February 17, with briefs due the previous day.  The Magistrate has ordered the brief of DHS to answer, with an opportunity for Ramirez to respond, to the following questions:

  • a. Is petitioner still detained? What is the basis for his detention, given that he has been granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program?
  • b. Has petitioner been placed in removal proceedings? What was the result of ICE’s initial custody determination? Has petitioner requested a bond hearing before an Immigration Judge? When is any bond hearing scheduled to occur?
  • c. Does the Court have the authority to order an Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals to consider any challenge to petitioner’s detention status on an expedited basis?
  • d. If petitioner is still detained and removal proceedings have not been initiated against him, what is the basis for ICE’s authority to detain him? What limitations are there, if any, on the Court’s ability to hold a detention hearing for petitioner before the merits of his habeas petition have been decided?

 

 

February 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Federal District Judge Enjoins "Muslim Ban" in Washington v. Trump

In a Temporary Restraining Order, United States District Judge James Robart enjoined the federal government from enforcing sections 3(c), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), and 5(e) of the Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." 

Judge Hobart's Order is brief and concludes that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, although it does not specify which of the claims is likely to succeed.  Washington State's complaint contains 7 counts claiming violations of constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, and Procedural Due Process, as well as statutory violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (2 counts), Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act, the Administrative Procedure Act (2 counts), and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).

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Mt. Baker, Washington, by Murray Foubister via

The Judge's finding that Washington faces the "immediate and irreparable injury" requirement for preliminary relief might also be a comment on the merits of Washington's standing (which we first discussed here) to bring the suit, and would be pertinent to the standing of the state of Hawai'i, which has also sued. Judge Robart found:

The Executive Order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States by virtue of their roles as parens patriae of the residents living within their borders.  In addition, the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the States" operations, tax bases, and public funds.

Additionally, in the Order's one paragraph Conclusion, Judge Robart implicitly invokes the Marbury v. Madison aspects of the controversy.  Here is the entire last paragraph:

Fundamental to the work of this court is a vigilant recognition that it is but one of   three equal branches of our federal government. The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this   country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution. The narrow question the court is asked to consider today is whether it is appropriate to enter a TRO against certain actions taken by the Executive in the context of this specific lawsuit. Although the question is narrow, the court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents. The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government. Accordingly, the court concludes that entry of the above-described TRO is necessary, and the States’ motion (Dkt. ## 2, 19) is therefore GRANTED.

 The morning after the Judge's Order, the President from his vacation home "tweeted" his disapproval, maligning the judge but seemingly committed to pursue further judicial process.
 

February 4, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Race, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Muslim Advocacy Group CAIR Files Complaint Challenging Presidential "Muslim Ban"

In a complaint filed today in Sarsour v. Trump, attorneys with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have challenged the constitutionality of President Trump's late Friday EO, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, now available on the whitehouse.gov site here.   Recall that the EO was fairly quickly subject to a partial stay by a federal judge and encountered "judicial resistance" as Jonathan Hafetz over at Balkinization observes. There  are now several cases pending; a very helpful updated post with litigation documents from Qunita Juresic is over at Lawfare here. In addition to litigation, the EO has sparked nationwide protests, as well as criticism from other Republicans and 16 State Attorney Generals

In Sarsour, the complaint acknowledges that the text of the EO does not contain the words "Islam" or "Muslim," but argues in its Introduction that:

the Executive Order has already gained national and international media attention and nationwide protests, and has been dubbed uniformly as the “Muslim Ban” because its apparent and true purpose and underlying motive—which is to ban Muslims from certain Muslim‐majority countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) (hereinafter the “Muslim majority countries”)—has been broadcast to the general public by the Trump Administration

and that the EO is a

fulfillment of President Trump’s longstanding promise and boasted intent to enact a federal policy that overtly discriminates against Muslims and officially broadcasts a message that the federal government disfavors the religion of Islam, preferring all other religions instead.

The complaint has three constitutional claims, as well as a a fourth count alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.

2017.01.29_No_Muslim_Ban_Protest,_Washington,_DC_USA_00270_(32442762652)Front and center are the First Amendment Religion Clauses claims. The first count is labeled an Establishment Clause violation, but also argues that Islam is being singled out for disfavored treatment as "uniquely threatening and dangerous."  A discussion of the Establishment Clause arguments from David Cole, Legal Director of the ACLU, is over at Just Security here.  In the second count, the claim is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause as it relates to the John and Jane Doe plaintiffs who are residents but non-citizens originating from the Muslim-majority countries at issue in the EO. Interestingly, there is not a statutory Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim; there would seem to a good argument that RFRA's "persons" includes noncitizens as well as corporations as the Court held in Hobby Lobby.[Update: In Ruiz-Diaz v. United States, the Ninth Circuit applied RFRA to non-citizen in the United States on  five-year religious worker visas, ultimately concluding RFRA was not violated].

In addition to the First Amendment counts, the complaint includes a Fifth Amendment Equal Protection claim on behalf of the John and Jane Doe plaintiffs, contending that by preventing the non-citizen lawful resident Muslims originating from these specific Muslim-majority nations "from engaging in international travel and returning home in the United States" and from "applying for immigration benefits" under the federal statute and international human rights law including political asylum, the EO is unconstitutional.  We've previously discussed the Equal Protection issues involved in the EO here.

The EO is certainly going to attract additional judicial challenges, as well as legislative ones. 

[image via]

January 30, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Liptak on Impact of Trump's Supreme Court Choice

Check out Adam Liptak's piece on the likely impact (and not) of President Trump's Supreme Court pick on abortion, unions, and affirmative action, among others.

President Trump said he'll announce his pick on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

January 30, 2017 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Arkansas Supreme Court Upholds Birth Certificate Denial Listing Both Same-Sex Parents

In a closely divided (4-3) opinion in Smith v. Pavan, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that the state statutes governing the issuance of birth certificates to children could deny same-sex parents to be listed as parents. 

Essentially, the majority opinion, authored by Associate Justice Josephine Hart found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite:

Obergefell did not address Arkansas’s statutory framework regarding birth certificates, either expressly or impliedly. Rather, the United States Supreme Court stated in Obergefell that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.

Justice Hart noted that the Court in Obergefell did mention birth certificates "only once" and quoted the passage, construing it being related "only" to the Court's observation that states conferred benefits on married couples, which in part demonstrated that “ the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.”

Not surprisingly, dissenting justices construed this same passage as providing support for the opposite conclusion.  In a well-wrought dissent by Justice Paul Danielson, he argues:

[T]he United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell that states are not free to deny same-sex couples “the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.”  Importantly, the Court listed “birth and death certificates” specifically as one of those benefits attached to marital status.  Thus, the majority is clearly wrong in holding that Obergefell has no application here.   Indeed, one of the cases on review in Obergefell, Tanco v. Haslam, 7 F. Supp. 3d 759 (M.D. Tenn. 2014), rev’d sub nom. DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014), involved a same-sex married   couple   who   challenged   the   Tennessee   law   providing   that   their   child’s nonbiological parent would not be recognized as the child’s parent, which affected various legal rights that included the child’s right to Social Security survivor benefits, the nonbiological parent’s right to hospital visitation, and the nonbiological parent’s right to make medical decisions for the child.

Furthermore, one of the four principles discussed by the Court in Obergefell, for purposes of demonstrating that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples, is that the right to marry “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.”    The opinion makes clear that the protection of children and the stability of the family unit was a foundation for the Court’s decision.

[citations to Obergefell omitted].

For the majority, biology was the paramount "truth" that vital records should reflect.  Moreover, this "truth" is evinced in dictionary definitions of words such as "husband" and "father," a strategy in cases that Obergefell rejected.  

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However, the relevance of Smith v. Pavan even in Arkansas is unclear.  As Justice Rhonda Wood argued, the case may not have warranted a decision by the court:

Two key circumstances have developed since this litigation started. First, plaintiffs received relief in that the State has issued the appropriate birth certificates to them. Second, the State concedes that the relevant statutes involving determination of parentage must comply with Obergefell, including the statute governing the status of people born via artificial insemination. These developments render the majority’s decision provisional.

Moreover, there were (new) facts in dispute, despite the procedural posture of summary judgment:

First, according to the affidavit of the State Registrar of Vital Records, the Department of Health will issue birth certificates listing both same-sex parents if the hospital submits documentation reflecting that fact. However, the parties disputed at oral argument how the department’s decision is actually being applied. There are no facts in the record to resolve this dispute. Moreover, the State has now conceded that children born of artificial insemination should have both parents deemed the natural parents, whether same-sex or opposite sex, under Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201 (Repl. 2015) and asserts that it will place both same-sex parents on the birth certificate under the State’s new interpretation of this statute. This statute provides that “[a]ny child born to a married women by means of artificial insemination shall be deemed the legitimate natural child of the women and the women’s husband [read spouse] if the [spouse] consents in writing to the artificial insemination.” Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201(a). It is likely, therefore, that a same-sex couple will now have both spouses’ names listed on the original birth certificate without a court order, so long as the child was conceived via artificial insemination, the same-sex marriage occurred prior to the insemination, and the non-biological parent consented to the insemination. Appellants and appellees both conceded at oral argument this would resolve the challenge by two of the three same-sex marriage couples.

It is possible that Arkansas would revoke its concessions given the state supreme court's ruling, but if the state does, then this seems a clear case for a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

  Front of Justice Building (5)

 

[image: Arkansas Supreme Court building]

December 9, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Constitutional Law Exam: 2016 Possibilities

It's time again for Constitutional Law final exam.  In previous posts, such as here, we've discussed the common strategy of using current controversies as exam material, and have highlighted the best practices regarding final exam drafting, including the baseline that the exam question must include ALL the specific material and explanations that a student would need to answer the question and not rely upon extraneous information that not all students might share.

This end-of-semester, the President-Elect has provided ample fodder for exam material.

A good place to start would be the ACLU Report entitled The Trump Memos, a 27 page discussion of issues of immigration, creation of a Muslim "database," torture, libel, mass surveillance, and  abortion.  Embedded in many of these issues are constitutional structural considerations involving federalism (e.g., sanctuary cities) and separation of powers (building "the wall). 

For First Amendment issues, augmenting the ACLU's libel discussion with the ABA section article about Trump as a "libel bully" provides lots of material.  There is also the recent "flag-burning" tweet, though this may be too simple given the precedent, although it could be combined with the lesser known doctrine regarding denaturalization, as we discuss here.

Lesser known doctrine that may not have been covered this semester (but presumably would be covered next semester) includes the Emoluments Clause, given Trump's many possible conflicts, as we've mentioned here and here.  Additionally, some argue that the "election" is not "over": recounts are occurring and there are calls for the Electoral College to select the popular vote winner as President.  The problems with the voting and the election could also provide exam material; there are also interesting equal protection voting cases such as the recent Ninth Circuit en banc case.

While Trump looms large on the constitutional landscape, there are also some interesting cases before the United States Supreme Court, in which the issues are more focused.

 

 

 

 

 

December 1, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ninth Circuit Fast-Tracks En Banc Review of Arizona Ban on Ballot Collection

A divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit on Friday affirmed a district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Arizona's law criminalizing the collection of early ballots. Today, the full Ninth Circuit agreed to rehear the case--just six days before the election.

Today's grant means that Friday's decision has no precedential value, and that the full Ninth Circuit will reconsider the matter itself.

The case challenges Arizona's 2016 law that criminalizes the collection of early ballots, with certain exceptions. This changed Arizona's earlier practice, which permitted individuals other than the voter to collect early ballots and submit them on behalf of the voter--a practice relied upon and favored by minority communities in the state, including Native American, Hispanic, and African American communities that, for different reasons, lack easy access to the polls.

Plaintiffs challenged the new law under the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Protection Clause, and the First Amendment. The district court ruled that they didn't show a likelihood of success on the merits and thus denied a preliminary injunction. A 2-1 panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed on Friday. Then, today, the full court agreed to rehear the case.

But under Ninth Circuit rules, don't necessarily expect a reversal. As Judge Reinhardt explains in concurring with today's grant:

Unfortunately, however, our en banc process is not perfect and also does not necessarily represent the view of the full court. It is selected by lot, as a full court en banc is ordinarily deemed too unwieldy. Thus, although it is preferable to a three judge panel, in an extraordinary case such as this, it too may not accurately reflect the view of the court as a whole. . . . The en banc court here is composed of a majority of judges who did not support the en banc call [and] it may be that its judgment will not reflect the view of the full court.

Judges O'Scannlain, Tallman, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuta dissented from the grant, arguing that just six days out from the election, the en banc court "risks present chaos and future confusion."

November 2, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Conservatives Make the Case for Obstruction of SCOTUS Nominees

In the wake of Senator McCain's statements last week--first saying that Senate Republicans would block any SCOTUS nominees by a President Clinton, then (kind of) walking it back--conservative scholars are starting to outline the case for absolute obstruction and even permanently reducing the size of the Supreme Court.

Ilya Shapiro makes the case at The Federalist; Michael Stokes Paulsen makes the case at the National Review. Both argue that the Constitution doesn't require the Senate to consider, much less approve, any nominee; and both note that nothing in the Constitution sets the number of justices at 9. Beyond those points, their arguments turn on politics alone--that obstruction will give the advantage to conservatives, at least until the 2020 election, and maybe beyond.

This flies in the face of Senate Republicans' stated reason for refusing to give Judge Garland a hearing (let the people decide, through the presidential election). When that explanation wears out, expect them to adopt these new, "constitutional" arguments.

October 26, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Federal Judge Enjoins Michigan's Ballot-Selfie Ban

In her order in Crookston v. Johnson, Federal District Judge Janet Neff has issued a preliminary injunction regarding Michigan's ban on the so-called ballot-selfie.  Michigan's ban is expressed in two statutes, MICH. COMP. LAWS §§ 168.579, 168.738(2), which require rejection of the ballots for "exposure" and Secretary of State rules prohibiting photographs and use of cell phones by voters in the voting station.

Not surprisingly, Judge Neff relied on the First Circuit's opinion last month in Rideout v. Gardner invalidating New Hampshire's prohibition of the ballot-selfie. Judge Neff assumed that the Michigan scheme was content-based - - - prohibiting only speech about marked ballots - - - and that even if there were compelling government interests such as coercion, the means chosen was not narrowly tailored. However, even if the Michigan scheme was deemed content-neutral, Judge Neff found that it failed intermediate scrutiny.  Again, part of the problem is that there is little if anything to show that the coercion and vote-buying is related to the ballot-selfie, and even if there were a sufficient interest, Michigan's ban is not sufficiently focused.

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Image by Andreas Schwarzkopf via

One relatively novel government interest raised by Michigan is protection of  “the rights of other voters in the exercise of their right to vote by causing intimidation, disruption, and long lines at the polls.”  This interest is not extensively discussed Judge Neff, but the specter of long lines caused by "photographers" could be important.  However, in North Carolina where early voting has begun, the lines are reportedly related to the decrease in voting places rather than to voter-conduct.

With the election imminent, Michigan may spend its time seeking review from the Sixth Circuit - - - or it may simply concede that the trend seems to be toward ballot-selfies as protected by the First Amendment.

 

October 25, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2016

State Court Judges Politically Biased in Election Disputes

Profs. Joanna Shepherd and Michael S. Kang (both of Emory), in cooperation with the American Constitution Society, recently published a comprehensive empirical study of state-court decisions in election cases. The result: State court judges are politically biased in these cases and thus favor their own party's interests in election disputes.

The study provides yet one more reason not to elect judges, especially in partisan elections.

The study, Partisan Justice: How Campaign Money Politicizes Judicial Decisionmaking in Election Cases, forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review, is based on data from over 500 election cases from all 50 states from 2005 to 2014, including over 2,500 votes from more than 400 judges in state supreme courts.

The upshot:

Analyzing a new dataset of cases from 2005 to 2014, this study finds that judicial decisions are systematically biased by these types of campaign finance and re-election influences to help their party's candidates win office and favor their party's interests in election disputes.

The study finds that judicial partisanship is significantly responsive to political considerations that have grown more important in today's judicial politics. Judicial partisanship in election cases increases, and elected judges become more likely to favor their own party, as party campaign-finance contributions increase.

But "[t]his influence of campaign money largely disappears for lame-duck judges without re-election to worry about."

October 24, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 21, 2016

No Political Question Bar for Abu Ghraib Torture Victims

The Fourth Circuit ruled today that victims of torture at the hands of a private military contractor are not barred by the political question doctrine from pressing their case in federal court.

The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiff-victims and for access to justice in general. It means that some portion of this case (and maybe all of it) can move forward on the merits.

The case arose when former prisoners at Abu Ghraib sued a private military contractor, CACI, for torture and mistreatment under the Alien Tort Statute. After some up-and-down on different issues, the district court ruled that the case raised a non-justiciable political question and dismissed it. In particular, the district court said (1) that CACI was under the control of the military, (2) that the case raised questions of "sensitive judgments made by the military," and (3) that the court lacked judicially manageable standards for resolving the dispute.

The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. As to the district court's first two grounds, the Fourth Circuit said that they don't apply when a plaintiff alleges illegal behavior under international law or criminal law. "Accordingly, when a military contractor acts contrary to settled international law or applicable criminal law, the separation of powers rationale underlying the political question doctrine does not shield the contractor's actions from judicial review."

More particularly, as to the first ground (under the control of the military), the Fourth Circuit said that "when a contractor has engaged in unlawful conduct, irrespective of the nature of control exercised by the military, the contractor cannot claim protection under the political question doctrine." The court said that the district court improperly analyzed the under-the-control-of-the-military question and remanded for further consideration of the question of illegal conduct. (The court was quite clear, however, that there was some illegal behavior. The question on remand is just how much.)

As to the second ground (sensitive judgments of the military), the Fourth Circuit again looked to the legality of the conduct: "to the extent that the plaintiffs' claims rest on allegations of unlawful conduct in violation of settled international law or criminal law then applicable to the CACI employees, those claims fall outside the protection of the political question doctrine." The court said that the district court improperly analyzed the sensitive-judgments-of-the-military question and remanded this, too. (Again, the court was quite clear that there was some illegal behavior.)

In short:

Any conduct of the CACI employees that occurred under the actual control of the military or involved sensitive military judgments, and was not unlawful when committed, constituted a protected exercise of discretion under the political question doctrine. Conversely, any acts of the CACI employees that were unlawful when committed, irrespective whether they occurred under actual control of the military, are subject to judicial review. Thus, the plaintiffs' claims are justiciable to the extent that the challenged conduct violated settled international law or the criminal law to which the CACI employees were subject at the time the conduct occurred.

As to the third ground (that the court lacked judicially discoverable and manageable standards for adjudicating the case), the Fourth Circuit said that "torture" and "war crimes" are well defined in the U.S.C. The court said that it may be a hard question, but it's not one that lacks standards. No remand on this question.

In all, under the Fourth Circuit's ruling, some portion of this case (and maybe all of it) can move forward. It all depends on how much CACI behavior was clearly illegal.

October 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tax Court is, Indeed, a "Court" (Under FOIA)

Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) ruled in Byers v. United States Tax Court that the Tax Court is a "court," not an "agency," under FOIA. The ruling means that the Tax Court isn't subject to the plaintiff's FOIA request.

The case arose when Ronald Byers filed a FOIA request against the Tax Court. Byers argued that the Tax Court should be exempt from FOIA (as Article III courts are), because it's located in the Executive Branch.

Judge Contreras disagreed. He wrote that the touchstone for FOIA coverage of the Tax Court isn't where the Tax Court is located, but rather its nature. "[A] number of factors, including congressional intent, Supreme Court interpretation, and the function of the Tax Court, all suggest that the Tax Court is best understood as a court, not an agency, for the purposes of FOIA." And because FOIA exempts "courts of the United States," the Tax Court is exempt.

September 30, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Suspended

In its 50 page opinion the Alabama Court of the Judiciary has suspended (former) Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his elected term on the Alabama Supreme Court. 

We've previously discussed the details of the judicial complaint and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.  In short, Moore was charged with violations of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for his conduct in resisting same-sex marriage, involving federal court decisions of Searcy v. Strange, before the federal district court, finding Alabama's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in January 2015; Strawser v. Strange, before the federal district court, reiterating the previous finding and making a direct order in February 2015, after the United States Supreme Court had refused to grant a stay of the earlier Order; and Obergefell v. Hodges, decided by the United States Supreme Court and requiring states to grant same-sex marriages.  Chief Justice Moore's own rulings and orders essentially stated these federal court rulings did not apply in Alabama.

The Court of the Judiciary found that Moore lacked judicial integrity in numerous instances.  For example, regarding Moore's January 2016 Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples, the Court found that it was "incomplete, misleading, and manipulative," and intentionally failed to include binding federal authority, the clear purpose of which was to order and direct "probate judges" - - - most of whom are not admitted to practice law - - - not to comply with federal law.  This is a clear problem under Cooper v. Aaron, which Moore knew.

The Court found that the proper sanction was removal of Moore from office without pay for the remainder of his term. (Terms of office are 6 years; Moore was elected to office in 2013).  This is not the first time Moore has been removed from office; he was also removed in 2003, but was re-elected ten years later.  This time, however, Moore will be over the age-cap for the Alabama judiciary by the time his suspension expires.

Moore can appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court - - - the very court from which he sat and has been suspended.  He not doubt will.

 

 

 

 

September 30, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

SCOTUS ConLaw Cases Preview for 2016-17 Term

The United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.

Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.

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The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Virginia concededly did consider race in the redistricting, but the more precise issue is an interpretation under current doctrine regarding whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court is faulted for requiring an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race. The petitioners argue that “where a legislature intentionally assigns voters to districts according to a fixed, nonnegotiable racial threshold, “strict scrutiny cannot be avoided simply by demonstrating that the shape and location of the districts can rationally be explained by reference to some districting principle other than race.” If it were other-wise, they argue, even the most egregious race-based districting schemes would escape constitutional scrutiny. In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation. The plaintiff originally argued that the congressional map drawn by the NC Assembly in 2011 violated the Equal Protection Clause in two districts by making race a predominant factor and by not narrowly tailoring the districts to any compelling interest. North Carolina argues that the conclusion of racial predominance is incorrect and that it need not show that racial considerations were “actually necessary” as opposed to “having good reasons” under the Voting Rights Act. The North Carolina districts have been long controversial; a good timeline is here.

In another Equal Protection Clause case, the classification is sex rather than race.  In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment. The United States argues that because the context is citizenship, only rational basis scrutiny is appropriate. This issue has been before the Court before. The last time was 2011 in Flores-Villar v. United States when the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" upheld the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the differential residency requirement satisfied equal protection. In Flores-Villar, Kagan was recused. The Court hearing Morales-Santana, scheduled for oral argument November 9, will also seemingly be only eight Justices, but this time including Kagan.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. It is concededly more expansive/restrictive than the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment as the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision. Trinity Lutheran argues that the Blaine Amendment violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, with the Eighth Circuit siding with the state of Missouri.

There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution.  Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror.  Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?

Finally - - - at least for now - - - the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute.  Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.

We will be updating this post as the Court adds more cases to its docket.

UPDATE September 29, 2016:  The Court granted certiorari to two important First Amendment cases.

September 26, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Religion, Sixth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Divided Fourth Circuit Upholds County Commissioner's Prayer

In its divided opinion in Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit has held that the identity of the person leading a prayer opening the county Board of Commissioners meeting is irrelevant - - - even a prayer led by a Board member is within the ambit of Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014) and without a First Amendment Establishment Clause problem.

As the majority opinion, authored by Judge Steven Agee and joined by Judge Dennis Shedd, describes it:

At most Board meetings, the chairperson would call the meeting to order and invite the Board and audience to stand for the ceremonial opening. A designated commissioner would then deliver an invocation of his or her choosing followed by the pledge of allegiance. The content of each invocation was entirely in the discretion of the respective commissioner; the Board, as a Board, had no role in prayer selection or content. The overwhelming majority of the prayers offered by the commissioners invoked the Christian faith in some form. For example, prayers frequently included references to “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “Lord.”  It was also typical for the invocation to begin with some variant of “let us pray” or “please pray with me.” Id. Although not required to do so, the audience largely joined the commissioners in standing and bowing their heads during the prayer and remained standing for the pledge of allegiance.

Louis-Émile_Minet_Les_CharitonsThe litigation was begun before the United States Supreme Court issued its sharply divided opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the practice of the town beginning its meetings with invited religious leaders providing prayers.  The Court essentially extended Marsh v. Chambers (1983), regarding legislative prayer in the Nebraska legislature, to town meetings despite their quasi-legislative and quasi-adjudicative function.  The Fourth Circuit extends Town of Greece to prayers by the elected officials (and arguably adjudicators) themselves: "the Supreme Court attached no significance to the speakers' identities in its analysis" of either Town of Greece or Marsh.  Indeed, as the Fourth Circuit majority notes, Justice Kennedy writing for the plurality in Town of Greece averred that the "principal audience" for the prayers is not the public but "lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing."  The Fourth Circuit therefore found that the district judge's conclusion that legislative prayer led by a legislator violates the Establishment Clause.

Judge Agee's opinion for the Fourth Circuit majority then took up the question of whether "some other facet" of the Board of Commissioner's praying practice took it "outside the protective umbrella of legislative prayer."  These four "guideposts" included the selection of the legislative prayer, the content of the prayer, selection of the prayer-giver, and the effect of the prayer "over time" as advancing a particular religion.  Judge Agee's opinion rejected each of these concerns.  First, the selection of the legislative prayer was not done by the "Board as a whole," but each of the five commissioners was in effect "a free agent."  Second, the majority found the content not objectionable because it did not cross the line into proselytizing: "There is no prayer in the record asking those who may hear it to convert to the prayer-giver’s faith or belittling those who believe differently. And even if there were, it is the practice as a whole -- not a few isolated incidents -- which controls." Third, the selection of the prayer-givers was not problematic, even though it was limited to the five commissioners.  The majority opinion here comes close to requiring a type of specific motive: "Absent proof the Board restricted the prayer opportunity among the commissioners as part of an effort to promote only Christianity, we must view its decision to rely on lawmaker-led prayer as constitutionally insignificant."  Fourth and last, the majority found no problem based on its analogies to Town of Greece and Marsh, in which the prayers were overwhelmingly Christian.

All-falling-faithsFor Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, dissenting, the prayer practices of the Rowan County Commissioners crossed the constitutional line into a violation of the Establishment Clause. Wilkinson, whose forthcoming book argues that the 1960s  were damaging "to our need for the sustenance of faith," here concludes that Rowan County is not welcoming to various faiths. He does not argue that the commissioner as prayer-leader is determinative, but it is one of the factors that distinguishes the Rowan County practice from Town of Greece, that makes it "a conceptual world apart."  For Wilkinson:

I have seen nothing like it. This combination of legislators as the sole prayer-givers, official invitation for audience participation, consistently sectarian prayers referencing but a single faith, and the intimacy of a local governmental setting exceeds even a broad reading of Town of Greece. That case in no way sought to dictate the outcome of every legislative prayer case.

Wilkinson's opinion provides several examples that the plaintiffs, all non-Christians, found "overtly sectarian," including:

Our Heavenly Father, we will never, ever forget that we are not alive unless your life is in us. We are the recipients of your immeasurable grace. We can’t be defeated, we can’t be destroyed, and we won’t be denied, because of our salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask you to be with us as we conduct the business of Rowan County this evening, and continue to bless everyone in this room, our families, our friends, and our homes. I ask all these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Judge Wilkinson noted that the "closed universe" of prayer-givers - - - the five Commissioners - - - over a period of years had led to a constriction in the religious identities represented that could communicate a message of non-belonging to citizens coming before the Board.  But Wilkinson's concern also extended into a concern about representative secular democracy itself:

Entrenching this single faith reality takes us one step closer to a de facto religious litmus test for public office. When delivering the same sectarian prayers becomes embedded legislative custom, voters may wonder what kind of prayer a candidate of a minority religious persuasion would select if elected. Failure to pray in the name of the prevailing faith risks becoming a campaign issue or a tacit political debit, which in turn deters those of minority faiths from seeking office. It should not be so.

The United States Supreme Court's now-eight Justices may not be eager to welcome another government prayer case into the docket so soon after the 5-4 decision Town of Greece, especially one that might result in a 4-4 split, affirming the Fourth Circuit's opinion.  And yet?  Perhaps the Rowan County Board of Commissioners prayer practices might be a step too far for one of the Justices who joined the Court's majority in Town of Greece?  Or perhaps for the Fourth Circuit en banc? 

 

[image via]

September 19, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ninth Circuit: Shackling Pregnant Woman During Labor *Might* Be Unconstitutional

Reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Maricopa County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio held that shackling a pregnant woman while she gives birth might rise to a constitutional violation:

We are presented with an important and complex issue of first impression in our circuit: whether the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement officers to restrain a female inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or during postpartum recovery. We hold today that in this case, the answer to that question depends on factual disputes a properly instructed jury must resolve.

Ms. Mediola-Martinez was 6 months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and unconstitutionally detained:   "Because she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, she was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13- 3961(A)(5)," before the Ninth Circuit "later ruled it unconstitutional. See Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772, 792 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert denied, 135 S. Ct. 2046 (2015)." 

Ms. Mediola-Martinez went into early labor about two months later.  During the actual C-section procedure, she was not restrained.  However, before the procedure when she was "in active labor" and during the postpartum recovery, she was restrained.  She had plead guilty a few days before the birth and was released on a sentence of time-served a few days after.

The Ninth Circuit panel acknowledged that the weight of precedent and evidence decries the practice of shackling pregnant women in its discussion of whether the practice is a "sufficiently serious deprivation" of medical care posing a substantial risk of serious harm and thus constitutes an Eighth Amendment claim.  Additionally, the panel held that she had sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference.  A jury, the court held, should consider this claim.

The Ninth Circuit was not so welcoming to the Equal Protection Clause claim.  Mediola-Martinez argued that the county's restraint policy discriminated on the basis of race against Mexican-Americans.  But as the court noted, she needed to show that the "Restraint Policy not only had a discriminatory impact, but that it was enacted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against members of a protected class."  The "offensive quotes" of Sheriff Arpaio were not sufficient to prove intent:  "Even if those hearsay statements were admissible, however, they do not mention the Restraint Policy and do not otherwise lead to any inference that Sheriff Arpaio’s 2006 Restraint Policy was promulgated to discriminate against Mexican nationals."  Likewise, discriminatory intent could not be inferred from the general population statistics; there needs to be a "gross" statistical disparity to raise the specter of intent.

The court was cautious but clear:

Crafting a restraint policy that balances safety concerns with the inmates’ medical needs is equally challenging. But it is not impossible. And we leave it to a jury to decide whether the risk the Maricopa County Restraint Policy posed to Mendiola-Martinez was justified, or whether the County Defendants went a step too far.

Or perhaps several steps?

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image: "Birth Room" via

 

 

September 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Panel Denies Stays of Texas Executions by Pentobarbital

In its opinion in Wood v. Collier, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the panel and rejected the claims of death row inmates that Texas is obliged by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law to re-test the execution drug - - -a single, five-gram dose of pentobarbital - - -  to assure it does not present a high risk of unnecessary pain.

Pentobarbital_DOJThe identity and sources of drugs to accomplish "lethal injection" has been much litigated, including the Court's 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, rejecting an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection cocktail. As this Fifth Circuit opinion notes:

Texas originally used pentobarbital purchased from a pharmaceutical firm in its executions. However in 2011, Lundbeck, the Danish pharmaceutical firm that produces manufactured pentobarbital, refused to supply the drug to states that execute by lethal injection.In response, in September 2013, Texas began purchasing pentobarbital compounded by pharmacies.Texas alleges, and Appellants do not dispute, that Texas has used compounded pentobarbital to execute thirty- two prisoners since 2013 without issue.

Yet in June, Texas agreed to re-test the pentobarbital for a death sentenced inmate, mooting his civil action.  The inmates here argue that this settlement essentially substantiates their Eighth Amendment claim and creates an Equal Protection Clause claim.  The court disagreed:

However one kneads the protean language of equal protection jurisprudence, the inescapable reality is that these prisoners have not demonstrated that a failure to retest brings the risk of unnecessary pain forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Attempting to bridge this shortfall in their submission with equal protection language, while creative, brings an argument that is ultimately no more than word play.

In short, the "strategic decision" of Texas to re-test the drug for one inmate is irrelevant for the others, especially "in the context of an ever-changing array of suits attacking its use of capital punishment from all angles."

 

September 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

EnBanc Ninth Circuit Rejects Equal Protection Challenge to Tucson's City Council Election Scheme

In its en banc opinion in Public Integrity Alliance v. City of Tucson, the Ninth Circuit held that Tucson's "hybrid system" for electing members of its city council does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.  The staff summary succinctly describes this hybrid system:

Tucson is divided into six wards of approximately equal population, and each ward is allotted one seat on the six- member city council. Council members are elected through a hybrid system involving a ward-level partisan primary election and an at-large partisan general election. The top-vote getter from each party eligible for inclusion on the ward- level primary ballot advances to an at-large general election where she competes against the other candidates nominated from the same ward. In the general election, every Tucson voter may vote for one candidate from each ward that held a primary.

Tucson-logoImportantly, once elected, the city council members represent the entire city.  The challenge to this system rested upon a denial on the one-person one-vote principle in equal protection doctrine.  The challenger Public Integrity argued that either an entirely ward-based system or an entirely at-large system would be constitutional, but the hybrid combination resulted in For the challenger, the hybrid system means that Tucson voters are denied the right to participate in the primary elections for all but one of their representatives. 

The court noted that although primary elections are "indisputably" state action subject to the same constitutional constraints as general elections, this dis not mean that "primaries and general elections must be identically structured and administered." The court thus rejected the challenger's contention that Gray v. Sanders (1963) mandated that the primary and general election use the same geographical units.  Instead, the court applied the balancing test of Burdick v. Takushi (1992) for less than "severe restrictions."  (Recall that in Burdick, the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting). The Ninth Circuit here found Tucson's restrictions minimal and found they were justified by Tucson's "important" interests including to "promote local knowledge and legitimacy, geographic diversity, and city-wide representation on the city council."  

Eleven (of the 29) active judges of the Ninth Circuit participated in this en banc opinion, authored by Judge Marsha Berzon, and affirming the district judge.  Judge Berzon's relatively brief and straightforward opinion provoked no dissenting or concurring opinions.  It does overrule a previous Ninth Circuit case decided in 1994 on the basis that it articulated a different standard than that required by Burdick.  Perhaps the clearest message from the court is that it deferred to a "careful longstanding choice" that is a "product of our democratic federalism" allowing experimentation even where "the best solution is far from clear."

September 3, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)