Monday, September 1, 2014
The latest installment in the continuing saga of HB 2, Texas' restrictive abortion law, occurred late Friday with Judge Lee Yeakel enjoining the admitting privileges requirement and the ambultory-surgical-center requirement in his 21 page opinion in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.
Recall that a panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision of controversial Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
This new opinion considers the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement.
In considering the testimony and evidence in the bench trial, Judge Yeakel found that the "experts’ testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposing conclusions," noting that this is "the nature of expert testimony." But the judge did use some of that testimony, as well as carefully considering the parties' stipulations.
The court concludes that the act’s ambulatory-surgical—center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles erected for these women are more significant than the “incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.” [citing Casey]. The court concludes that the overall lack of practical access to abortion services resulting from clinic closures throughout Texas as a result of House Bill 2 is compelling evidence of a substantial obstacle erected by the act.
The judge also concluded "that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them." And, perhaps most interestingly, the judge explicitly considered the legislative intent of HB2:
An abortion regulation is also violative of a woman’s right to an abortion if it was adopted with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle to a woman’s ability to choose a previability abortion. [citing Gonzales v Carhart]. Because the act’s two requirements have the effect of creating an undue burden, an additional ﬁnding that the act was passed with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle is not required in order to declare the act unconstitutional. However, the court concludes, after examining the act and the context in which it operates, that the ambulatory-surgical- center requirement was intended to close existing licensed abortion clinics. The requirement’s implementing rules speciﬁcally deny grandfathering or the granting of waivers to previously licensed abortion providers. This is in contrast to the “frequent” granting of some sort of variance from the standards which occur in the licensing of nearly three-quarters of all licensed ambulatory surgical centers in Texas. Such disparate and arbitrary treatment, at a minimum, suggests that it was the intent of the State to reduce the number of providers licensed to perform abortions, thus creating a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking to access an abortion. This is particularly apparent in light of the dearth of credible evidence supporting the proposition that abortions performed in ambulatory surgical centers have better patient health outcomes compared to clinics licensed under the previous regime.
Thus, the judge enjoined the enforcement of HB2.
The Attorney General of Texas is sure to appeal.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Texas Supreme Court: Injunction Prohibiting Future Defamation an Unconstitutional Prior Restraint But . . .
In its unanimous opinion today in Kinney v. Barnes, the Texas Supreme Court (pictured) considered the constitutionality of requested relief on an injunction in a defamation case for removal/ deletion of speech that has been adjudicated defamatory, and that "prohibits future speech that is the same or similar to the speech that has been adjudicated defamatory."
The court held that an injunction of the former type would be constitutional, while the latter would not.
The court's opinion, authored by Justice Debra Lehrmann, squarely rested its conclusion on state constitutional law, TEX. CONST. art. I, § 8, even as it relied heavily on United States Supreme Court cases on prior restraint under the First Amendment. However, the court specifically declined to "determine whether the Texas Constitution provides greater protection than the First Amendment on the specific issue presented to us, as the U.S. Supreme Court has not definitively addressed it."
The trial and intermediate appellate court both granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant based on the unconstitutionality of the relief sought. However, the court found that an injunction could
order Barnes to remove the statements at issue from his websites (and request that third-party republishers of the statements do the same) upon a final adjudication that the statements are defamatory. Such an injunction does not prohibit future speech, but instead effectively requires the erasure of past speech that has already been found to be unprotected in the context in which it was made. As such, it is accurately characterized as a remedy for one’s abuse of the liberty to speak and is not a prior restraint.
This would be true assuming that the standards for an injunction were otherwise met, with the understanding that damages are the preferred remedy for defamation. However, as to future statements, an injunction would be an impermissible prior restraint, in part because it would be almost necessarily overbroad:
The particular difficulty in crafting a proper injunction against defamatory speech is rooted in the contextual nature of the tort. In evaluating whether a statement is defamatory, the court construes it “as a whole in light of surrounding circumstances based upon how a person of ordinary intelligence would perceive the entire statement.” [citation omitted]. Given the inherently contextual nature of defamatory speech, even the most narrowly crafted of injunctions risks enjoining protected speech because the same statement made at a different time and in a different context may no longer be actionable. Untrue statements may later become true; unprivileged statements may later become privileged.
Yet in some ways, this observation highlights the problem with the removal of the adjudged defamatory statement. It too is contextual and time-bound, but arguably this becomes (temporarily) determined if there is a finding that it is defamatory.
The court rejected the notion that "the Internet is a game-changer" and also rejected the assertion of the importance of "cyber-bullying and online hate speech": "It is enough to say that neither of those is at issue here."
Thursday, August 21, 2014
In his 33 page opinion today in Brenner v. Scott, Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida found that Florida's same-sex marriage bans in the constitution as Article I §27 and Florida Statutes § 741.04(1) violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
Judge Hinkle first determined that the "right asserted by the plaintiffs is a fundamental right as that term is used in due-process and equal-protection jurisprudence," noting that almost every court that has addressed the issue since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Windsor has said the answer is yes, and concluded that that "view is correct." Given that there is a fundamental right, he continued:
That leaves for analysis the second step, the application of strict scrutiny. A state may override a fundamental right through measures that are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. A variety of justifications for banning same- sex marriages have been proffered by these defendants and in the many other cases that have plowed this ground since Windsor. The proffered justifications have all been uniformly found insufficient. Indeed, the states’ asserted interests would fail even intermediate scrutiny, and many courts have said they would fail rational- basis review as well. On these issues the circuit decisions in Bostic, Bishop, and Kitchen are particularly persuasive. All that has been said there is not repeated here.
Judge Hinkle did take the opportunity, however, to specifically discuss the procreation argument, finding that "Florida has never conditioned marriage on the desire or capacity to procreate."
Like other judges, Judge Hinkle used Justice Scalia's dissenting language from Lawrence v. Texas to note that moral disapproval in the marriage context is the same as moral disapproval in the sodomy context.
Judge Hinkle's opinion then analyzed the requirements for a preliminary injunction, finding them satisfied. But he also held that a stay was warranted; it would have been difficult to rule otherwise in light of the previous stays, including the one just yesterday by the United States Supreme Court.
August 21, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Judge James E. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled earlier this week in Sikhs for Justice v. Singh that while Manmohan Singh enjoyed head-of-state immunity from suit in U.S. federal court for acts committed while he was Prime Minister of India, that immunity did not extend to acts he took earlier, when he was Finance Minister. They ruling means that the plaintiff's case against Singh for acts he took while Finance Minister can move forward, but that Singh is immune from suit for acts he took while Prime Minister.
Plaintiffs Sikhs for Justice alleged that Singh tortured and killed Indian Sikhs during his time as Prime Minister and before, when he was Finance Minister. The group filed suit in the D.C. District while Singh was Prime Minister, but Singh then left office (or, rather, got voted out). The government filed a Suggestion of Immunity, arguing that Singh enjoyed head-of-state immunity for acts he committed as Prime Minister. But it didn't state a position on immunity for acts before Singh became Prime Minister, when he was Finance Minister.
Judge Boasberg ruled that Singh wasn't immune for those acts. In a case of apparent first impression, Judge Boasberg said that "[w]hile Singh's alleged acts as Finance Minister are not 'private' per se, they did not occur in the course of his official duties as head of state; accordingly they are not encompassed within the purview of head-of-state immunity."
Judge Boasberg, however, adopted the government's position and granted immunity for acts taken while Singh was Prime Minister. Judge Boasberg also ruled that Singh enjoyed risidual immunity for those acts after he left office.
The upshot is that the plaintiff's case can proceed against Singh for acts he took as Finance Minister, but not for acts he took as Prime Minister, even after he left office.
The University of the District of Columbia Law Review just issued its symposium edition on the right to counsel in civil cases, or Civil Gideon. The full list of articles and links to the full texts are here. John Pollock, staff attorney at the Public Justice Center in Baltimore and coordinator of the National Coalition for the Civil Right to Counsel, wrote the introduction, with a background on the Civil Gideon movement and updates on progress; a direct link to Pollock's article is here.
In Bostic v. Schaefer in late July, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit held that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and in mid-August, a majority of the panel refused, without analysis, to grant a stay of its opinion.
Today, as widely anticipated, the United States Supreme Court did grant a stay in its Order in McQuigg v. Bostic. Here's the entire text:
The application for stay presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is granted, and the issuance of the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in case No. 14-1167, is stayed pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.
The stay shall remain in effect "in the event the petition for certiorari is granted," an event many believe is quite likely.
Monday, August 18, 2014
The Second Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Erie County, New York that a lower court's order sealing compliance reports on the treatment of prisoners in Erie County violated the First Amendment. The ruling means that intervenor New York Civil Liberties Union will have access to the compliance reports.
This First Amendment dispute arose out of an earlier case brought by the United States against Erie County, New York, over the County's treatment of its prisoners. In particular, the government alleged that Erie County failed to protect inmates from harm, failed to provide them adequate mental health care or medical care, and failed to engage in adequate suicide prevention.
The district court approved a settlement in that earlier case that included the appointment of compliance consultants. Pursuant to the settlement, the consultants would file written reports with the court every six months on the County's progress, or not, in remedying the issues that led to the suit and settlement. The court dismissed the suit but retained jurisdiction until the terms of the settlement were fulfilled. The settlement agreement allowed either party to move to reopen the case at any time ("should issues requring [the] Court's intervention arise"), and either party could move for relief, or the court could issue relief itself. The County moved, and the court ordered, that the reports be sealed.
The NYCLU moved to intervene and unseal the compliance reports. The district court granted the motion to intervene, but denied the motion to unseal the reports, ruling that they were akin to settlement negotiation documents and therefore not subject to the First Amendment right of access to judicial documents. The NYCLU appealed.
The Second Circuit reversed and ruled that the reports were covered by the First Amendment right of access. The court held that both experience and logic suggest that the reports ought to be available to the public, and that the County's only reason for maintaining the seal--that they are part of a settlement agreement--didn't have any relevance here, because, after all, the case already settled.
Here's the court:
Erie County wishes to keep the reports which measure its progress, or regress, under seal and, therefore, out of public view. Yet every aspect of this litigation is public. The United States Department of Justice is a public agency, which brought a claim before a public court . . . arguing that a public government, Erie County, failed to meet constitutional requirements in operating two public institutions, the Erie County correctional facilities. And, critically, although a settlement is now in place, the public court retains jurisdiction over the dispute, and indeed may be moved, or move itself, to reinstate civil proceedings. In a case where every aspect and angle is public, Erie County seeks, nonetheless, to keep the compliance reports under the darkness of a seal. But the First Amendment does not countenance Erie County's position. Neither experience nor logic supports sealing the documents, and the District Court erred in concluding otherwise.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
In his essay Justice Clarence Thomas's Korematsu Problem, forthcoming in Harvard Journal of Racial & Ethnic Justice and available on ssrn, ConLawProf Mark Kende suggests that Justice Thomas actually endorses one of the most reviled Supreme Court opinions, Korematsu v. United States (1944), in which the Court upheld the internment of citizens of Japanese ancestry even as it noted that race-based classifications deserved strict scrutiny.
Kende focuses on Thomas's dissents in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) and Johnson v. California (2005) to argue that Thomas's views are consistent with a Korematsu-approving jurisprudence in which government power to enact security concerns trumps color-blindness principles.
Worth a read as we consider executive power and questions of nationality and race in the news.
Without analysis, the Fourth Circuit today in Bostic v. Schaeffer entered its Order denying the stay of its opinion that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
Here's the text of the Order:
Upon consideration of submissions relative to the motion to stay mandate, the court denies the motion.
Entered at the direction of Judge Floyd with the concurrence of Judge Gregory. Judge Niemeyer voted to grant the motion.
The 2-1 division of the panel is the same as the division in the opinion on the merits, which we analyzed here.
The saga will undoubtedly continue.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Third Circuit: Attorney Advertising Rule Regarding Excerpts from Judicial Opinions Violates First Amendment
The New Jersey Supreme Court's Guideline 3 governing attorney advertising provides:
An attorney or law firm may not include, on a website or other advertisement, a quotation or excerpt from a court opinion (oral or written) about the attorney’s abilities or legal services. An attorney may, however, present the full text of opinions, including those that discuss the attorney’s legal abilities, on a website or other advertisement.
The Third Circuit's opinion in Dwyer v. Cappell found this guideline violated the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech in a rather straightforward application of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 (1985). The court chose to analyze the regulation as one of mandated disclosure - - - the entire opinion must be provided - - - rather than one of prohibition, although the Guideline
bears characteristics of both categories. Yet we need not decide whether it is a restriction on speech or a disclosure requirement. This is because the Guideline is not reasonably related to preventing consumer deception and is unduly burdensome. Hence it is unconstitutional under even the less-stringent Zauderer standard of scrutiny.
The case arose because New Jersey attorney Andrew Dwyer, specializing in employee representation, ran afoul of Guideline 3 - - - which may have been specifically targeted at him - - - by using on his website language from judicial opinions in attorney fee award matters that duly assessed his competency. At bottom is the general concept of professional responsibility prohibiting judicial endorsement of attorneys, but in the context of fee award decisions, such assessment is explicitly required. One judge objected to the use of his comments in an opinion and Guideline 3 eventually resulted.
The Third Circuit implicitly rejected the notion that such excerpts were inherently misleading and noted that even if the excerpts were "potentially misleading to some persons," there is no explanation of how "Dwyer’s providing a complete judicial opinion somehow dispels this assumed threat of deception." Moreover, the Third Circuit found under Zauderer that the disclosure requirement was burdensome: accurately quoted material is not acceptable absent the full-length judicial opinion and even "a hyperlink to unquoted portions of the opinion fails the Guideline."
The Third Circuit's conclusion is well-founded in established First Amendment doctrine that robustly protects advertising, even by attorneys.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Over at SLATE, Dahlia Lithwick argues that Justice Breyer is an underappreciated feminist:
Breyer is without a doubt the most ardent believer in government, systems, democracy, and in the American public. . . .
But Breyer is also a feminist . . . [and] Breyer, like David Souter and John Paul Stevens and William J. Brennan and many men before him, has been a staunch defender of women’s rights and freedoms for a long time, often without getting too much credit, especially from the ladies.
Worth a read.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Divided Fifth Circuit Upholds Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi's Restrictive Abortion Law HB 1390
A panel of the Fifth Circuit in its opinion today in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier upheld the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of a restrictive abortion statute known as Mississippi HB 1390.
The statute required physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital. As the court noted, a similar provision in Texas (HB 2) was recently upheld by the Fifth Circuit in Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott. As to the rational basis of such a law, the panel stated it was "bound" by Abbott as precedent to accept that the Mississippi statute survives a constitutional challenge.
Regarding undue burden, however, the panel majority, in an opinion by Judge E. Grady Jolly (who interestingly hails from Mississippi) and joined by Judge Stephen Higginson, the effects of HB 1390 were relevant in this as-applied challenge. In assessing the undue burden, the court found it highly relevant that “if enforced, the admitting privileges requirement would likely require JWHO, the only currently licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, to lose its license.” The panel rejected the State's attempt to "walk back" this statement - - - which is actually a quote from the State's opening brief - - - as "too little, too late." Additionally, the majority found it important that the hospitals had rejected the physicians' applications for admitting privileges based on the fact that the physicians performed abortions.
The central - - - and exceedingly interesting - - - question of the undue burden analysis is the relevance of the clinic's status as the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi. The State argued that there is no undue burden because women could travel to another state and many of these distances would not be unduly burdensome in and of themselves. Recall that in Planned Parenthood of S.E. Penn. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) the plurality opinion rejected the contention that traveling long distances constituted an undue burden. But, as Judge Jolly notes, there was no suggestion that women should have to go to neighboring states in Casey or in any other opinion, and there is at least one circuit court opinion that finds it "dispositive" that women had to leave the state to exercise their constitutional right.
Additionally - - - and this is the interesting part - - - the court relies upon State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938) in the United States Supreme Court rejected Missouri's argument that its failure to admit an African-American man to its law school was essentially cured by its offer of a tuition stipend to allow Mr. Gaines to attend law school in another state. Here's the passage from Gaines that Judge Jolly finds worthy of quoting at length:
[T]he obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. . . . That obligation is imposed by the Constitution upon the States severally as governmental entities, —each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. It is an obligation the burden of which cannot be cast by one State upon another, and no State can be excused from performance by what another State may do or fail to do. That separate responsibility of each State within its own sphere is of the essence of statehood maintained under our dual system.
Id. at 350. Judge Jolly admits that Gaines can be distinguished, but finds Gaines nevertheless determinative: " a state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights."
In a lengthy and somewhat vehement dissent - - - complete with quotations from Albert Camus - - - Senior Judge Emilio Garza finds many things to criticize in the majority's opinion, including the majority's failure to recognize there is not sufficient state action for a constitutional claim (it is the hospitals denying admitting privileges rather than the statute that are the cause); the majority's failure to honor the distinction between equal protection (as in Gaines) and due process (in the abortion context); the majority's belief that there is relevance to crossing state lines (given the constitutional right to travel across state lines articulated in Saenz v. Roe); the majority's failure to recognize that Casey is nothing more than a "verbal shell game" (quoting Justice Scalia's dissent in Casey); the majority's recognition of the "liberty" interest (quotes in original) in the Due Process Clause; and the majority's participation in "aggrandizement of judicial power."
But the central issue of federalism including not only states' rights but states' responsibilities raised by this opinion and litigation is one that merits close consideration.
July 29, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, July 28, 2014
Affirming the federal district judge's decision in February, a panel of the Fourth Circuit in a divided opinion has held in Bostic v. Schaefer that Virginia's same-sex marriage prohibitions are unconstitutional.
violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples’ lawful out-of-state marriages.
At various times, the court blends Due Process and Equal Protection analysis and precedent, but both spring from its conclusion that "marriage" is a fundamental right and that "marriage" includes same-sex marriage. After discussing Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail, and Turner v. Safley, the court notes:
These cases do not define the rights in question as “the right to interracial marriage,” “the right of people owing child support to marry,” and “the right of prison inmates to marry.” Instead, they speak of a broad right to marry that is not circumscribed based on the characteristics of the individuals seeking to exercise that right. The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to constrain the right to marry to certain subspecies of marriage meshes with its conclusion that the right to marry is a matter of “freedom of choice,” Zablocki, 434 U.S. at 387, that “resides with the individual,” Loving, 388 U.S. at 12. If courts limited the right to marry to certain couplings, they would effectively create a list of legally preferred spouses, rendering the choice of whom to marry a hollow choice indeed.
The court's use of "couplings" implicitly addresses a portion of the oft-called slippery slope argument that is raised by Judge Paul Niemeyer in his dissent: what would prevent this rationale from extending to polygamy? The dissent also invokes incest, accusing the majority of "dictionary jurisprudence" when it (re)defines marriage to include same-sex marriage. But of course, the definitional conundrum plagues the dissent as well, when it argues that certain qualities are "foundational" to marriage and other qualities are "irrelevant." For the dissent, this is the "biological link between procreation and marriage," a link that does exist in the polygamous and incestuous marriages the dissent disapproves.
For the majority, after finding marriage a fundamental right deserving of strict scrutiny, the five governmental interests argued as supporting the marriage laws not surprisingly fail to pass constitutional muster:
- (1) Virginia’s federalism-based interest in maintaining control over the definition of marriage within its borders,
- (2) the history and tradition of opposite-sex marriage,
- (3) protecting the institution of marriage,
- (4) encouraging responsible procreation, and
- (5) promoting the optimal childrearing environment.
More surprising is that although these interests are raised by the parties the court calls the "Proponents" of the Virginia marriage laws, there is little in the court's opinion that analyzes their standing to appeal. The court does analyze the standing of the plaintiffs to sue the defendants George Schaefer III (in his official capacity as Clerk of Court for Norfolk Circuit Court) and Janet Rainey (in her official capacity as State Registrar of Vital Records). And since these parties were indeed defendants, there may be little need for an extensive analysis of appellate standing as was necessary in the same-sex marriage cases decided by the United States Supreme Court in June 2013. Nevertheless, recall that the (new) Virginia Attorney General had decided during the district court litigation that the Virginia laws were unconstitutional and filed a notice of change of position; however the laws continued to be enforced.
The Fourth Circuit thus joins the Tenth Circuit in holding that a state's same-sex marriage ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment. While these circuit court opinions are divided, the dozen or so federal district judges who have considered the issue have been unanimous in reaching the same conclusion.
July 28, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Supreme Court yesterday vacated the Ninth Circuit ruling over the weekend that ordered the delay of a scheduled execution until the condemned prisoner received details from the state about the method of execution.
Recall that the condemned prisoner, Joseph Rudolph Wood III, argued that the state's failure to provide him information violated his First Amendment right to receive information about the method of execution. The Ninth Circuit agreed--or at least agreed that he had a likelihood of success on the merits, or that he raised a "serious question" on the merits--and granted a preliminary injunction.
The Supreme Court's order vacates that ruling. It means that the execution can go forward without the information.
The order was short and unsigned, with no real legal analysis:
The application to vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granting a conditional preliminary injunction, presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, is granted. The district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Wood's motion for a preliminary injunction. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversing the district court and granting a conditional preliminary injunction is vacated.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Two federal appeals courts today issued dueling rulings on the legality of an IRS rule that offers tax credits to purchasers of health insurance on a federally operated exchange who meet certain income guidelines (100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level). A sharply divided D.C. Circuit panel ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the IRS exceeded its authority under the Affordable Care Act in offering these credits, and ordered the IRS rule vacated. In contrast, a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled in King v. Burwell that the IRS did not exceed its authority.
The split makes it all the more certain (if ever there were ever any doubt) that this issue is heading to the Supreme Court for yet another judicial showdown between Obamacare opponents and the administration. If the high court upholds the D.C. Circuit ruling, that could mark the end of Obamacare. That's because health insurance for those in states with a federally operated exchange (and with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty line) could be cost prohibitive without tax credits (that's the whole purpose of tax credits, to make insurance affordable); and if as a result those individuals don't purchase insurance, that significant portion of the population would fall outside the broader insurance pool, undermining the key structural assumption of Obamacare, that everyone's covered.
Remember: We only have federally operated exchanges because many states declined to establish their own exchanges (often for political reasons--to register dissent or lack of cooperation with the ACA in general). All indications are that Congress passed, and the president signed, the ACA on the assumption that states would establish their own exchanges, and that the federal government wouldn't have to. That turned out to be wrong. That, in combination with some less-than-perfect legislative language, led to the D.C. court's ruling.
The crux of the case involves the administration's authority to offer tax credits to purchasers on federally operated exchanges, and not just state operated exchanges. Opponents of the credit argue that the plain language of the ACA allows credits only for purchasers on state operated exchanges. The administration says that a broader, contextual reading of the ACA, along with an understanding of congressional intent, allows credits for purchasers on federally operated exchanges, as well.
The ACA authorizes the tax credit to subsidize the purchase of insurance on an "Exchange established by the State under section 1131 of the [ACA]." But other sections of the Act treat an "Exchange" as only a state-created exchange. And yet a different portion requires the federal government to establish an operate an "Exchange" if a state declines to do so. (Other portions of the Act are relevant, too, but these are the key portions.)
In short, the D.C. Circuit said that the ACA's language was plain and unambiguous, and that it authorized tax credits only for state-established exchanges. It also said that the scant legislative history on this point did not change that result.
The Fourth Circuit, and the dissent in the D.C. Circuit, said that when read together these portions of the ACA could mean that the federal government stands in the shoes of a state when the federal government establishes an exchange, and that the federally established exchanges are therefore also "Exchange[s] established by the State" for the purpose of the Act. They also said that the legislative purpose of the ACA supports this reading. Because of the ambiguous language, the IRS could interpret it in any way that's reasonable. And its interpretation was reasonable.
Friday, July 18, 2014
What does the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel decide in its 106 page divided opinions in Bishop v. Smith? It's complicated.
But essentially the Tenth Circuit affirms the district judge's opinion finding the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and extends to Oklahoma its own ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert (by this same panel) from a few weeks ago finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional.
The complications are caused in part by the procedural posture of the case. For the majority opinion, authored Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes (as was Herbert v. Kitchen), the major issue was the standing of the plaintiffs, specifically on the "redressability" prong of standing. Recall that Oklahoma has both a constitutional amendment and a statute limiting marriage to "a man and a woman" and that the Oklahoma constitutional amendment not only prohibits same-sex marriage but prohibits its recognition even if valid in another state.
The plaintiffs, in a lawsuit filed in 2004 soon after the state constitutional amendment was adopted, challenged only the state constitutional amendment but not the statute.
Affirming the district judge, the Tenth Circuit held plaintiffs nevertheless had standing because "the statutory prohibitions are subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter’s enforcement will redress the claimed injury." However, again affirming the district judge, the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the "recognition" portion of the constitutional amendment because the defendant - - - the clerk of court - - - could not redress the non-recognition injury.
This problem as to the non-recognition of marriage claim is further complicated by the fact that the Tenth Circuit, in considering a dismissal of the Governor and Attorney General as defendants who could redress the injury stated - - - or seemed to state? - - - that the Clerk of the Court was the correct defendant. Thus, under a "law of the case" argument, the courts should be bound by that determination. The Tenth Circuit panel decided it was not bound, in part because of the "new evidence" of an affidavit by the Court Clerk describing her duties. It also rejected a nonseverability of the recognition and nonrecognition portions of the provision, finding that because it had not been made earlier it was waived.
As to the merits, the majority held that it was governed by its ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert, although facts and arguments differed "in some respects," the "core holdings are not affected by those differences." The panel majority did discuss two additional arguments: a Baker v. Nelson argument that lower courts were not free to consider doctrinal developments and the addition of a government interest that "children have an interest in being raised by their biological parents."
Judge Holmes concurred separately to discuss why "animus" was not an appropriate analysis. Judge Holmes notes that the district judge "wisely" did not rely on animus, and that most of the other decisions invalidating same-sex marriage laws have "exercised the same forebearance." But, he noted, several other district judges have relied on animus, citing Baskin v. Bogan, Henry v. Himes, DeLeon v. Perry, and Obergefell v. Wymyslo - - - interestingly none of which are in the Tenth Circuit - - - and he used the concurrence to endeavor "to clarify the relationship between animus doctrine and same-sex marriage laws and to explain why the district court made the correct decision in declining to rely upon the animus doctrine."
In his relatively brief partially dissenting opinion, Judge Paul Kelly contended that there was no standing to challenge the constitutional amendment absent a challenge to the statute and would not reach the merits. However, he also disagreed on the merits, as he did in the panel's decision in Kitchen v. Herbert. For Judge Kelly, as he phrases it here:
Removing gender complementarity from the historical definition of marriage is simply contrary to the careful analysis prescribed by the Supreme Court when it comes to substantive due process. Absent a fundamental right, traditional rational basis equal protection principles should apply, and apparently as a majority of this panel believes, the Plaintiffs cannot prevail on that basis. Thus, any change in the definition of marriage rightly belongs to the people of Oklahoma, not a federal court.
This will be the heart of the matter when - - - rather than if - - - these cases reach the United States Supreme Court. For now, however, the Tenth Circuit stayed its "mandate pending the disposition of any subsequently-filed petition for writ of certiorari."
July 18, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recently released The O'Connor Judicial Selection Plan, a set of recommendations for selecting and retaining state judges, developed in conjunction with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, or IAALS, at the University of Denver. Here's O'Connor:
The plan has four parts: the creation of judicial nominating commissions; gubernatorial appointments; judicial performance evaluations; and retention elections.
The plan responds to "persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges." It's designed as "a step toward developing systems that prioritize the qualifications and impartiality of judges, while still building in tools for accountability through an informed election process."
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
In his opinion today in Jones v. Chappell, federal judge Cormac Carney vacated the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones as violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Jones was sentenced to death in 1995 and has been on "death row" in California State Prison at San Quentin since then. For Judge Carney, this is precisely the problem. As Carney writes:
Since 1978, when the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters, over 900 people have been sentenced to death for their crimes. Of them, only 13 have been executed. For the rest, the dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution. Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death. As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.
[emphasis in original].
Thus, it is not the arbitrariness in the imposition of the death sentence that is unconstitutional, but the arbitrariness in the execution of the death sentence that renders it unconstitutional.
Judge Carney's analysis centered on his finding that of the more than 700 persons presently on California's "death row,"
their selection for execution will not depend on whether their crime was one of passion or of premeditation, on whether they killed one person or ten, or on any other proxy for the relative penological value that will be achieved by executing that inmate over any other. Nor will it even depend on the perhaps neutral criterion of executing inmates in the order in which they arrived on Death Row. Rather, it will depend upon a factor largely outside an inmate’s control, and wholly divorced from the penological purposes the State sought to achieve by sentencing him to death in the first instance: how quickly the inmate proceeds through the State’s dysfunctional post-conviction review process.
Judge Carney then discussed Jones' situation as an example.
To be sure, however, Judge Carney did not view Jones' situation as unique. Indeed, the opinion contains an 18 page color-coded appendix listing the status of more than 500 persons sentenced to death in California between 1978 -1997. Here's a bit of it, with the entry for Ernest Jones:
Thus, Judge Carney's careful reasoning applies to every person sentenced to death in California, even those sentenced more recently. California's Attorney General and Governor now have some serious litigation choices to make.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
On Remand, Fifth Circuit Panel Reconsiders UT's Affirmative Action Plan from Fisher v. University of Texas
By a divided opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a panel of the Fifth Circuit has held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall that more than a year ago, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge). The Court remanded the case for a "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation." The opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal" of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.
Today's Fifth Circuit panel decision, authored by Judge Patrick Higginbotham, and joined by Judge Carolyn Dinen King, first decided that it would consider the case. The panel rejected the standing arguments, including the fact that Abigail Fisher graduated from another university in 2012, because the "actions of the Supreme Court do not allow our reconsideration" of the standing issue. In other words, the Court knew about the standing issues when it remanded the case in June 2013. The panel also carefully considered the Court's remand language: "The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Fisher argued that the Court required the Fifth Circuit to perform the reconsideration, while the University of Texas argued that the matter should be remanded to the district judge. On this issue, the Fifth Circuit sided with Fisher, holding that because "there are no new issues of fact that need be resolved, nor is there any identified need for additional discovery; that the record is sufficiently developed; and that the found error is common to both this Court and the district court," a remand to the district judge "would likely result in duplication of effort."
The panel majority's opinion then discussed in detail the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policies and efforts. It noted:
“Narrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every race neutral alternative,” but rather “serious, good faith consideration of workable race- neutral alternatives that will achieve the diversity the university seeks.” Put simply, this record shows that UT Austin implemented every race-neutral effort that its detractors now insist must be exhausted prior to adopting a race- conscious admissions program—in addition to an automatic admissions plan not required under Grutter that admits over 80% of the student body with no facial use of race at all.
Nevertheless, the panel recognized that this "automatic admissions plan" - - - the Top Ten Percent plan - - - achieves diversity because of the segregation of Texas' high schools. Under the "holistic view" of Grutter for the remaining 20%, absent a consideration of race, the selection would not be racially diverse.
Concluding its 40 page opinion, the panel wrote:
In sum, it is suggested that while holistic review may be a necessary and ameliorating complement to the Top Ten Percent Plan, UT Austin has not shown that its holistic review need include any reference to race, this because the Plan produces sufficient numbers of minorities for critical mass. This contention views minorities as a group, abjuring the focus upon individuals— each person’s unique potential. Race is relevant to minority and non-minority, notably when candidates have flourished as a minority in their school— whether they are white or black. Grutter reaffirmed that “[j]ust as growing up in a particular region or having particular professional experiences is likely to affect an individual’s views, so too is one’s own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race still matters.” We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter. The need for such skill sets to complement the draws from majority-white and majority-minority schools flows directly from an understanding of what the Court has made plain diversity is not. To conclude otherwise is to narrow its focus to a tally of skin colors produced in defiance of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court which eschewed the narrow metric of numbers and turned the focus upon individuals. This powerful charge does not deny the relevance of race. We find force in the argument that race here is a necessary part, albeit one of many parts, of the decisional matrix where being white in a minority-majority school can set one apart just as being a minority in a majority-white school—not a proffer of societal discrimination in justification for use of race, but a search for students with a range of skills, experiences, and performances—one that will be impaired by turning a blind eye to the differing opportunities offered by the schools from whence they came.
.... the backdrop of our efforts here includes the reality that accepting as permissible policies whose purpose is to achieve a desired racial effect taxes the line between quotas and holistic use of race towards a critical mass. We have hewed this line here, persuaded by UT Austin from this record of its necessary use of race in a holistic process and the want of workable alternatives that would not require even greater use of race, faithful to the content given to it by the Supreme Court. To reject the UT Austin plan is to confound developing principles of neutral affirmative action, looking away from Bakke and Grutter, leaving them in uniform but without command—due only a courtesy salute in passing.
Dissenting, Judge Emilio Garza essentially contended that the majority was giving deference to the University. He noted that it is not impossible "for a public university to define its diversity ends adequately for a court to verify narrow tailoring with the requisite exacting scrutiny," even with the use of "critical mass." But he somewhat confusing stressed that
What matters now, after Fisher, is that a state actor’s diversity goals must be sufficiently clear and definite such that a reviewing court can assess, without deference, whether its particular use of racial classifications is necessary and narrowly tailored to those goals.
Yet what will matter now is whether this panel will have the last say. The Fifth Circuit could grant en banc review or the United States Supreme Court will grant certiorari and take yet another look at affirmative action.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Geoff Stone (Chicago) writes over at Huffington Post that religious tests for public office, which are still around in eight state constitutions, may well be upheld by the Roberts Court, should they ever be tested.
Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas all have these provisions, though they go unenforced. That's because the Court struck these tests in 1961 in Torcaso v. Watkins. But Stone says if the issue were to return to this Court, testing one of the eight state constitutional provisions, the five conservative justices may well reverse Torcaso and uphold the religious test.
But why would they disagree with Torcaso? After all, the reasoning of that unanimous decision seems clearly correct. But the five conservative justices on the Court today clearly do not share the general constitutional understandings of the Court in 1961. This is so across a range of issues, but perhaps most conspicuously in the realm of religion. Indeed, the Court's five conservative justices have consistently taken positions that come out quite aggressively in support of the interests of religion.
Stone cites Hobby Lobby and Town of Greece as just two recent decisions supporting this conclusion. Stone also argues that these five justices have already demonstrated their willingness to overturn well settled precedent. See Citizens United; Heller; Gonzales v. Carhart.