Thursday, March 16, 2017
In International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a nationwide injunction against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0." The 43 page opinion concludes that the Plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on their claims that the EO violates the Immigration and Nationality Act and violates the Establishment Clause. [Note: Judge Chuang construed the motion for TRO/PI as a motion for a preliminary injunction and issued an injunction.] It closely follows on the TRO issued in Hawai'i v. Trump.
On the issue of standing, Judge Chuang first finds that several of the individual plaintiffs have standing to challenge the EO on statutory grounds, meeting both Article III standing and being within the zone of interests of the statute. Likewise, several plaintiffs have standing to challenge on the EO on Establishment Clause grounds given their personal injury on having family members who are directly and adversely affected by the ban.
Judge Chuang's opinion devotes substantial attention to the Immigration and Nationality Act claim, which has been raised in most of the complaints challenging this EO and its predecessor, but has not been the basis for a judicial restraining order. Here, Judge Chuang concludes that the general power given to the President by 8 U.S.C. §1182(f) to "suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens" is not exempt from the provision of 8 U.S.C. §1152(a) which bars discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas. Importantly, the exceptions listed in the non-discrimination provision of §1152(a) do not include §1182(f):
Because the enumerated exceptions illustrate that Congress “knows how to expand ‘the jurisdictional reach of a statute,793 the absence of any reference to § 1182(1) among these exceptions provides strong evidence that Congress did not intend for §1182(1) to be exempt from the anti-discrimination provision of §1152(a).
[citation omitted]. Thus, Judge Chuang held that the plaintiffs have a likelihood to succeed on their statutory claim.
On the Establishments Clause claim, Judge Chuang, like other judges, looked to McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005), for an interpretation of the first prong of the Lemon test, Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), requiring an government act to have a secular purpose in order to be constitutional. Noting that finding of purpose is a common task for the courts, Judge Chuang discussed the specific statements in the record "directly establishing that Trump intended to effectuate a partial Muslim ban by banning entry by citizens of specific predominantly Muslim countries deemed to be dangerous, as a means to avoid, for political reasons, an action explicitly directed at Muslims." These statements included the by now familiar statements of candidate Trump and of former-Mayor Guiliani relating to the first EO. Additionally, Judge Chuang found that the despite the changes in the second EO, "the history of public statements continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the Second Executive Order remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban," quoting statements by Senior Policy Advisor to the President Stephen Miller and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Judge Chuang rejected the Government's argument that such statements should not be considered because they were made outside the formal government decision-making process. Instead, "all of the public statements at issue here are fairly attributable to President Trump."
Moreover, Judge Huang also looked to the language of the second EO itself. He rejected the Government's argument that the second EO's articulation of a national security purpose essentially saves the EO. However, while there should ordinarily be deference to national security, Judge Chuang found that in this "highly unique case," the record provides "strong indications that the national security interest is not the primary purpose of the EO.
- First, the initial EO was adopted without interagency review: "The fact that the White House took the highly irregular step of ﬁrst introducing the travel ban without receiving the input and judgment of the relevant national security agencies strongly suggests that the religious purpose was primary, and the national security purpose, even if legitimate, is a secondary post hoc rationale."
- Second, the national security rationale was offered only after courts issued injunctions against the first EO, similar to litigation in McCreary.
- Third, the EO is an "unprecedented response" to security risks without any triggering event.
Judge Chuang also rejected the Government's argument that deference is warranted. This deference argument was made in a dissenting opinion by Judge Jay Bybee from the Ninth Circuit's denial of en banc review in Washington v. Trump. For Judge Chuang, the deferential standard of Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972), is most "typically applied when a court is asked to review an executive officer's decision to deny a visa" as in Kerry v. Din (2015). The Mandel test does not apply to the promulgation of sweeping immigration policy. Instead, even when exercising their immigration powers, the political branches must choose constitutional permissible means of implementing that power. It is the courts' duty to determine those constitutional boundaries.
Thus, Judge Chuang issued a nationwide injunction against §2(c) of the Executive Order, independent of the injunction earlier that same day of §2, as well as §6, in Hawaii v. Trump.
[image: Photo by Bruce Emmerling of protest of first EO outside courthouse in Baltimore via; note that Judge Chuang does not sit in Baltimore].
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Recall the proceedings in Washington v. Trump in which a panel opinion upheld an injunction against the January 27, 2017 Executive Order by the President, now popularly known as Muslim Ban I. Because the President withdrew the EO, replacing it with the March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" - - - enjoined today in Hawai'i v. Trump - - - proceedings in the Muslim Ban I became irrelevant and the United States dismissed the appeal. Nevertheless, upon the request of a Ninth Circuit judge, a poll was taken to determine whether the Ninth Circuit should hear the case en banc and vacate the panel opinion. Today, the order on this en banc request was rendered, and the "matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the active
judges in favor of en banc reconsideration."
The order is accompanied by a paragraph concurring opining by Judge Reinhardt:
I concur in our court’s decision regarding President Trump’s first Executive Order – the ban on immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries. I also concur in our court’s determination to stand by that decision, despite the effort of a small number of our members to overturn or vacate it. Finally, I am proud to be a part of this court and a judicial system that is independent and courageous, and that vigorously protects the constitutional rights of all, regardless of the source of any efforts to weaken or diminish them.
The dissenting opinion of Judge Bybee, controversial in many quarters for his expansive views of Executive power, argues that the President's EO was "well within the powers of the presidency." Essentially, the dissent argues that the panel opinion did not sufficiently defer to the Executive and Congressional power over immigration. "The appropriate test for judging executive and congressional action affecting aliens who are outside our borders and seeking admission is set forth in Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)." The dissent faults the panel opinion because it "missed" the Court's 2015 opinion in Kerry v. Din, "in which Din (a U.S. citizen) claimed that the government’s refusal to grant her Afghani husband a visa violated her own constitutional right to live with her husband. A plurality held that Din had no such constitutional right."
Judge Bybee's opinion seems to suggest that the panel misconstrued the law in service of the judge's own personal agendas, even as the opinion criticizes personal attacks on judges:
We are all acutely aware of the enormous controversy and chaos that attended the issuance of the Executive Order. People contested the extent of the national security interests at stake, and they debated the value that the Executive Order added to our security against the real suffering of potential emigres. As tempting as it is to use the judicial power to balance those competing interests as we see fit, we cannot let our personal inclinations get ahead of important, overarching principles about who gets to make decisions in our democracy. For better or worse, every four years we hold a contested presidential election. We have all found ourselves disappointed with the election results in one election cycle or another. But it is the best of American traditions that we also understand and respect the consequences of our elections. Even when we disagree with the judgment of the political branches—and perhaps especially when we disagree—we have to trust that the wisdom of the nation as a whole will prevail in the end.
Above all, in a democracy, we have the duty to preserve the liberty of the people by keeping the enormous powers of the national government separated. We are judges, not Platonic Guardians. It is our duty to say what the law is, and the meta-source of our law, the U.S. Constitution, commits the power to make foreign policy, including the decisions to permit or forbid entry into the United States, to the President and Congress. We will yet regret not having taken this case en banc to keep those lines of authority straight.
Finally, I wish to comment on the public discourse that has surrounded these proceedings. The panel addressed the government’s request for a stay under the worst conditions imaginable, including extraordinarily compressed briefing and argument schedules and the most intense public scrutiny of our court that I can remember. Even as I dissent from our decision not to vacate the panel’s flawed opinion, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues. The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties. It does no credit to the arguments of the parties to impugn the motives or the competence of the members of this court; ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for effective advocacy. Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.
This dissenting opinion serves as a reminder that the question of the amount of deference to the Executive regarding a "Muslim ban" is a contentious one; this dissenting opinion may also serve as a roadmap to the arguments supporting broad executive power.
[Update: Federal District Judge Theodore Chuang finds the Mandel standard inapplicable in his opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump].
United States District Judge Derrick Watson has issued a Temporary Restraining Order in Hawai'i v. Trump against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0." Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here. Recall also that Judge Watson allowed Hawai'i to amend its original complaint challenging the previous EO.
Judge Watson's more than 40 page opinion first engages in an explanation of the facts giving rise to the litigation.
Next, Judge Watson concludes there is Article III standing. He finds that Hawai'i has standing based on its proprietary interests (and thus there was no need to reach the parens patriae standing theory). The first proprietary interest is the state's financial and intangible interests in its universities, very similar to the interests the Ninth Circuit found sufficient in Washington v. Trump, involving the previous EO. The second proprietary interest was to the state's "main economic driver: tourism." Additionally, Judge Watson concludes that Dr. Elshikh, added as a plaintiff in the amended complaint has standing, specifically addressing the Establishment Clause claim in which injury can be "particularly elusive." Moreover, his claim is ripe.
As to the likelihood of success on the merits prong of the TRO requirement, Judge Watson concluded that the plaintiffs "and Dr. Elshikh in particular" are likely to succeed on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim (and thus the court did not reach the other claims).
Judge Watson acknowledged that the EO does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion. There is no express reference, for instance, to any religion nor does the Executive Order—unlike its predecessor—contain any term or phrase that can be reasonably characterized as having a religious origin or connotation.
Nevertheless, the court can certainly look behind the EO's neutral text, despite the Government's argument to the contrary, to determine the purpose of the Government action. Judge Watson stated that the record before the court was "unique," including "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation" of the EO and its "related predecessor." Judge Watson then provided excerpts of several of Trump's statements, and rejected the Government's caution that courts should not look into the "veiled psyche" and "secret motives" of government decisionmakers:
The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7, 2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive
Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced
it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a
commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8.
On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.
In a footnote, Judge Watson lists "many more" examples.
Moreover, Judge Watson engaged with the plaintiffs' arguments that the EO was contextual, including pointing out that the security rationales listed in the EO included an incident involving an Iraqi national when Iraq was no longer included in the EO; the delayed timing of the EO; and the focus on nationality rather than residence. But Judge Watson noted that while such "assertions certainly call the motivations behind the Executive Order into greater question, they are not necessary to the Court's Establishment Clause determination."
Judge Watson does note that context could change and that the Executive is not forever barred, but as it stands the purpose of the EO is one that has a primary religious discriminatory purpose and will most likely not survive the Establishment Clause challenge.
Having found a likelihood of success on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Watson easily found there was irreparable harm and that a temporary restraining order was appropriate.
Judge Watson's injunction against Sections 2 and 6 of the EO applies "across the Nation." Should an emergency appeal be sought, Judge Watson's order already denies a stay of the TRO, but does direct the parties to submit a briefing schedule for further proceedings.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
Reversing the district judge, the D.C. Circuit's opinion in United States v. Bronstein upheld the prohibition of certain speech in the United States Supreme Court against a challenge that it was unconstitutionally vague and thus violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The statute, 40 U.S.C. § 6134, entitled “Firearms, fireworks, speeches, and objectionable language in the Supreme Court Building and grounds,” provides:
It is unlawful to discharge a firearm, firework or explosive, set fire to a combustible, make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds.
The district judge had found that “harangues” and “orations” are terms that “cannot be determined without reference to subjective perceptions and individual sensitivities," and thus the statute was not sufficiently precise. The unanimous D.C. Circuit panel found that the statute's
core meaning is delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the Court. In the context of the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, the terms’ core meaning proscribes determinable conduct.
Moreover, the court found that "while “harangue” and “oration” may not roll off the average person’s tongue today," this "does not alter their possession of a settled meaning around public speeches." The general sense is "making a speech to a public assembly," and based on the title of the statute, the sense is clear that this pertains to "noises" intended to "disrupt the court's operations."
In its application, the opinion by Judge Janice Rogers Brown somewhat oddly includes a cinematic reference:
Turning to the facts here, a person of ordinary intelligence could read this law and understand that, as a member of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audience, making disruptive public speeches is clearly proscribed behavior—even in staccato bursts, seriatim. And yet, in a coordinated fashion, each Appellee is alleged to have directed a variation of the same message to the Justices of the Supreme Court and the assembled audience. Their coordinated standing, facing the bench, and messaging indicate the Appellees were addressing the Court and gallery. Cf. MY COUSIN VINNY (20th Century Fox 1992) (Judge Chamberlain Haller: “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair! . . . When you’re addressing this court, you’ll rise and speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.”). Viewed objectively, these alleged acts could easily be considered speeches to a public assembly that tended to disrupt the Court’s operations—conduct covered by § 6134’s prohibition of “make a harangue or oration.”
Earlier in the Bronstein opinion, joined by Judge Srinivasan and Senior Judge Williams, Judge Brown does provide more of the substance of the speeches which included objections to Citizens United and the legal construction of money as speech. Judge Brown notes that the protest occurred on "April Fools Day of 2015;" the protest group describes the timing as being on the eve of the one year anniversary of McCutcheon v. FEC. (There were no arguments on April 2, the actual anniversary, or the day after).
While a due process decision, Bronstein is consistent with judicial rejection of First Amendment challenges to statutes prohibiting expression in and around the United States Supreme Court. We've previously discussed the "special status" of the United States Supreme Court building, the Supreme Court's efforts to ensure its regulations were constitutional, as well as the D.C. Circuit's opinion in Hodge v. Talkin (2015) which upheld the constitutionality of statutory prohibitions of assembly and display of flags or signs on the United States Supreme Court plaza, and the arrest of a person for wearing a jacket with the word "Occupy" on it.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
District Judge Finds School District's Exclusionary Bathroom Policy Likely Violates Equal Protection
In his well-reasoned and comprehensive 48 page opinion in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania has issued a preliminary injunction against a school policy that limits students to facilities that "correspond to their biological sex" or to "unisex facilities," finding that the policy likely violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The Pittsburgh-area school district passed Resolution 2 in 2016 by a close vote (5-4), after Resolution 1 which would have preserved the status quo failed to pass in a tied vote (4-4), after meetings and after some sporadic parental complaints. The policy seemed focused on three transgender students, including the named plaintiff Juliet Evancho, the sister of Jackie Evancho who sang at the President's January inauguration. As Judge Hornak relates, before 2016 "there were simply no issues or concerns" about the plaintiffs and everyone in the school district treated the students "consistently with their gender identities." He added that the "most distinctive and illustrative evidence of this is that Juliet Evancho ran for Homecoming Queen in 2016, and she was elected by her peers to the “Homecoming Court” of ﬁnalists for that honor."
After extensively discussing the record, including the school district's privacy concerns, Judge Hornak found there was a indeed a classification being made, the plaintiffs being "distinguished by governmental action from those whose gender identities are congruent with their assigned sex" and the "only students who are not allowed to use the common restrooms consistent with their gender identities.” Later in the opinion, Judge Hornak discussed the unsatisfactory solution of the "safety valve" of unisex facilities:
the law does not impose on the Plaintiffs the obligation to use single-user facilities in order to “solve the problem.” In these circumstances, that would compel them to use only restrooms inconsistent with their gender identities or to use the “special” restrooms. That is a choice directed by official edict, and it is not a choice compelled of other students. It is no answer under the Equal Protection Clause that those impermissibly singled out for differential treatment can, and therefore must, themselves “solve the problem” by further separating themselves from their peers.
As to the Equal Protection standard to be applied, Judge Hornak first discussed rational basis but decided that the intermediate scrutiny standard of United States v. Virginia (VMI) for sex classifications was applicable. The selection of standard rested on the conclusion that "transgender status" is the "epitome of gender noncomformity" and discrimination based on transgender status is "akin to discrimination based on sex." Additionally, the opinion recited factors determining whether a "new" classification deserves heightened scrutiny.
In applying the standard, Judge Hornak found that the record did not establish facts that demonstrated there was an important government interest or exceedingly persuasive justification that was substantially related to those interests:
First, such an application of Resolution 2 would not appear to be necessary to quell any actual or incipient threat, disturbance or other disruption of school activities by the Plaintiffs. There is no record of any such thing. ****
Second, Resolution 2 would appear to do little to address any actual privacy concern of any student that is not already well addressed by the physical layout of the bathrooms. The District has stated that Resolution 2 is necessary to protect the privacy of students (presumably including the Plaintiffs), by which the District has stated it means the sanctity of excretory functions. The record simply does not reveal any actual risk (or even an actual risk of a risk) in such regards. ****
Third, Resolution 2 would not appear to have been necessary in order to fill some gap in the District’s code of student conduct or the positive law of Pennsylvania in order to proscribe unlawful malicious “peeping Torn” activity by anyone pretending to be transgender.” There is no evidence of such a gap. The existing disciplinary rules of the District and the laws of Pennsylvania would address such matters. And as noted above, there is no record evidence of an actual or threatened outbreak of other students falsely or deceptively declaring themselves to be “transgender” for the purpose of engaging in untoward and maliciously improper activities in the High School restrooms.”
Fourth, such application of Resolution 2 also would not appear to be supported by any actual need for students to routinely use the comers of the restrooms for changing into athletic gear from street clothes.
Interestingly, this last consideration seems to have arisen from a "hypothetical matching a personal experience from his own school days" asserted by counsel for the school district. (Evidence and Professional Responsibility Professors might take note of this). Judge Hornak opined that perhaps that "reported anecdotal evidence can be treated" as being a "plausible historical recitation of life events," but there was no "record evidence" that this was the situation in the district.
While Judge Hornak found that the plaintiffs would prevail on the Equal Protection Clause claim, the judge did not find a likelihood of success on the Title IX claim in light of the pending Supreme Court case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., oral argument scheduled later this month. Section IV of the Judge Hornak's opinion, about 10 pages, coupled with the preliminary footnote regarding the recent Department of Education activities, is an excellent overview of the GG litigation including the pertinent issues.
Judge Hornak's opinion is also an excellent reminder that whatever might happen in GG at the Supreme Court, there are remaining equal protection issues. Recall that although the Fourth Circuit in GG centered on Title IX and the administrative law issues, Count I of the original complaint in GG is an equal protection claim.
video: from Lambda Legal representing Evancho
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
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.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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.
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?
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
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.
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?
Saturday, February 4, 2017
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
Friday, December 9, 2016
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.
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.
[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
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.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
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."
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
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.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
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.
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.
Monday, October 24, 2016
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.
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."
Friday, October 21, 2016
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.)
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.
Friday, September 30, 2016
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.
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.