Friday, July 1, 2016

Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi Law Seeking to Protect LGBT Discrimination

In a 60 page opinion in Barber v. Bryant, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves (pictured below) found Mississippi HB 1523, set to become effective July 1, constitutionally problematical under both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and thus preliminary enjoined its enforcement.

The bill, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," sought to insulate the specific "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" that:
(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

Judge Reeves characterized HB 1523 as a predictable overreaction to the Court's same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges a year ago.  In discussing the debates around the HB 152 and its texts, Judge Reeves also noted that the challenges to HB 1523 were also predictable, providing his rationale for consolidating the four cases.

Judge Reeves then considered standing of the various plaintiffs as well as Eleventh Amendment immunity, followed by the established preliminary injunction standards which have at their heart the "substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

On the Equal Protection claim, Judge Reeves relied on Romer v. Evans, and found that the legislative history established animus in intent:

The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status.

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Judge Carlton Reeves via

Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect.  Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed  with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest."  But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523."  Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."

On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:

The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.

Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.

[citations omitted].

 Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.

 

July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Supreme Court Finds Due Process Violated When Prosecutor-Turned-Judge Did Not Recuse

In its highly anticipated opinion in Williams v. Pennsylvania, the United States Supreme Court found that the failure of Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille to recuse himself in the death penalty review of Williams' postconviction appeal constituted a violation of the Due Process Clause.

Recall that Chief Justice Castille, who retired from the court when he reached the state mandatory retirement age, was elected in 1993, and retained in elections in 2003 and 2013.  Importantly, before his election to the bench, Castille worked in the district attorney's office for over 20 years, including being twice elected to the District Attorney position; he reportedly claimed to have "sent 45 people to death row." One of those people on death row is Terrance Williams, convicted at age 18 and whose story has attracted much interest. Williams claims that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams' petition for post conviction relief.  Williams contends that Castille, as a prosecutor, was personally involved in the case and the decision to seek the death penalty.  Williams' post-conviction claim, moreover, is based on prosecutorial misconduct. 

Writing for the five Justice majority, Justice Kennedy relied on the Court's previous decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal. Co. in 2009 - - - which Kennedy also authored - - - to articulate the applicable "objective standard" of recusal when the "likelihood of bias on the part of the judge 'is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.'" While Kennedy noted that the "due process precedents do not set forth a specific test governing recusal when, as here, a judge had prior involvement in a case as a prosecutor," the Court articulated a clear rule:

The Court now holds that under the Due Process Clause there is an impermissible risk of actual bias when a judge earlier had significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision regarding the defendant’s case.

This rule, the Court reasoned, is based upon the due process guarantee that “no man can be a judge in his own case,” which would have little substance if it did not disqualify a former prosecutor from sitting in judgment of a prosecution in which he or she had made a critical decision."

Justice Kennedy's relatively brief opinion for the Court specifically rejected each of Pennsylvania's arguments. 

As to the passage of time between the prosecutorial and judicial events, the Court reasoned that

A prosecutor may bear responsibility for any number of critical decisions, including what charges to bring, whether to extend a plea bargain, and which witnesses to call. Even if decades intervene before the former prosecutor revisits the matter as a jurist, the case may implicate the effects and continuing force of his or her original decision. In these circumstances, there remains a serious risk that a judge would be influenced by an improper, if inadvertent, motive to validate and preserve the result obtained through the adversary process. The involvement of multiple actors and the passage of time do not relieve the former prosecutor of the duty to withdraw in order to ensure the neutrality of the judicial process in determining the consequences that his or her own earlier, critical decision may have set in motion.

As to the argument that Castille's authorization to seek the death penalty against Williams was insignificant in a large office, the Court specifically found that "characterization cannot be credited." First, the Court stated that it would not assume that the District Attorney treated so major a decision as whether or not to pursue the death penalty as a "perfunctory task requiring little time, judgment, or reflection."  Second, the Court noted that "Chief Justice Castille's own comments while running for judicial office" refute any claim that he believed he did not play a major role in seeking death sentences.  And third, the Court noted that claim and finding that the trial prosecutor had engaged in multiple and intentional Brady violations, it would be difficult for "a judge in his position" not to view this as a "criticism of his former office, and, to some extent, of his own leadership and supervision as district attorney."

As to the argument that Castille did not cast the "deciding vote" - - - unlike the situation in Caperton - - - and so any error was harmless, the Court stressed the role of the court as a unit:

A multimember court must not have its guarantee of neutrality undermined, for the appearance of bias de- means the reputation and integrity not just of one jurist, but of the larger institution of which he or she is a part. An insistence on the appearance of neutrality is not some artificial attempt to mask imperfection in the judicial process, but rather an essential means of ensuring the reality of a fair adjudication. Both the appearance and reality of impartial justice are necessary to the public legitimacy of judicial pronouncements and thus to the rule of law itself. When the objective risk of actual bias on the part of a judge rises to an unconstitutional level, the failure to recuse cannot be deemed harmless.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Alito, and Justice Thomas writing separately, dissented - - - not surprising given that they have also dissented in Caperton.  Roberts's opinion draws the line between due process and judicial ethics: just because it was an ethics violation, does not mean it is a due process violation.  Roberts states that it is "up to state authorities" to determine whether recusal is required. 

In sum, this extension of Caperton to judicial decisions by former prosecutors and the Court's articulation of a clear rule should result in a new regime of uniform recusal mandated by the Due Process Clause.

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 [image NYPL digital collection, "A Murder Trial in the Court of General Sessions, circa 1901, via]

June 9, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Second Circuit Holds No First Amendment Claim for Prisoner's Journalistic Publication

Daniel McGowan was incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), but had been transferred to the Brooklyn House Residential Reentry Center (“RRC”) near the end of his sentence with work passes and other privileges.  McGowan is well known as an environmental activist and featured prominently in the 2011 documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. 

While at RCC in April 2013, McGowan published an article on Huffington Post entitled "Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech."  This article caused the RCC manager to essentially revoke the RRC status and remand McGowan back to the Bureau of Prisons - - - in solitary confinement -  - - for an infraction of a regulation that provided “an inmate currently confined in an institution may not be employed or act as a reporter or publish under a byline.”

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Daniel McGowan via

But this "byline regulation" had been declared unconstitutional by a federal district court, Jordan v. Pugh, 504 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1124 (D. Colo. 2007).  Soon thereafter, the BOP had instructed staff not to enforce it.  In 2010, the BOP issued an interim regulation rescinding the byline regulation; in 2012 it issued the final rule.

McGowan's lawyers soon figured out the byline regulation under which he had been charged was no longer in force and McGowan was returned to the RRC.

McGowan sued the RCC personnel for a violation of the First Amendment, but the Second Circuit, affirming the district judge, rejected the claim in its opinion in McGowan v. United States, concluding that the BOP was insulated by qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity protects the government from liability for violation of a constitutional right unless that right was "clearly established" at the time of the violation.  Here, despite the conclusion of a district judge six years prior that the byline regulation was unconstitutional and the rescission of the byline regulation by the BOP, the Second Circuit held that the right the byline regulation infringed was not clearly established:

We conclude that, at the time the alleged violation occurred, our case law did not clearly establish that McGowan had a First Amendment right to publish his article. The Supreme Court has held that “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). This test is “particularly deferential to the informed discretion of corrections officials” where “accommodation of an asserted right will have a significant ‘ripple effect’ on fellow inmates or on prison staff.” Id. at 90. For example, the Supreme Court has upheld “proscriptions of media interviews with individual inmates, prohibitions on the activities of a prisoners’ labor union, and restrictions on inmate‐to‐inmate written correspondence.” Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001) (citations omitted).

In short, the " only authority that McGowan has identified that involved expression similar to that at issue in this case is a district court opinion, which, of course, is not binding."

The court also rejected claims sounding in tort regarding the BOP's failure to follow its own regulations.

Thus, McGowan has no remedy for the BOP enforcing a rescinded and it seems unconstitutional regulation that caused his removal from a work program to solitary confinement.

June 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Federal Civil Rights Ruling Keeps Claim Alive

The Supreme Court ruled today in Simmons v. Himmelreich that a federal prison can maintain his Bivens claim against individual prison officials for Eighth Amendment violations, even though the district court threw out his earlier Federal Tort Claims Act case for the same incident under the FTCA's "discretionary function" exception.

The ruling is a win for Himmelreich and similarly situated federal civil rights plaintiffs. It means that the FTCA doesn't foreclose this kind of claim, and that Himmelreich will have his day in federal court, after all.

The unanimous ruling turned on a very plain, and very simple, reading of the FTCA exceptions provision. In short, the exceptions provision says that the FTCA judgment bar (which ordinarily would have foreclosed Himmelreich's suit against the individual officers, because the district court threw his FTCA claim out) doesn't apply to claims claims dismissed under the exceptions. And because the district court threw his first case out under the exceptions clause, the judgment bar didn't foreclose his subsequent Bivens claim.

Here's my post on the case at SCOTUSblog, with permission:

Prisoner-rights litigation can often raise some tricky issues. Navigating them can mean the difference between keeping a claim alive in federal court, and losing it – and thus the difference between enforcing federal civil rights, and not.

One of these tricky issues was on full display in Simmons v. Himmelreich. But despite the potentially complicated questions in the case, a unanimous Supreme Court held today that one of the rules for prisoner-rights suits simply means exactly what it says: A prisoner can bring a constitutional tort claim against individual prison officials even after a court dismissed his earlier Federal Tort Claims Act suit because the officials acted in a “discretionary” capacity.

The ruling, penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is a decisive win for prisoner-rights advocates. It means that Walter Himmelreich and other, similarly situated civil rights litigants retain a critical tool – the constitutional tort claim against individual officers – in enforcing civil rights and deterring their abuses. More generally, it means that there is now one less tricky issue in prisoner-rights litigation, and it is just a little bit easier, at least in the narrow circumstances of this case, to retain a claim and enforce federal civil rights.

The case involved Himmelreich’s suit against federal prison officials for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. Himmelreich was serving time for producing child pornography when prison officials transferred another prisoner from special housing into the general population. The transferred prisoner had previously threatened to “smash a pedophile” if given the chance, so it was hardly a surprise when the transferred prisoner severely beat Himmelreich.

Himmelreich sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which waives sovereign immunity for tort claims against the federal government for the acts of its employees. It also gives federal district courts exclusive jurisdiction over those claims, subject to certain procedural requirements in Chapter 171 (which becomes relevant below, in Himmelreich’s second suit). But the FTCA also contains a list of exceptions, in particular, a “discretionary function” exception that exempts “[a]ny claim based upon . . . the exercise or performance . . . [of] a discretionary function” from the FTCA. This means that someone (like Himmelreich) who has been injured has no FTCA claim against the government for injuries that result from a discretionary act of a government employee. The district court thus dismissed Himmelreich’s FTCA claim under this exception, ruling that the prison officials’ decision as to where to house inmates was a discretionary function. The parties did not challenge this ruling.

While Himmelreich’s FTCA case was still pending, he filed a second suit against the individual prison officials for violating his Eighth Amendment rights. After the district court dismissed Himmelreich’s first suit, the officials then moved to dismiss this second suit under yet a different part of the FTCA. In particular, the officials argued that the FTCA’s “judgment bar” foreclosed this second case. The judgment bar, in Section 2676, says that once a plaintiff receives a judgment in an FTCA suit, he generally cannot bring another suit against an individual employee based on the same incident. It reads:

The judgment in any action [under the FTCA] shall constitute a complete bar to any action by the claimant, by reason of the same subject matter, against the employee of the government whose act or omission gave rise to the claim.

In other words, the government argued that the district court’s dismissal of Himmelreich’s FTCA case amounted to a “judgment,” and that the FTCA judgment bar therefore foreclosed Himmelreich’s second case against the individual officers.

This is where things get a little complicated. Himmelreich countered that the judgment bar did not apply to cases dismissed under the FTCA exceptions provision (the same one that the district court used to dismiss Himmelreich’s first case). That’s because the exceptions provision says that “[t]he provisions of this chapter” shall not apply to claims dismissed under the exceptions (including the discretionary function exception). “The provisions of this chapter,” in turn, refer to Chapter 171, the list of procedural requirements (mentioned above). And Chapter 171, in turn, includes the judgment bar. The upshot is that a case dismissed on the judgment bar (like Himmelreich’s first case) does not foreclose a case against individual officers arising out of the same incident (like Himmelreich’s second case).

The Supreme Court agreed. In a statutory analysis that required all of two paragraphs, the Court said that Himmelreich’s plain reading of the FTCA was correct, and that the FTCA created no bar to his second case against the individual officers. The Court noted that result made sense:

If the District Court in this case had issued a judgment dismissing Himmelreich’s first suit because the prison employees were not negligent, because Himmelreich was not harmed, or because Himmelreich simply failed to prove his claim, it would make little sense to give Himmelreich a second bite at the money-damages apple . . . .

Where an FTCA claim is dismissed because it falls within one of the “Exceptions,” by contrast, the judgment bar provision makes much less sense. The dismissal of a claim in the “Exceptions” section signals merely that the United States cannot be held liable for a particular claim; it has no logical bearing on whether an employee can be held liable instead.

The Court also roundly rejected the government’s non-textual arguments. It said that United States v. Smith, in which the Court held that another provision of Chapter 171 (the exclusive remedies provision) foreclosed a suit against an individual employee, did not control. That’s because Smith didn’t even discuss the “shall not apply” language in the exceptions provision. Moreover, the exclusive-remedies provision in Smith (unlike the judgment bar) was specifically designed to apply to the exceptions in the FTCA. The Court also said that it didn’t need to address the government’s parade of horribles that would result if every provision of Chapter 171 “shall not apply” to the FTCA’s exceptions. “If the Government is right about the other provisions of Chapter 171, the Court may hold so in the appropriate case.”

At the end of the day, the ruling means that Himmelreich can pursue his civil rights claim against the individual officers, even after the district court dismissed his earlier FTCA claim based on the “discretionary function” exception. More generally, it probably also means that a plaintiff can similarly pursue a civil rights claim against individual officials, even after a district court dismissed an FTCA claim based on other procedural grounds that have nothing to do with “whether an employee can be held liable instead.”

This is a clear win for Himmelreich and other, similarly situated civil rights plaintiffs, because it preserves their constitutional claims against individual officers. This is no small thing: These individual claims, more than any FTCA claim, help enforce civil rights by holding individual officers accountable and by creating a strong deterrent against civil rights abuses by other officers. Thus, today’s ruling, while dealing with just a narrow statutory issue under the FTCA, is nevertheless an important victory for Himmelreich, an important victory for access to justice, and an important victory for civil rights enforcement.

June 6, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Daily Read: Clay v. United States (1971)

With the reported death of Muhammad Ali, f/k/a Cassius Clay, a look back at Clay v. United States (1971) seems appropriate. 

In Clay, the Court reversed Ali's conviction for "willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces." 

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Bust photographic portrait of Muhammad Ali in 1967. World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg via

The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali's claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the "religious" requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970).  The Department of Justice had stated:

‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant's claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’

However, the Department of Justice abandoned that argument before the United States Supreme Court:

In this Court the Government has now fully conceded that the petitioner's beliefs are based upon ‘religious training and belief,’ as defined in United States v. Seeger,  ‘There is no dispute that petitioner's professed beliefs were founded on basic tenets of the Muslim religion, as he understood them, and derived in substantial part from his devotion to Allah as the Supreme Being. Thus, under this Court's decision in United States v. Seeger, his claim unquestionably was within the ‘religious training and belief’ clause of the exemption provision.' [quoting the DOJ Brief].  This concession is clearly correct. For the record shows that the petitioner's beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them. They are surely no less religiously based than those of the three registrants before this Court in Seeger. See also Welsh v. United States.

[citations and footnote omitted]

A unanimous Supreme Court thus reversed the conviction in a per curiam opinion. (Thurgood Marshall, who had been Solicitor General, recused himself).

Justice William Douglas, in his inimitable style, concurred separately with a discourse on the Koran and the meaning of “jihad.” Douglas concluded:"What Clay's testimony adds up to is that he believes only in war as sanctioned by the Koran, that is to say, a religious war against nonbelievers. All other wars are unjust."

Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America, the 2000 book by Howard Bingham and Max Wallace and subsequent 2013 HBO televised drama center on the litigation.

 

 

June 4, 2016 in Books, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Sports, Supreme Court (US), Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Daily (Re)Reads: Judicial Impartiality

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has made news by charging that United States District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation about Trump University because Curiel is of Mexican heritage and Trump proclaims he is "building a wall" between the United States and Mexico: "It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”  Trump's comments are reported in The Wall Street Journal here and The Washington Post (with video) here.

Nypl.digitalcollections.94398bd0-6987-0130-fdaa-58d385a7b928.001.wBut while this allegation of bias seems unprecedented and even alarming, the notion that judges are biased because of their identity is nothing new. 

Recall the motions and eventual ruling regarding the federal district judge who heard the same-sex marriage trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger; there was an argument he should be disqualified when he revealed he was gay.  As the court stated, "The fact that a federal judge shares a fundamental characteristic with a litigant, or shares membership in a large association such as a religion, has been categorically rejected by federal courts as a sole basis for requiring a judge to recuse her or himself." Moreover, these allegations of bias usually seem to be leveled against persons who have not traditionally been members of the judiciary. 

This is distinct from situations such as Caperton v. Massey Coal Co., a divided opinion in which the Court's majority held that the financial campaign contributions to an elected judge on the state's highest court mandated the judge's recusal as a matter of due process when the contributor was a litigant. 

And it is distinct from the decision due this Term from the Court, Williams v. Pennsylvania, argued in February, in which the bias involves a justice on the state's highest court reviewing a habeas petition that includes allegations of prosecutorial misconduct when that justice happened to be the District Attorney.

The notion of an independent - - - and impartial - - - judiciary, whether state or federal, is fundamental, but where and how the lines should be drawn can be difficult.  Chief Justice Roberts's dissenting opinion in Caperton illustrated the difficulties of line-drawing with 40 numbered issues (often containing multiple questions). 

No one, however, seems to have argued that a litigant's beliefs, for example about Mexico, that have nothing to do with the actual matter of litigation, for example about alleged fraudulent practices at Trump University, could lead to a credible claim that of judicial bias because the judge happens to have Mexican heritage.  If this were to be the rule, then some litigants with unsavory ideas would be able to claim bias against every judge. 

 [image via]

June 3, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, News, Race, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Charged with Judicial Misconduct Based on Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

The continuing saga of the controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Roy S. Moore, has taken another turn with a complaint against him filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, in the special Court of the Judiciary. [While the entire complaint is almost 300 pages, more than 250 pages are devoted to the 17 appendixes of supporting documents including opinions and letters].

As the complaint notes, this is not the first time that Justice Roy Moore has been before the Court of the Judiciary: the court removed him from office in 2003 for violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for failure to obey an injunction from a federal district court.  (He was re-elected in 2013.) While that earlier controversy revolved around the placement of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, the present one concerns Justice Moore's actions on same-sex marriage.  As the complaint summarizes it, Chief Justice Moore's pertinent conduct "involves the interplay of four cases":

 The complaint gives a good chronology of the various events which have been contentious.  As we previously noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a judicial ethics complaint after Chief Justice Moore penned a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order on same-sex marriage.

One of the more interesting aspects of the ethics charges is this:

On January 6, 2016—despite the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, despite the United States District Court's injunction against all Alabama probate judges that specifically enjoined them from obeying any contrary order of the Alabama Supreme Court, and despite the Eleventh Circuit's October 20, 2015 order recognizing the abrogation of API by Obergefell—Chief Justice Moore, under the guise of his administrative authority as Chief Justice, unilaterally issued an Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty under API to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples.   His Administrative Order states in part:

IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT: Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.

[paragraph 38].  In paragraph 3, the complaint stated "Significant to the context of this matter is that the vast majority of probate judges in this state are not licensed to practice law."  However, the probate judges would be bound by the Canons of Judicial Ethics; the complaint alleges that Moore "flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority as chief administrative officer of Alabama's judicial branch by "ordering or appearing to order" the probate judges not to obey the federal district court's injunction and thus ordering the probate judges to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics "knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office."

Thus, it is not only Moore's own refusal to abide by federal interpretations of the United States Constitution, but his ordering of subordinates to do so that are included in the six specific charges against him, all of which involve alleged violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which, broadly stated are:

  • Canon 1.     A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  • Canon 2.     A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities.
  • Canon 3.     A judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently.

Chief Justice Moore has reportedly been suspended, pending the decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which is composed of judges, lawyers, and lay persons, and has the power to remove the Justice.  Interestingly, appeal from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary is to Supreme Court of Alabama.

 

 

video via

May 7, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Divided Second Circuit Upholds New York's "Maintain an Office" Requirement for Nonresident Attorneys

In the divided panel opinion in Schoenefeld v. Schneiderman,  a Second Circuit panel majority upheld the constitutionality of a requirement that attorneys who practice law in New York but do not reside within the state be required to maintain an office in New York.

The statute, N.Y. Judiciary Law §470, provides:

A person, regularly admitted to practice as an attorney and counsellor, in the courts of record of this state, whose office for the transaction of law business is within the state, may practice as such attorney or counsellor, although he resides in an adjoining state.

Schoenefeld, admitted to practice in New York but who lived in New Jersey and maintained her main office in New Jersey, wished to practice law in New York without having the expense of a separate office in New York.  She challenged §470 on several constitutional grounds.  The district judge found that the statute violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause, Art. IV, §2, cl.1.   The lack of clarity in the statute caused the Second Circuit on appeal to certify the question of the "minimum requirements" to satisfy §470 to New York's highest court.  The New York Court of Appeals answered the certified question: §470 "requires nonresident attorneys to maintain a physical office in New York."

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Syndicate and St. Paul Buildings, Highest Office Buildings in the World, New York City, 1920, via

Writing for the Second Circuit panel majority, Judge Reena Raggi, who was joined by Judge Susan Carney, concluded that §470 had no discriminatory or protectionist purpose.  Instead, §470 - - - with "its origins in an 1862 predecessor law" - - - was actually enacted to reverse a court ruling that had barred a nonresident attorney from practicing law at all given the difficulties of service of process.  Despite changes and recodifications, the majority concluded that there was no showing that the current §470 was "being maintained for a protectionist purpose."  Again, the majority found that §470 was enacted for "the nonprotectionist purpose of affording such attorneys a means to establish a physical presence in the state akin to that of resident attorneys, thereby eliminating a court‐identified service‐of‐process concern."

The majority relied in large part on the Supreme Court's unanimous 2013 decision in McBurney v. Young holding that a state can restrict its own freedom of information law, FOIA, to its own citizens without violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause. 

In his vigorous dissenting opinion, Judge Peter Hall argued that the real import of §470 is that resident attorneys need not maintain an office while nonresident attorneys must maintain an office, thus discriminating.  The next step in the analysis, Judge Hall contended, should be to consider the state's justification for such discrimination.  Judge Hall distinguished McBurney based on the "simple reason that the Virginia FOIA is not an economic regulation, nor does it directly regulate the right to pursue a common calling."  Hall's dissent criticized the majority for imposing a requirement of discriminatory intent as part of a prima facie case that would be appropriate under the Equal Protection Clause but is not under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Moreover, Judge Hall concluded that New York's "proffered justifications for the in‐state office requirement— effectuating service of legal papers, facilitating regulatory oversight of nonresident attorneys’ fiduciary obligations, and making attorneys more accessible to New York’s courts—are plainly not sufficient."

Thus, New York can constitutionally compel attorneys who do not reside in New York to maintain a physical office in New York.

April 22, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Court Says Congress Can Legislate to Impact Current Cases

The Supreme Court ruled today in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that Congress did not tread on the courts' territory in violation of the separation of powers by enacting a statute that ensured that the plaintiffs in an enforcement action would get the assets that they sought (and therefore win).

The ruling backs off the rule in United States v. Klein--that Congress can't legislate a rule of decision in a case--and thus gives somewhat wider berth to Congress (relative to Klein) to enact laws that impact currently pending cases. At the same time, however, the ruling reiterates familiar limits on Congress's authority over the judiciary.

This is the case in which over 1,000 victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism and their families filed in the Southern District of New York to enforce their monetary judgments against Iran--through assets owned by Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, held in a New York bank account--for sponsoring terrorism.

While this claim was pending, Congress passed a law saying that, if a court makes specific findings, "a financial asset . . . shall be subject to execution . . . in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by" certain acts of terrorism. The law goes on to define available assets as "the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No. 10 Civ. 4518 (BSJ) (GWG), that were restrained by restraining notices and levies secured by the plaintiffs in those proceedings."

In other words, the newly enacted law, 22 U.S.C. Sec. 8772, ensured that the plaintiffs in this case would get these assets, notwithstanding the Bank's defenses.

The Bank claimed that the law violated the separation of powers--in particular, that Congress overstepped by directing the outcome of a case, in violation of United States v. Klein.

But the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for all but Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor (and Justice Thomas, for a part of the opinion). She wrote that Congress may amend the law and apply the amendment to pending cases, even when the amendment is outcome determinative. She then said that's exactly what Congress did here: it wrote a law that covers all the various post-judgment execution claims that were consolidated in this case. She said it did not create a "one-case-only regime."

Justice Ginsburg also wrote that the law related to foreign policy--an area where the courts traditionally defer to the President and Congress. "The Executive has historically made case-specific sovereign-immunity determinations to which courts have deferred. Any exercise by Congress and the President of control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign-government-owned property in the United States, is hardly a novelty."

Along the way, Justice Ginsburg backed off on Klein. She wrote that Klein has been called "a deeply puzzling decision," and that "[m]ore recent decisions, however, have made it clear that Klein does not inhibit Congress from "amend[ing] applicable law." At the same time, she reiterated familiar limits: "Necessarily, [the courts' authority] blocks Congress from 'requir[ing] federal courts to exercise the judicial power in a manner that Article III forbids," "Congress, no doubt, 'may not usurp a court's power to interpret and apply the law to the [circumstances] before it," and "our decisions place off limits to Congress 'vest[ing] review of the decisions of Article III courts in officials of the Executive Branch.'" "Congress, we have also held, may not 'retroactively comman[d] the federal courts to reopen final judgments." Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. He argued, in short, "[n]o less than if it had passed a law saying 'respondents win,' Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties' specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory"--and therefore violates the separation of powers.

April 20, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fifth Circuit Finds Local Federal Rule Violates First Amendment as Applied to Attorney

In its relatively brief but important opinion in In re William Goode, the Fifth Circuit found that Western District of Louisiana Local Criminal Rule 53.5 (“L. Crim. R. 53.5”), violated the First Amendment as applied to Goode.

The rule provides:

During the trial of any criminal matter, including the period of selection of the jury, no lawyer associated with the prosecution or defense shall give or authorize any extrajudicial statement or interview, relating to the trial or the parties or issues in the trial, for dissemination by any means of public communication, except that the lawyer may quote from or refer without comment to public records of the court in the case.

In Goode's situation, he was an attorney "associated" with the defense although not defense counsel in the criminal case. Instead, he was assisting the two defendants, both of whom were also attorneys. 

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image via

During the trial, one of the defendant attorneys  "suffered from a self-inflicted gunshot wound."  The prosecution stated it would not oppose a mistrial, but before the judge ordered a mistrial, Goode "gave interviews to two media outlets."  Goode contended he was under the belief that a mistrial would be granted and that a reporter had promised to hold the story until the mistrial was granted, although the story ran online before the mistrial was granted. The Chief Judge of the district later suspended Goode from practice in the district court for six months.

The Fifth Circuit discussed Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada (1991) as well as Fifth Circuit precedent that held that "prior restraints on trial participants must be narrowly tailored to only prohibit speech that has a “meaningful likelihood of materially impairing the court’s ability to conduct a fair trial.” and that the "prior restraint must also be the least restrictive means available."  The unanimous Fifth Circuit panel found that the application of the "expansive" Rule 53.5 that was applied to Goode was a prior restraint and was neither narrowly tailored nor the least restrictive means possible.

While the Fifth Circuit did not address the facial challenge and while Goode's situation has unique features, the Fifth Circuit's opinion casts the shadow of unconstitutionality on the local Rule 53.5.

April 18, 2016 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

California Appellate Court Finds State Teacher Tenure Statute Constitutional

In its opinion in Vergara v. California today, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District of California reversed the conclusion of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education. California's so-called teacher tenure statutes challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including the permanent employment statute (§44929.21(b)); dismissal statutes (§§ 4493444938(b)(l) and (2) and 44944); and a seniority statute, "Last In First Out" or "LIFO" statute (§44955).

In a nutshell, the appellate court found:

Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.

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Reading Lesson at a Dame School, by Elias Martin (1739–1818) via

The appellate court implied that the trial judge had misconstrued his constitutional task:

With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.

The appellate court's 36 page opinion contains a careful rehearsal of the evidence before the trial judge as well as a discussion of his opinion.  In its own analysis, the appellate court considered the plaintiffs' original contentions that:

the challenged statutes create an oversupply of grossly ineffective teachers because (i) the tenure statute’s probationary period is too short, preventing the identification of grossly ineffective teachers before the mandated deadline for reelection; (ii) when grossly ineffective tenured teachers are identified, it is functionally impossible to terminate them under the overly burdensome and complicated dismissal statutes; and (iii) when reductions-in-force are required, the statute requires the termination of junior, competent teachers while more senior, grossly ineffective teachers keep their jobs only because they have seniority. Plaintiffs argued, and the trial court agreed, that two distinct classes of students—Group 1 (an “unlucky subset” of students within the population of students at large) and Group 2 (poor and minority students)—were denied equal protection because the challenged statutes led members of these groups to be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.

The unanimous panel found that there was no "identifiable class" for equal protection purposes:  the group of "unlucky students" who are allegedly harmed by being assigned to grossly ineffective teachers have only one defining characteristic - - - they are assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.  As for the second group - - - identified as poor and minority students - - - the appellate court found that there was insufficient causation for a facial constitutional violation: "the statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth."  While it is possible, the appellate court noted, that the plaintiffs could have shown that the implementation of the statutes inevitably resulted in "consequential assignment of disproportionately high numbers of grossly inefficient teachers to schools predominantly serving low-income and minority students," the plaintiffs here did not make such a showing.

While the appellate court recognized there were "deplorable staffing decisions made by some local administrators," this was not sufficient to support a facial challenge to teacher tenure statutes. 

The appellate decision is much better reasoned than the trial judge's opinion, which derided the "uber due process" provided by the statutes and did not elaborate on the facts and evidence.  It is likely to stand.

April 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ninth Circuit Rejects Latest Class Action Pick-Off Strategy

The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Chen v. Allstate Insurance that a defendant's unaccepted offer of full judgment on a plaintiff's individual claim does not moot the plaintiff's individual claim, or his class action.

The ruling means that plaintiff Florencio Pacleb's individual claim and his class-action complaint against Allstate can move forward at the district court. This is a significant win for Pacleb (and other Ninth Circuit class plaintiffs) and answers a question left open by the Supreme Court.

The case arose when Pacleb filed a class-action suit against Allstate for calls he received from the insurance company on his cell phone, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Before Pacleb moved for class certification (and shortly after the Supreme Court handed down Campbell-Ewald), Allstate tried to pick him off (and thus undermine his class action) by depositing full monetary judgment in escrow and promising to stop making calls to his cell phone. Allstate then moved to dismiss the case as moot.

Allstate's move was a clever exploitation of an open question from Campbell-Ewald. In that case, the Supreme Court held that "an unaccepted settlement offer has no force" and does not moot a claim. But the Court left open the question "whether the result would be different if a defendant deposits the full amount of the plaintiff's individual claim in an account payable to the plaintiff, and the court then enters judgment for the plaintiff in that amount." Allstate's move took up that open question.

But the Ninth Circuit didn't bite. The Ninth Circuit ruled first that Pacleb's individual claim wasn't moot, because he hadn't received full judgment. (The money was still in escrow, not in Pacleb's bank account.) The court went on to rule that circuit law allowed Pacleb to seek class certification, even if Allstate could fully satisfy Pacleb's individual claims. But the court said that even if circuit law didn't answer the question, language in Campbell-Ewald suggests that "when a defendant consents to judgment according complete relief on a named plaintiff's individual claims before certification, but fails to offer complete relief on the plaintiff's class claims, a court should not enter judgment on the individual claims, over the plaintiff's objection, before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to move for class certification."

In other words, a plaintiff's interest in class certification isn't satisfied by an offer of full judgment to the individual plaintiffs. And such an offer therefore doesn't moot the plaintiff's class claims.

The ruling is a victory for Pacleb and class plaintiffs in the Ninth Circuit (and maybe beyond), as it forecloses the latest pick-off gambit left open by the Supreme Court in Campbell-Ewald.

April 13, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tenth Circuit: Utah's Ban on Polygamous Cohabitation and Marriage Stands

The Tenth Circuit has ruled that the Browns - - - of Sister Wives reality television fame - - - cannot challenge Utah's ban on polygamous cohabitation and marriage under Article III judicial power constraints.  In its opinion in Brown v. Buhman, the unanimous three judge panel found that the matter was moot. 

Recall that federal district judge Clark Waddoups finalized his conclusion from his previous opinion that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional. The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:

  •             (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
  •             (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
  •             (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

 [emphasis added].  Judge Waddoups concluded that the "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis."  This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:

Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit panel held that the district judge should not have addressed the constitutional claims because the case was moot.  Even assuming the Browns had standing when the complaint was filed, any credible threat of prosecution was made moot by a Utah County Attorney's Office (UCAO) 2012 policy which stated that "the UCAO will prosecute only those who (1) induce a partner to marry through misrepresentation or (2) are suspected of committing a collateral crime such as fraud or abuse."  The opinion stated that nothing "in the record" suggested that Browns fit into this category and additionally, there was an affirmation from the defendant that "the UCAO had 'determined that no other prosecutable crimes related to the bigamy allegation have been or are being committed by the Browns in Utah County as of the date of this declaration. ' ”

The opinion found that the "voluntary cessation" exception to mootness was not applicable because that was intended to prevent gamesmanship: a government actor could simply reenact the challenged policy after the litigation is dismissed. 

Yet the problem, of course, is that the statute remains "on the books" and the policy is simply not to enforce it except in limited cases.  The court rejected all of the Browns' arguments that the UCAO statement did not moot the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute including a precedential one; the possibility that a new Utah County Attorney could enforce the statute; the failure of defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, to renounce the statute's constitutionality; and the tactical motives of the defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, in adopting the policy.  The court stated:

The first point misreads the case law, the second is speculative, the third is minimally relevant, and the fourth may actually assure compliance with the UCAO Policy because any steps to reconsider would almost certainly provoke a new lawsuit against him. Such steps also would damage Mr. Buhman’s credibility as a public official and might even expose him to prosecution for perjury and contempt of federal court for violating his declaration. Assessing the veracity of the UCAO Policy must account for all relevant factors, which together show no credible threat of prosecution of the Browns.

Thus, like other criminal statutes that are said to have fallen into "desuetude," the statute seems immune from constitutional challenge.

In a very brief section, the court does note that the plaintiffs no longer live in Utah, but have moved to Nevada, another rationale supporting mootness.  The Nevada move is discussed in the video below featuring some of the children involved.

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexuality, Standing, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Fifth Circuit Lets State AG Subpeona, Civil and Criminal Threats Against Google Stand

The Fifth Circuit ruled on Friday in Google v. Hood that a federal district court's injunction against Mississippi Attorney General James M. Hood III jumped the gun, and struck it. The ruling means that AG Hood's subpoena to Google remains live, and that he is not enjoined from bringing civil and criminal action against the web giant.

The case arose when AG Hood and certain other state AGs started expressing concerns that search engines weren't doing enough to stop copyright infringement, prescription drug and counterfeit product sales, and other "illegal and harmful" activity on the internet. Hood wrote to Google, and after some back-and-forth, issued a wide-ranging administrative subpoena, stating that there were "reasonable grounds to believe that Google Inc. may have violated . . . the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act."

Google sued in federal court, alleging that Hood's investigation violated Google's immunity under the Communications Decency Act, the Fourth Amendment, and the First Amendment rights of Google and its users, and seeking an injunction. The district court preliminarily enjoined Hood from enforcing the administrative subpoena and "bringing a civil or criminal charge against Google under Mississippi law for making accessible third-party content to Internet users (as threatened)."

Without touching the merits (even for likelihood of success, under the preliminary injunction standard), the Fifth Circuit struck the injunction. The court said that Google could bring the case in federal court, and that the district court did not err in not abstaining under Younger. But the court went on to say that Google's federal lawsuit was not ripe. That's because the subpoena was non-self-executing, and Hood had no independent authority to enforce it. (Instead, he has to enforce it through injunctive relief and a contempt motion in state court.) As to Hood's threats of civil or criminal enforcement: the court said that these were too "fuzzily defined," and that the court could not "on the present record predict what conduct Hood might one day try to prosecute under Mississippi law." In short: Google's case wasn't ripe, and the district court jumped the gun in issuing the injunction.

The ruling means that Hood can go ahead and try to enforce his subpoena in state court. He can also initiate any civil and criminal actions that Mississippi might allow. But when he does, he'll face Google's immunity and constitutional defenses in state court, and a likely second try in federal court.

April 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 8, 2016

First Circuit: Same-Sex Marriage Ruling in Obergefell Applies to Puerto Rico

In a brief per curiam opinion, a panel of the First Circuit essentially reversed the ruling of Senior United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez that denied the joint motion for summary judgment in Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla regarding a challenge to Puerto Rico's same-sex marriage ban.

The panel stated:

The district court's ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin. The constitutional rights at issue here are the rights to due process and equal protection, as protected by both the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Obergefell v. Hodges; United States v. Windsor. Those rights have already been incorporated as to Puerto Rico. Examining Bd. Of Eng'rs, Architects & Surveyors v. Flores de Otero (1976). And even if they had not, then the district court would have been able to decide whether they should be. See Flores de Otero.

In any event, for present purposes we need not gild the lily.  Our prior mandate was clear . . . 

[citations and footnote omitted].

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After quoting its previous opinion, the panel then addressed the procedural posture of the case, noting that the district court "compounded its error (and signaled a lack of confidence in its actions), by failing to enter a final judgment to enable an appeal in ordinary course."  Both parties therefore sought a writ of mandamus, which the court granted and additionally "remitted" the case to the district court "to be assigned randomly by the clerk to a different judge to enter judgment in favor of the Petitioners promptly, and to conduct any further proceedings necessary in this action."

The First Circuit did not explicitly discuss the district judge's conclusions regarding Puerto Rico's status and his argument that under The Insular Cases (1901), territorial incorporation of specific rights is questionable.  But  the First Circuit did cite contrary authority and made clear its disagreement.  The intensity of the disagreement is also made evident by the First Circuit's somewhat unusual instruction that Senior United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez be removed from the case.

 

April 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ninth Circuit Finds Arizona's Denial of Drivers Licenses to DACA Recipients Unconstitutional

In its opinion in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer, the Ninth Circuit has found unconstitutional an Executive Order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that prohibits recipients of the federal program called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) from obtaining driver’s licenses by using Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States. 

Recall that the Ninth Circuit had earlier reversed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on their equal protection claim.  The United States Supreme denied Arizona's application for a stay. On remand, the district judge had found that the plaintiffs prevailed on their equal protection claim, applying a rational basis standard of review, and entered a permanent injunction. 

In this appeal by the Arizona state defendants, the same Ninth Circuit panel of judges - - - Harry Pregerson, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen - - - in the opinion again authored by Judge Pregerson, not surprisingly found equal protection "problems" but decided to resolve the case on the "nonconstitutional grounds" of preemption, explaining (in footnote 5),

Though preemption principles are rooted in the Supremacy Clause, this court has previously applied the principle that preemption does not implicate a constitutional question for purposes of constitutional avoidance.

Yet the panel's opinion spends more than half of its analysis on the equal protection question.  The court's opinion states that the judges "remain of the view" that "Arizona's policy may well fail even rational basis review" and rejected all of Arizona's asserted government interests.  Moreover, the opinion stated that it "bears noting, once again" that "the record does suggest" that Arizona's policy was motivated by "a dogged animus against DACA recipients," and as the Supreme Court has "made very clear that such animus cannot constitute a legitimate state interest, and has cautioned against sowing the seeds of prejudice," citing cases including United States v. Windsor.

The opinion continued

Given the formidable Equal Protection concerns Arizona’s policy raises, we turn to a preemption analysis as an alternative to resting our decision on the Equal Protection Clause. Doing so, we conclude that Arizona’s policy encroaches on the exclusive federal authority to create immigration classifications and so is displaced by the INA.

While the court's final opinion is of questionable precedential value concerning the equal protection conclusion, the previous opinion's equal protection conclusion remains of high precedential value, and certainly the ultimate conclusion - - - here based on the Supremacy Clause preemption - - - is definitive. 

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April 7, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Court Can't Second-Guess Prosecution's Charging Decisions

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Fokker Services B.V. that a federal district court cannot deny an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) because the court disagrees with the government's charging decisions. The ruling, a victory for both parties, reverses the district court's decision on separation-of-powers grounds and remands the case.

The case arose when the parties asked the court for an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act in order to allow the defendant to meet the government's conditions under the DPA. (The DPA provided that the government would defer prosecution so long as Fokker met certain conditions over an 18-month period. But if Fokker failed to meet the conditions after 18 months, the Speedy Trial Act would have prevented the government to pursue prosecution. So the parties moved the court for an exclusion of time under the Act.) The court denied the motion, saying that it disagreed with the government's decision to charge only the corporation, and not its individual officers, with violations. Both parties appealed.

The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said that "[t]he Constitution allocates primacy in criminal charging decisions to the Executive Branch," and that "the Judiciary generally lacks authority to second-guess those Executive determinations, much less to impose its own charging preference." So when the court denied an exclusion of time because of its disagreement with the government's charging decision, it exceeded its own authority and intruded into the prerogative of the Executive.

The court said that "we construe [the Speedy Trial Act] in a manner that preserves the Executive's long-settled primacy over charging decisions and that denies courts substantial power to impose their own charging preferences."

The case now goes back to the district court for an order excluding time under the Speedy Trial Act and implementation of the DPA.

April 5, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Federal Judge Enjoins Mississippi's Same-Sex Couple Adoption Ban as Unconstitutional

In his opinion  in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS), United States District Judge Daniel Jordan III found that Mississippi Code §93-17-3(5) prohibiting "adoption by couples of the same gender" violates the Equal Protection Clause and ordered that the Executive Director of DHS is preliminarily enjoined from enforcing the statute.

The majority of the 28 page opinion is devoted to matters of standing and the Eleventh Amendment relevant to the multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants, including judges.  However, Judge Jordan did find that the individual plaintiffs had standing and DHS was an appropriate defendant.

 On his discussion of likelihood to prevail on the merits, Judge Jordan wrote in full:

Obergefell [v. Hodges] held that bans on gay marriage violate the due-process and equal-protection clauses. It is the equal-protection component of the opinion that is relevant in the present dispute over Mississippi’s ban on gay adoptions. Under traditional equal-protection analysis, a law that does not “target[ ] a suspect class” or involve a fundamental right will be upheld, “so long as it bears a rational relation to some legitimate end.” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631 (1996). Conversely, “if a classification does target a suspect class or impact a fundamental right, it will be strictly scrutinized and upheld only if it is precisely tailored to further a compelling government interest.” Sonnier v. Quarterman, 476 F.3d 349, 368 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

In this case, Defendants argue that rational-basis review applies. But Obergefell made no reference to that or any other test in its equal-protection analysis. That omission must have been consciously made given the Chief Justice’s full-throated dissent. 135 S. Ct. at 2623 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting) (“Absent from this portion of the opinion, however, is anything resembling our usual framework for deciding equal protection cases . . . .”).

While the majority’s approach could cause confusion if applied in lower courts to future cases involving marriage-related benefits, it evidences the majority’s intent for sweeping change. For example, the majority clearly holds that marriage itself is a fundamental right when addressing the due-process issue. Id. at 2602. In the equal-protection context, that would require strict scrutiny. But the opinion also addresses the benefits of marriage, noting that marriage and those varied rights associated with it are recognized as a “unified whole.” Id. at 2600. And it further states that “the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right.” Id. at 2604 (emphasis added).

Of course the Court did not state whether these other benefits are fundamental rights or whether gays are a suspect class. Had the classification not been suspect and the benefits not fundamental, then rational-basis review would have followed. It did not. Instead, it seems clear the Court applied something greater than rational-basis review. Indeed, the majority never discusses the states’ reasons for adopting their bans on gay marriage and never mentions the word “rational.”

While it may be hard to discern a precise test, the Court extended its holding to marriage- related benefits—which includes the right to adopt. And it did so despite those who urged restraint while marriage-related-benefits cases worked their way through the lower courts. According to the majority, “Were the Court to stay its hand to allow slower, case-by-case determination of the required availability of specific public benefits to same-sex couples, it still would deny gays and lesbians many rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.” Id. at 2606 (emphasis added).

The full impact of that statement was not lost on the minority. Chief Justice Roberts first took issue with the majority’s failure to “note with precision which laws petitioners have challenged.” Id. at 2623 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting). He then criticized the majority for jumping the gun on marriage-related cases that might otherwise develop:

Although [the majority] discuss[es] some of the ancillary legal benefits that accompany marriage, such as hospital visitation rights and recognition of spousal status on official documents, petitioners’ lawsuits target the laws defining marriage generally rather than those allocating benefits specifically. . . . Of course, those more selective claims will not arise now that the Court has taken the drastic step of requiring every State to license and recognize marriages between same-sex couples.

Id. at 2623–24 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting) (emphasis added).

In sum, the majority opinion foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and “rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.” Id. at 2606. It also seems highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits—expressly including the right to adopt—would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit.

Obergefell obviously reflects conflicting judicial philosophies. While an understanding of those positions is necessary for this ruling, it is not this Court’s place nor intent to criticize either approach. The majority of the United States Supreme Court dictates the law of the land, and lower courts are bound to follow it. In this case, that means that section 93-17-3(5) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

 The judge's interpretation of Obergefell v. Hodges interestingly focuses on the dissent of Chief Justice Roberts to explain the doctrine of Kennedy's opinion for the Court, a phenomenon familiar from the use of Justice Scalia's dissents in the same-sex marriage litigation.

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April 1, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Eleventh Amendment, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

South Africa's Constitutional Court on Corruption, Presidential and Legislative Responsibilities, and the Constitution

The controversy at the center of today's unanimous judgment by the South Africa Constitutional Court in Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others arises from "improvements" to President Jacob Zuma's private residence in Nkandla done at public expense. 

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Zuma's Nkandla Residence via

Although the cost of "security features" can be born by the state, other improvements - - - such as the visitors' centre, amphitheater, cattle kraal, chicken run, and swimming pool involved in this case - - - should not be state-funded and should be personally paid by the President.

The constitutional questions in the case are not only about apportioning costs, however, but are about apportioning power in the South Africa government. 

The South Africa Constitution establishes the "Public Protector" (sections 181, 182) as an independent entity with the power

a. to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice;

b. to report on that conduct; and

c. to take appropriate remedial action.

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Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, via

In this case, the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela (pictured left) investigated the allegations of "irregular expenditure" and issues a report in 2014 directing the President to make reimbursements  and reprimand the Ministers involved in the expenditures; this report was also submitted to the National Assembly. 

The President basically refused to comply and the National Assembly "resolved to absolve the President of all liability."  Once the matter reached the Constitutional Court's exclusive jurisdiction, President Zuma essentially agreed that he would pay the costs of improvement.  Thus, the decision in the case is not surprising.

Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court's decision is an important one.  It strongly sides with the Public Protector and states that her remedial action taken against the President is "binding."  Additionally, it finds that both the President and the National Assembly acted unconstitutionally:

The failure by the President to comply with the remedial action taken against him, by the Public Protector in her report of 19 March 2014, is inconsistent with section 83(b) of the Constitution read with sections 181(3) and 182(1)(c) of the Constitution and is invalid.

The resolution passed by the National Assembly absolving the President from compliance with the remedial action taken by the Public Protector in terms of section 182(1)(c) of the Constitution is inconsistent with sections 42(3), 55(2)(a) and (b) and 181(3) of the Constitution, is invalid and is set aside.

Jennifer Elgot has a good basic overview of the 52 page decision and background controversy in her piece in The Guardian.

Pierre deVos, Constitutional Law Professor at University of Cape Town has a terrific discussion on his blog Constitutionally Speaking.

 

 

March 31, 2016 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Argument Preview: Access to Justice in the PLRA

The Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in Ross v. Blake, the case testing whether the Prison Litigation Reform Act includes a "special circumstances" exception to the exhaustion requirement that excuses an inmate's failure to exhaust when he had a reasonable, but mistaken, belief that no further administrative remedies were available.

The case raises important access-to-justice questions in the context of administrative exhaustion in PLRA litigation. Here's my preview, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:

FACTS

Shaidon Blake is a prisoner serving a life sentence in the custody of the state of Maryland. In 2007, Blake was housed at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center.

On June 21 of that year, Lieutenant James Madigan and Sergeant Michael Ross, officers at the Center, attempting to relocate Blake to another cellblock, handcuffed Blake and removed him from his cell. As the two officers escorted Blake to his new cellblock, Madigan shoved Blake twice. He then wrapped a key ring around his fingers and struck Blake at least four times in the face.

Ross asked another officer to call for assistance. Ross and Madigan then lifted Blake and dropped him to the floor. Ross put his knee into Blake’s chest, and Madigan restrained Blake until other officers arrived.

The responding officers took Blake to the medical unit. Blake declined treatment, but was later diagnosed with nerve damage.

Blake reported the episode to senior corrections officers and provided a written account of the assaults. Captain Calvin Vincent conducted a preliminary investigation. Vincent concluded that Madigan used excessive force and recommended that Madigan be disciplined. (Madigan later resigned in order to avoid termination.)

Vincent referred the incident to the Internal Investigative Unit, or “IIU,” a division of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services charged with investigating criminal violations and serious misconduct of correctional officers. The IIU undertook a year-long investigation into Madigan’s behavior and issued a formal report concluding that Madigan used excessive force against Blake. The report did not assign any fault to Ross or Blake. The IIU did not otherwise provide any redress or compensation to Blake. (The IIU is a criminal investigative unit. It lacks authority to remedy a prisoner’s complaint, or to discipline a correctional officer.)

Blake sued Ross, Madigan, two supervisors, and two government entities in federal court for civil rights violations. The district court dismissed the claims against the two supervisors and the government entities, leaving only Ross and Madigan as defendants.

Ross then moved to dismiss the case against him, alleging that Blake failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or “PLRA,” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In particular, Ross claimed that Blake failed to use the administrative remedy process, or “ARP,” that the state created to address inmate grievances, including complaints about the use of force, and to provide redress and compensation to inmates. (Ross now claims that Blake alternatively could have filed a complaint with the Inmate Grievance Office, or “IGO,” an independent entity outside the prison that has authority to hear grievances in the first instance and award monetary damages, if the ARP was unavailable. When the ARP is available, the Inmate Grievance Office hears appeals from the ARP.) Ross said that Blake admitted having received a copy of the inmate handbook, which contains information about the ARP, but that Blake did not read those portions of the handbook and did not initiate an ARP grievance.

The district court granted Ross’s motion to dismiss. (The court at first dismissed Blake’s case against Madigan, too. But the court later reinstated that case, and Blake won a $50,000 judgment against Madigan. Madigan is not a part of this appeal.) Blake appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed. This appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

The PLRA says that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This means that a prisoner like Blake has to pursue, and exhaust, any internal, administrative remedies that he has available before filing a civil rights suit in federal court. Congress adopted the measure in order to allow a prison to address complaints internally, to reduce litigation (at least to the extent that a prison can resolve complaints internally), and to improve litigation by allowing the parties to develop a useful administrative record before going to court.

The Supreme Court has said that exhaustion means “proper exhaustion.” In other words, a prisoner must use all the administrative steps that the prison makes available, and do so in compliance with the applicable deadlines and other critical procedural rules. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006).

Still, some read more flexibility into the requirement. For example, Justice Breyer suggested in his concurrence in Woodford that well-settled exceptions to exhaustion in administrative law should also apply to the PLRA. Justice Breyer pointed to a Second Circuit case holding that “special circumstances” can excuse exhaustion (as in administrative law). The Second Circuit in that case concluded that a prisoner’s failure to exhaust “was justified by his reasonable belief” that no further remedies were available. Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670 (2004). The Fourth Circuit adopted this same approach in ruling for Blake.

The parties dispute whether the PLRA has a “reasonable belief” exception to exhaustion. But they also dispute whether Blake actually exhausted his remedies. Recall that Blake pursued his complaint through the IIU, and not the ARP or IGO. The parties disagree over whether the IIU process amounts to exhaustion, and whether the ARP and IGO processes were actually available.

Ross argues first that the plain language of the PLRA requires strict and mandatory exhaustion. Ross claims that the Supreme Court affirmed this reading through its “proper exhaustion” rule in Woodford. Ross says that the Fourth Circuit’s approach—adopting an exception to exhaustion based on a prisoner’s “reasonable belief”—conflicts with the PLRA’s strict approach to exhaustion, because it excuses a prisoner’s failure to use a particular remedy based only on the prisoner’s misunderstanding. Ross contends that the PLRA’s plain language is clear, and that the courts have no authority to create an extra-textual exception to its strict and mandatory exhaustion requirement.

Ross argues next that the Fourth Circuit’s approach conflicts with the history and purposes of the PLRA. Ross claims that Congress enacted PLRA’s exhaustion requirement in order to replace a prior, ineffective requirement that permitted courts to require exhaustion only if doing so would be in the “interests of justice” and that the remedies were “plain, speedy, and effective.” Ross says that the current PLRA was enacted in order to eliminate judicial discretion from the exhaustion inquiry. He contends that the Fourth Circuit’s approach takes us back to the old system, which Congress unambiguously superseded with the more recent mandatory exhaustion requirement. Moreover, Ross claims that the Fourth Circuit’s approach would undermine the purposes of the PLRA, because it would result in more lawsuits without affording the prisons an opportunity to resolve them in the first instance. According to Ross, the Fourth Circuit’s approach would also mire the courts in the nuances of a prison’s grievance system in order to determine the reasonableness of a prisoner’s belief as to available remedies within the prison.

Third, Ross argues that the Fourth Circuit wrongly interpreted traditional administrative law exceptions, and thus wrongly imported a “reasonable belief” exception into the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement. Ross claims that there are only three sets of traditional exceptions to administrative exhaustion—where exhaustion would cause irreparable harm, where exhaustion would be futile, and where an agency is biased. Ross says that none of these traditional categories includes a “reasonable belief” exception, and so the Fourth Circuit erred in importing that exception (even if traditional administrative law exceptions apply to PLRA exhaustion).

Finally, Ross argues that even if the Fourth Circuit were correct in applying a “reasonable belief” exception, Blake does not satisfy it. Ross points to the fact that Blake never read the state’s grievance procedures. Ross says that if Blake would have read them, he would have seen that the APR process was available and most relevant to his kind of complaint. (Ross claims that the IIU process that Blake used against Madigan is designed for a different purpose—investigation of wrongdoing, not redress and compensation—and therefore does not satisfy the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement.) Ross contends that Blake’s failure to read the processes cannot amount to a “reasonable belief,” even if there is a “reasonable belief” exception to PLRA exhaustion.

(The government weighs in as amicus curiae in favor of Ross and makes substantially similar arguments.)

Blake argues first that this case does not properly address the Question Presented, whether the PLRA exhaustion requirement bars a lawsuit by a prisoner who made an objectively reasonable mistake in pursuing his administrative remedies. This is because Blake says that he made no mistake. He claims that the ARP process was not available to him, because routine practice at the time was to dismiss an ARP complaint when (as here) an IIU investigation was pending. (Blake points to five separate cases, including one filed on the same day as his assault, in which ARP complaints were dismissed as procedurally improper because an IIU investigation was pending.) He contends that the IGO procedure was similarly unavailable to him. Because his case does not fall within the Question Presented, Blake says that the Court should either affirm the Fourth Circuit’s decision or dismiss the appeal (as improvidently granted).

In the alternative, Blake argues that he properly exhausted his administrative remedies, because the ARP process and the IGO procedure were unavailable to him. Blake says that for a remedy to be available under the PLRA, it must be “sufficiently clear so that an objectively reasonable prisoner would know which remedy to use and how to use it.” Blake asserts that the two processes here fail that test. He claims that even Ross (represented here by the state attorney general) fails to identify which of the two proffered processes were available to him, underscoring just how unclear the policies were. Moreover, Blake claims that Ross’s position that the exhaustion requirement applies whenever a prisoner makes an error—and that the clarity of the remedy is irrelevant to its availability—is untenable, and gives the prisons a perverse incentive to make their administrative processes unnecessarily complex.

SIGNIFICANCE

This case tests the flexibility of the exhaustion requirement in the PLRA. It asks: Does the exhaustion requirement apply rigidly, so that a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies, even if he reasonably, but mistakenly, thought he satisfied it? Or does the requirement have some give, so that a prisoner can satisfy it under those circumstances? The answer to these questions will also tell us when a federal judicial remedy is available to prisoners for civil rights violations. This is an important access-to-justice issue, and the Court’s ruling (one way or the other) will impact when and how prisoners can pursue a meaningful damages claim in court.

Whatever the Court says, however, Congress will have the last word. That’s because the case raises only a statutory question—interpretation of the PLRA—and not a constitutional one. Congress can always go back and undo through legislation anything the Court does through litigation.

March 28, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (0)