Thursday, January 22, 2015

No Remedy for Inmate when Authorities take Medical Settlement for Cost of Incarceration

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Shinault v. Hawks that a state has to provide pre-deprivation notice and hearing before it freezes funds in an inmate's trust account to recover the cost of his incarceration. But at the same time, the court said that this rule wasn't "clearly established" at the time, so the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity. The court also rejected the inmate's Eighth Amendment claim.

The upshot is that prison authorities took more than $60,000 of an inmate's money--money from a settlement for a medical liability claim--in violation of procedural due process. But according to the Ninth Circuit, the inmate has no recourse against the officers.

Lester Shinault received a $107,417.48 settlement from a medical claim against a drug manufacturer who products (prescribed while Shinault was not in custody) caused him to develop diabetes. Shinault's attorney deposited the money in his inmate trust account.

Prison authorities then ordered Shinault to pay $65,353.94 to cover the cost of his incarceration. On the same day that Shinault requested a hearing, authorities transferred this amount from his trust account into a "reserved miscellaneous" sub-account in Shinault's name, but which Shinault could not access. An ALJ ruled against Shinault (in a hearing where Shinault didn't have an attorney and struggled mightily to represent himself), and about a year later authorities withdrew $61,352.39.

Shinault sued, arguing that the withdraw violated procedural due process and the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment against him.

The Ninth Circuit held that authorities violated procedural due process under the Mathews v. Eldridge balancing test, because they failed to provide a pre-deprivation hearing prior to freezing the funds. But it also held that the violation wasn't "clearly established" at the time (because it couldn't find precedent directly on point, and because it said that procedural due process questions were fact specific, that is, not determined until a particular case is litigated), so the officials enjoyed qualified immunity.

In other words, the court said it wasn't "clearly established" that authorities had to provide a pre-deprivation hearing before freezing over $60,000.00 that Shinault obtained from a settlement with a drug company whose products caused him to develop diabetes. Because this wasn't "clearly established," the defendants enjoyed immunity, and Shinault has no claim against them for return of his money.

The court also held that authorities did not violate Shinault's Eighth Amendment rights, because "no authority supports the notion that freezing or withdrawing funds from an inmate account constitutes deliberate denial of care under the Eighth Amendment."

January 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CAC on Access in the Roberts Court

The Constitutional Accountability Center published its most recent issue paper in its series on the Roberts Court at 10, this one on access issues. And it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Brianne Gorod, the author of Roberts at 10: Roberts's Consistent Votes to Close the Courthouse Doors, looks at Roberts Court cases in four areas: standing, arbitration, pleading standards, and suits against states. Gorod concludes that the Court's record is mixed, but mostly negative:

Although most of the decisions of the Roberts Court in this area have limited access to the courts, there have been a few that have not, including most significantly the Court's 2007 decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, holding that Massachusetts could sue the Environmental Protection Agency to challenge its failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

But if the Court's record is mixed, Gorod says that Chief Justice Roberts's record is not:

He dissented in that 2007 case and in every other case during his tenure as Chief Justice in which the Court has refused to limit access to the courts, and he has always been in the majority when it has decided to limit such access. 

Gorod says that Chief Justice Roberts's record is "not terribly surprising," given his pre-confirmation positions on access.

Check it out.

January 21, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Judicial Campaign Ethics and First Amendment

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar involving a First Amendment challenge to a state rule of judicial conduct prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign contributions in a judicial election. 

Recall that the Florida Supreme Court held that Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7C(1) (substantially similar to Canons 4.1(A)(8) and 4.4 of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct), satisfied strict scrutiny, finding that there were two compelling governmental interests (preserving the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public's confidence in an impartial judiciary) and that the provision was narrowly tailored to serve these interests (the prohibition of direct fundraising nevertheless allows for the establishment of "campaign committees" to raise funds).  The Florida Supreme Court's opinion also pointedly noted that federal "judges have lifetime appointments and thus do not have to engage in fundraising" were divided on the constitutionality of the canon, while state judges were not.

Bench_and_Bar_Vanity_Fair_5_December_1891
"Bench and Bar" via

In the arguments before the life-tenured Justices today, the problem of line-drawing was pronounced.  The fact that the Florida rule was a compromise that allowed judicial campaigns to establish committees to solicit funds and allowed the candidate to know who had contributed and allowed the candidate to write thank you notes called into question whether the canon was narrowly tailored. But, as Justice Kagan noted, that might mean that the state would simply broaden the proscriptions, to include thank you notes for example, and asked whether that would be constitutional.  Counsel for the petitioner ultimately answered in the negative, linking the election to the availability of money. 

At the heart of this issue is whether judicial elections are like other elections or whether they are distinctly judicial.

Justice Ginsburg, who is decidedly in the camp that judicial elections are different, essentially urged her position at the beginning of the arguments ("the First Amendment allows the State to do things with respect to the election of judges that it wouldn't allow them to do with respect to the election of members of the legislature.")

Chief Justice Roberts seemingly leaned toward equating judicial and political elections, stating that "it's self-evident, particularly in judicial races" that "prohibiting a form of raising funds is to the great advantage of the incumbent" because the only way  "incumbents are going to be challenged if you have somebody who can get their own distinct message out."  Later he stated that the "fundamental choice was made by the State when they said we're going to have judges elected."  This echoes Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, (2002). 

Yet the issue of the coercion of the people being solicited, including attorneys as I have previously discussed, surfaced repeatedly.  As Justice Sotomayor candidly revealed:

It's very, very, very rare that either by letter or by personal call that I ask a lawyer to do something, whether it's serve on a committee, help organize something, do whatever it is that I'm asking, that that lawyer will say no. Isn't it inherent in the lawyer/­judge context that people are going to say yes?

Whether the Court "says yes" to the ability of a state to ban direct solicitation by judicial candidates will most likely result in a closely divided opinion.

 

January 20, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Victory for Right to Counsel in Federal Habeas, Death Penalty Cases

The Supreme Court today ruled that a prisoner sentenced to death had a right to assistance of substitute counsel in his federal habeas proceeding, when his original attorneys missed the AEDPA habeas filing deadline and couldn't themselves argue for equitable tolling.

The ruling, Christeson v. Roper, issued per curiam, and without briefing or oral argument, marks a victory for the right to counsel in federal habeas cases.

Christeson was sentenced to death. The federal district court appointed counsel pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3599(a)(2) (providing for appointment of counsel for state death row inmates). But Christeson's attorneys let lapse the 1-year filing deadline for federal habeas claims under AEDPA. Those attorneys then weren't in a position to argue for equitable tolling of the 1-year deadline, because they'd have to argue (against their own interests) that they dropped the ball. But they also failed to cooperate with new attorneys who sought appointment on the case (and who could make the equitable tolling argument). The district court declined to substitute counsel, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court said that the standard for substitute counsel for a Section 3599 appointed attorney under Martel v. Clair was a broad one, the "interests of justice," which included several factors. The Court said that one of those factors in this case was the original attorneys' conflict of interest in arguing for equitable tolling. The Court said that the lower courts applied the right "interests of justice" standard, but failed to account for the conflict of interest as a factor.

While not every case in which a counseled habeas petitioner has missed AEDPA's statute of limitations will necessarily involve a conflict of interest, [the original attorneys'] contentions here were directly and concededly contrary to their client's interest, and manifestly served their own professional and reputational interests.

Clair makes clear that a conflict of this sort is grounds for substitution.

Justices Alito and Thomas dissented. They argued that the Court shouldn't have decided the case without argument, and that the case involved only "an error, albeit a serious one, on the part of the [original] attorneys."

The ruling only means that Christeson will now have substitute attorneys to argue equitable tolling; it says nothing about the merits of the equitable tolling claim itself, let alone the underlying habeas petition. Still, it represents a victory for the right to counsel for federal habeas petitioners.

 

January 20, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Government Settles Al-Kidd Case

The ACLU and the federal government settled Al-Kidd v. United States, the case challenging the government's post-9/11 practice, pursuant to the Material Witness Statute, of imprisoning Muslim men as material witnesses without any basis for holding them.

The case was on remand from the United States Supreme Court. The Court ruled in 2011 that then-defendant John Ashcroft was entitled to qualified immunity against Al-Kidd's Fourth Amendment claim. (All eight participating justices agreed that Ashcroft did not violate a "clearly established" Fourth Amendment right at the time of Al-Kidd's arrest and detention. Justice Kagan was recused.) However, four of the eight justices agreed that there were serious questions about the statutory claim, that is, "whether the Government's use of the Material Witness Statute in [Al-Kidd's] case was lawful." The Court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings as to the remaining defendants.

The district court granted summary judgment to Al-Kidd on most claims; a defendant (an FBI agent) filed an interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit; and the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in May 2014. The parties settled this week.

The government issued a statement: "The government acknowledges that your arrest and detention as a witness was a difficult experience for you and regrets any hardship or disruption to your life that may have resulted from your arrest and detention." It also agreed to pay Al-Kidd $385,000.00.

January 16, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Third Circuit Defends Public Defender's First Amendment Rights to "Defend" Clients

Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit's opinion today in  Flora v. County of Luzerne held that a public defender's complaint contained sufficient allegations to proceed with a First Amendment retaliation claim.

The unanimous panel held that the United States Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Lane v. Franks "clarified that '[t]he critical question under Garcetti [v. Ceballos] is whether the speech at issue is itself ordinarily within the scope of an employee’s duties, not whether it merely concerns those duties.”  While the Third Circuit noted that the district judge did not have the "benefit of Lane" when it rendered its decision, it stated that "Garcetti alone should have steered it away from applying" the standard it did, a  “related to” employment standard.

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"law and conscience" circa 1883 via

So what did Chief Public Defender Flora do that he alleges was protected by the First Amendment?  First, after many unsuccessful attempts to procure what he saw as inadequate funding for indigent defense, he eventually initiated a class action lawsuit for the benefit of indigent criminal defendants in state court, and interestingly simultaneously sought relief in federal court from being terminated for this action.  Second, the county's notorious "Kids for Cash" scandal had resulted in a 2009 order by the state supreme court of vacatur and expungement of thousands of delinquency adjudications and consent decrees, but in 2013 Flora learned that over 3,000 expungements had not yet occurred.  He "brought that failure to the attention of the County, the District Attorney for the County, the Administrator of the Court of Common Pleas, the public interest law firm that represented the juveniles in the expungement proceedings, and Judge Grim," who had been the special master in the case.

Both the lawsuit and the reporting of the failure to expunge were obviously "related to" Flora's position as a public defender.  But the Third Circuit rejected the "related to" standard in favor of the "ordinary duties" standard.  In this light, its interesting that the court highlights Flora's allegations that

his obligations as an attorney, rather than as the Chief Public Defender, compelled him to make the statements at issue. [And that] the funding crisis and the expungement issue as extraordinary circumstances impelling him to extraordinary speech.

 The Third Circuit concludes:

A straightforward application of Lane leads us to conclude that, given those allegations, Flora’s speech with respect to both the funding litigation and the expungement problems was not part of his ordinary responsibilities – it was not part of the work he was paid to perform on an ordinary basis. . . Flora’s ordinary job duties did not include the public reporting of lingering effects from government corruption or the filing of a class action suit to compel adequate funding for his office. Rather, he represented indigent clients in criminal court and in related proceedings . . . .To view it otherwise would unduly restrict First Amendment rights, because reporting malfeasance or misfeasance will regularly benefit an employee in the execution of his job duties by, presumably, removing impediments to proper government functioning.

The Third Circuit's opinion is another example of courts retreating from the broad brush of Garcetti and providing First Amendment protections for "whistleblowers," including attorneys who take action based on their ethical obligations.

 

January 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Vanderbilt Roundtable on Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

On Tuesday, January 20, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the closely-watched case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar involving a First Amendment challenge to a state rule prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign contributions in a judicial election.  Our discussion of the grant of certiorari is here.

Vanderbilt Law Review has published its "Roundtable" symposium about the pending case.  It includes:

The Absent Amicus: “With Friends Like These . . .”
Robert M. O’Neil · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 1 (2015).

Public Interest Lawyering & Judicial Politics: Four Cases Worth a Second Look in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Ruthann Robson · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 15 (2015).

Much Ado About Nothing: The Irrelevance of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar on the Conduct of Judicial Elections
Chris W. Bonneau & Shane M. Redman · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 31 (2015).

Williams-Yulee and the Inherent Value of Incremental Gains in Judicial Impartiality
David W. Earley & Matthew J. Menendez · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 43 (2015).

Judicial Elections, Judicial Impartiality and Legitimate Judicial Lawmaking: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Stephen J. Ware · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 59 (2015).

The Jekyll and Hyde of First Amendment Limits on the Regulation of Judicial Campaign Speech
Charles Gardner Geyh · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 83 (2015).

What Do Judges Do All Day? In Defense of Florida’s Flat Ban on the Personal Solicitation of Campaign Contributions From Attorneys by Candidates for Judicial Office
Burt Neuborne · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 99 (2015).

Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the First Amendment, and the Continuing Campaign to Delegitimize Judicial Elections
Michael E. DeBow & Brannon P. Denning · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 113 (2015).

 

 

Lawreview-2011

 

January 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Scholarship, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

South Dakota Federal Judge Declares State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In her opinion in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, Judge Karen Schreier of the District of South Dakota found that the state's statute and constitutional amendment limiting marriage and quasi-marital recognition to "a man and a woman" was unconstitutional.

Judge Schreier's 28 page opinion is well-crafted, succinct yet comprehensive.  It largely rests on marriage as a fundamental right under the due process clause:

Pertinent decisions from the Supreme Court are clear and consistent that the right to marriage is a fundamental right. The Supreme Court has also refused to describe the right to marriage by reference to the individuals wishing to exercise that right. In keeping with the decisions of most of the federal courts that have addressed this issue, this court agrees with plaintiffs that the question in this case is whether same-sex couples, like opposite-sex couples, may marry. Thus, the right at stake is not a new right to same-sex marriage, as defendants contend. Instead, the substantive due process right is the right to marry, which right is fundamental. South Dakota’s marriage laws significantly interfere with this fundamental right by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Because strict scrutiny applies to analyze deprivations of fundamental rights claims, the court will apply strict scrutiny here.

740px-Collier's_1921_South_DakotaIn applying strict scrutiny, Judge Schreier rejected South Dakota’s justifications - - - channeling procreation into marriage and proceeding with caution - - - as compelling, noting that the state seemingly conceded the failure to rise to this level.  As to the caution interest, the judge remarked that if "accepted as a compelling state interest, this justification would support every existing law." Moreover, the denial of same-sex marriage was not narrowly tailored to serve these interests.

In a very brief paragraph, Judge Schreier addressed the equal protection claim, essentially bootstrapping it to the due process claim:  "For reasons stated with respect to plaintiffs’ due process claim, South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex citizens of a fundamental right, and that classification is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Thus, South Dakota’s same-sex marriage."

Judge Schreier did issue a stay, however, writing that although the ongoing denial of a constitutional right is an irreparable injury, the lack of an opinion by the Eighth Circuit means that the decision "presents novel and substantial legal questions" warranting a stay.

Yet the legal questions may be growing less and less novel, even if still subject to a circuit split and still awaiting United States Supreme Court review.

 

January 12, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments Challenging Town's Sign Ordinance

The Court heard oral arguments today in Reed v. Town of Gilbert regarding a First Amendment challenge to the town's extensive regulation regarding signage.  The town generally requires a permit to erect a sign, with nineteen different exemptions including “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to Qualifying Event.”  The exemption for these temporary directional signs further specifies that such signs "shall be no greater than 6 feet in height and 6 square feet in area,”and “shall only be displayed up to 12 hours before, during and 1 hour after the qualifying event ends.”

Although the challenge involves a church sign, this was largely irrelevant. Instead the content at issue is the sign’s directional nature, if indeed "directions" is a matter of content. In a divided opinion the Ninth Circuit upheld the town regulation as content neutral.  Today's oral argument seemed inclined toward a contrary opinion.

In part, the problem seemed to be the city's protection of political speech over other types of speech. As Justice Scalia asked "is there no First Amendment right to give somebody directions?" This question seemed to undercut the categorical approach, for as Justice Kagan asked earlier in the argument to counsel for Reed,

 Can I ask about the category for political signs, which is the most favorable? Because all the time this Court says that political speech is the most valued kind of speech. It's at the heart of the First Amendment. It gets special First Amendment protection. So in a way, why aren't ­­ isn't ­­ isn't the locality here basically adopting the same kind of category ­based understanding of political speech and its special rule and First Amendment analysis  that this Court has very frequently articulated?

Importantly, the directional content is relevant only for temporary signs. This of course raises the question of what is a temporary sign and how can one discern that without looking at the sign’s content.  At one point Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the distinction might be whether the sign is stuck in the ground with a little stake or whether it's in concrete, but quickly said that doesn't help the city's legitimate concerns.  Yet the city's concerns over aesthetics and safety never seemed adequately connected to regulating directional signs more severely than election signs.  Later, Justice Scalia asked whether there was a difference between the function of a sign and the content of the sign and whether function doesn't depend upon content.

800px-MadisonBirthplacePortConwayVAMuch of the doctrinal discussion was whether the standard of review should be strict scrutiny or intermediate scrutiny. The assistant to the Solicitor General argued that the correct standard with intermediate scrutiny under which the ordinance would be unconstitutional. 

 

Interestingly Justice Ginsburg sought to distinguish intermediate scrutiny in the context of the First Amendment from the context of equal protection in which "intermediate scrutiny is a pretty tough standard." One can presume she was referencing her own opinion for the Court in United States v. Virginia, the VMI case.

As anticipated the justices posed several hypos. Probably the most trenchant of these was "Happy Birthday, Uncle Fred."  Especially as compared to "Birthplace of James Madison" given that both signs could "be up for the same length of time, same size" as Justice Kennedy stated.

If today's argument is any indication - - - always a risky proposition - - - the regulations are likely to be declared unconstitutional.  It may be that such an application will have what counsel for the town called an "opposite effect" :  it "will limit speech  because towns, cities will enact one size fits all" and governments "would be inclined to ban all signs except those that the First Amendment absolutely allows."  Justice Alito, in reply, essentially shrugged: "You can make that argument in all kinds of contexts. I don't know where it gets you."

January 12, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ninth Circuit Declines En Banc Review of Same-Sex Marriage Case & Updates

The Ninth Circuit, over a dissent of three judges, has denied the petitions for en banc review of Latta v. Otter (and Sevick v. Sandoval) in which a panel held that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada respectively are unconstitutional.

Recall that the unanimous panel opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt held that the Idaho and Nevada laws regarding same-sex marriage "violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard" of  SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs.

365px-Idaho_nedThe Ninth Circuit's panel opinion was rendered one day after the United States Supreme Court  denied certiorari to the petitions in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit cases with similar holdings.  However, since then, the Sixth Circuit rendered a divided panel decision in DeBoer v. Snyder reversing lower courts and upholding the same-sex marriage bans in in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Judge O'Scannlain's dissent from the denial of en banc review - - - joined by Judges Rawlinson and Bea - - - relies in part on the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder and the circuit split it created. Like the Sixth Circuit, O'Scannlain argues that the operative precedent is Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." And like the Sixth Circuit, the dissent distinguishes Windsor v. United States as limited to the federal government.

The major argument of the dissent, however, is that the question of same-sex marriage is not only one for the states, it is decidedly not one for the federal courts interpreting the constitution: "Nothing about the issue of same-sex marriage exempts it from the general principle that it is the right of the people to decide for themselves important issues of social policy."

This judicial restraint v. judicial activism debate is well-worn territory.  And like other judges, O'Scannlain is not a consistent adherent to one side or the other: Recall his dissent from en banc review in Pickup v. Brown, in which the panel upheld a California statute banning sexual conversion therapy against a constitutional challenge. But O'Scannlain does interestingly write:

As Justice Kennedy wrote in Schuette, ‘‘It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds . . . . Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.”

Thus, O'Scannlain implicitly points to Kennedy's inconsistency regarding the desirability of resort to democratic processes and judicial restraint in the affirmative action case of Schuette as compared to his opinion in Romer v. Evans (on Colorado's Amendment 2), as well as Windsor and Lawrence v. Texas, and presumably Kennedy's opinion should the same-sex controversy reach the United States Supreme Court.

The Court itself is currently entertaining several petitions for certiorari on the same-sex marriage issue, including the Sixth Circuit opinion.  

Meanwhile, the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments (January 9) on appeals in Robicheaux v. Caldwell (in which a federal judge upheld Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban); DeLeon v. Perry (preliminary injunction against Texas' same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional); and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, (preliminary injunction against Mississippi's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional).   The oral arguments are available on the Fifth Circuit's website.

January 10, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

West Virginia District Judge's Extensive "Gag" and Sealing Order in Blankenship Trial

Judge Irene Berger of the Southern District of West Virginia issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order clarifying and amending  but essentially reaffirming her extensive "gag" order in United States v. Blankenship, the criminal prosecution (which some say is unprecedented) of CEO Don Blankenship (pictured below) of Massey Energy for his alleged responsibility for the the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.  Recall Blankenship as the outsized contributor to the campaign of Brent Benjamin  for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; as a Justice Benjamin ruled in a case  involving Massey Coal.  The 2009 sharply divided Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal held that the failure of Benjamin to recuse himself violated due process.  The case is the subject of the book The Price of Justice.

Don_Blankenship_Image
Don Blankenship via

To say that Blankenship is controversial - - - given the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and Caperton with its underlying facts  - - - is probably an understatement. And Judge Berger has a difficult task attempting to protect Blankenship's rights to an impartial jury and fair trial.  But do Judge Berger's orders go too far? 

The objections to Berger's original orders were filed as a motion to intervene by the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Charleston Gazette, National Public Radio, Inc., and the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Inc..  Judge Berger allowed the intervention for the limited purpose of challenging the previous orders and found that the press organizations had constitutional standing.

Judge Berger's analysis centered on the classic First Amendment/Sixth Amendment conflict cases of Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966) and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976).  From these cases, Judge Berger noted she has

the discretion and, more importantly, the duty to take specific, reasonable steps to guard against prejudice at the outset where it has knowledge, given prior publicity, that continued publicity, regarding the facts underlying the indictment, is likely to taint prospective jurors. Courts do not exist or operate in a vacuum. In the Southern District of West Virginia, we live in coal country. Many of our families depend on coal mining for their livelihood. Many families and communities within the Southern District of this state were impacted by the deaths of the miners in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion referenced in the indictment. Interest in this case is, understandably, heightened by that loss of life. In short, the environment matters.

Judge Berger stressed that the court's order "is not directed toward the press."  Instead, it limits the "parties" from communicating with press (and "only limits the subject matter") and keeps documents filed in the court case sealed.

Yet three questions remain about the orders.

First, the breadth of the "gag" order was challenged.  In addition to the parties, attorneys, and court personnel it includes

potential witnesses, including actual and alleged victims, investigators, family members of actual and alleged victims as well as of the Defendant.

In a footnote, Judge Berger explained the inclusion of "family members":

the order applies only to those who may appear during some stage of the proceedings as parties or as witnesses. Even if not direct witnesses to the alleged offenses, victims and their family members may be witnesses at sentencing or potential beneficiaries of restitution, should the case reach that posture. As such, they are “trial participants.”

Later, she states that allowing " a potential trial participant to speak through his or her family member would eviscerate the protective measures, and is further evidence of the need for the inclusive order."

Yet "family" here could potentially be quite broad, especially in the context of rural West Virginia.

Second, Judge Berger relied on the fact that the docket was available, although not the underlying documents being referenced.  Nevertheless, the new  (Amended) Order released many documents, based on a principle that

any documents that do not contain information or argument related to the facts and substance of the underlying case do not fall within the purview of the [original] order, and should be publicly accessible.

Yet the standard does seem murky, and of course the press will have a difficult time objecting to the non-release of pleadings or other documents.

Third and last, Judge Berger's rejection of change of venue (as well as voir dire) as lesser restrictions of the First Amendment rights of the press (and public) as "not feasible options at this time" is interesting.  Berger outlines the preference for an accused to be tried in the district in which the crime is alleged to have been committed.  She writes that transfer of venue "takes place after pretrial publicity has tainted the jury pool such that a jury cannot be seated within the district." Thus, she essentially elevates the "right" to be tried in the alleged-crime's district over both the First and Sixth Amendment rights.

Judge Berger has crafted a delicate balance which will most likely need continuing calibration.  Her task to prevent a "Roman holiday" for the media (as the Court said in Sheppard) is not only operative during the pre-trial publicity stage but will undoubtedly be pronounced during the trial itself. 

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Memorial to the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine via

January 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Daily Read: Ron Collins' Tribute to First Amendment Lawyer Al Bendich

Ron Collins has a moving and instructive obituary for Al Bendich, who as a new lawyer represented Lawrence Ferlinghetti against obscenity charges for publishing Allen Ginsburg's now-classic HOWL and later representing well-known comedian Lenny Bruce against similar charges.

Howl
" Cadets at VMI reading HOWL" Gordon Ball, 1991  via

Collins is adamant about recalling the lawyers in First Amendment cases - - - and not merely the judges - - - and the career of Bendich is a reminder of the importance of litigators.

UPDATE: The New York Times Obituary of January 13, 2015, with quotes from Collins as well as others is here.

January 7, 2015 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ferguson Grand Juror Brings First Amendment Claim Against Prosecutor

The actions - - - or inaction - - - of the grand jury that did not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown has prompted much controversy, including protests.  At the heart of this controversy is not only the actual facts of the incident, but the conduct of the grand jury by the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch.  McCulloch took the unusual step of providing a detailed statement about the grand jury proceedings to the press and of filing a motion in court for public disclosure of materials considered by the grand jury.

Both of those documents - - - McCulloch's statement to the press and his memorandum in support of the motion for disclosure - - - are appendices in a complaint  filed today in the Eastern District of Missouri, by the ACLU of MissouriGrand Juror Doe v. Robert McCulloch. 

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Drawing "Silence" via

Grand Juror Doe, who served on the grand jury, argues that the Missouri statutes prohibiting grand jurors from discussing the proceedings are an infringement of the First Amendment as applied in this situation.  A copy of these statutes, Mo. Stat. §540.080 (Oath of Jurors); Mo. Stat. §540.320 (Grand juror not to disclose evidence-penalty); and Mo. Stat. §540.310 (Cannot be compelled to disclose vote), were given to the grand jurors at "the conclusion of their service," according to paragraph 28 of the complaint.   But because the prosecutor has released evidence and made statements, as well as because of the legislative resolution to submit for voter referendum a repeal of the Missouri state constitutional provision providing for grand juries, Doe argues that s/he is being chilled from expressing opinions about matters of public concern and engaging in political speech.

The factual allegations in the complaint do provide a window on the content and viewpoint of Doe's expression.  Doe alleges that the conduct of the grand jury investigation of Darren Wilson "differed markedly" from other cases presented to the grand jury, and even more provocatively, that McCulloch's statement to the press and release of records do not comport with Doe's own opinions of the process.

This request for a permanent injunction against enforcing any of the challenged Missouri statutes against Doe should s/he speak about the grand jury proceedings against Wilson is supported by basic First Amendment considerations and basic notions of fairness.  The root problem here is not grand jury secrecy, but the lifting of that veil of secrecy for one party and perspective only.  As Justice Scalia stated in the context of vindicating First Amendment rights in RAV v. City of St.  Paul, this would be akin to "authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquis of Queensberry rules."

 

January 5, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Race, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Second Circuit Grants Full Court Review to Occupy Brooklyn Bridge Case

The Second Circuit has granted full court review in Garcia v. Does, a panel decision which allowed plaintiffs' complaint arising from their arrests for participating in a demonstration in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  The panel, affirming the district judge, denied the motion to dismiss of the defendants/appellants, holding that on the current record it could not

resolve at this early stage the ultimately factual issue of whether certain defendants implicitly invited the demonstrators to walk onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, which would otherwise have been prohibited by New York law.

The unidentified Doe officers argued that video evidence warrants a dismissal.  The First Amendment issue of "fair warning" to revoke permission to protest is at issue in the case - - - which would seemingly require more than (incomplete) video evidence.  Yet the issue of qualified immunity is seemingly argued as overshadowing the incomplete evidence.

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Brooklyn Bridge via


Judge Debra Ann Livingston's lengthy dissent from the opinion by Judges Calabresi and Lynch argues that the panel majority "failed to afford the NYPD officers policing the “Occupy Wall Street” march the basic protection that qualified immunity promises – namely, that police officers will not be called to endure the effort and expense of discovery, trial, and possible liability for making reasonable judgments in the exercise of their duties."

Judge Livingston's views most likely attracted other judges.  Now the  "in banc" court (as the spelling is used in the Second Circuit) will hear the case, including Senior Judge Calabresi because he was on the panel.

 

December 18, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Film, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Daily Reads: On Torture

With the publication of the more than 500 page  "Executive Summary" of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program (searchable document here),  the subject of torture is dominating many public discussions.

A few items worth a look (or second look):

    In French, Justice Scalia's interview with Le Journal du matin de la RTS (videos and report) published today.  One need only be marginally fluent in French to understand the headline: "La torture pas anticonstitutionnelle", dit le doyen de la Cour suprême US.  (h/t Prof Darren Rosenblum).

    The French report will not surprise anyone familiar with Justice Scalia's discussion of torture from the 2008 "60 Minutes" interview discussed and excerpted here.

    The "ticking time bomb" discussion in Scalia's remarks is the subject of an interesting commentary by ConLawProf Rosa Brooks in Foreign Policy provocatively entitled "Tick, Tick, Bull, Shit."

    And while Justice Scalia contended that defining torture is going to be a "nice trick," LawProf David Luban's 2014 book Torture, Power, and Law offers very explicit definitions, even as it argues that these definitions can erode as torture becomes "normalized," seemingly giving credence to Scalia's point.

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Woodcut circa 1540 via

 

December 12, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Interpretation, News, Scholarship, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

How Elite Lawyers Influence the Supreme Court

Check out The Echo Chamber: A Small Group of Lawyers and its Outsized Influence at the U.S. Supreme Court, a penetrating study of the influence that an elite band of attorneys exerts on the cases the Court takes up, and how it decides them. Echo Chamber is a special report by Reuters, in three parts, penned by Joan Biskupic, Janet Roberts, and John Shiffman.

The upshot: A small group of attorneys, just 66 of them, exert a tremendous influence over the cases the Court hears, with a decidedly pro-business tilt.

According to the authors, public interest lawyers may exert an influence, too--but by not filing, so as to avoid a binding ruling against them by a conservative-leaning Court. "[P]ublic interest lawyers effectively influence the court's agenda, too. They do so by declining to draft petitions for some kinds of civil rights and consumer cases. Their rationale: They do not want the Supreme Court to revisit decades-old decisions that tend to favor the liberal agenda."

The authors examined cert. petitions, and the attorneys who filed them, over a nine-year period to identify the 66 lawyers and 31 law firms that were "most active and successful before the court."

The conclusion:

The Reuters examination of the Supreme Court's docket, the most comprehensive ever, suggests that the justices essentially have added a new criterion to whether the court takes an appeal--one that goes beyond the merits of a case and extends to the merits of the lawyer who is bringing it.

The results: a decided advantage for corporate America, and a growing insularity at the court. Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber--a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed.

December 8, 2014 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Eleventh Circuit Finalizes Rejection of Constitutionality of Florida Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients

In its 54 page opinion today in Lebron v. Sec't Florida Dep't of Children & Families,  a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit held that Florida Statute §414.0652 requiring drug testing of all persons who receive public benefits is unconstitutional.

Recall that a previous panel (of three different judges) had affirmed a district judge's grant of a preliminary injunction against the statute.  The district judge then entered a permanent injunction and this appeal followed.

F8637-01sToday's opinion holds that the statute violates the Fourth Amendment because Florida "failed to meet its burden of establishing a substantial special need to drug test all TANF applicants without any suspicion."  Importantly, the court also held that

the State cannot circumvent constitutional concerns by requiring that applicants consent to a drug test to receive TANF payments. When a government benefit is conditioned on suspicionless drug testing, the voluntariness of the program is properly viewed as a factor baked into the special needs reasonableness analysis, not as an exception to it.

The court rejected Florida's reliance "on unconstitutional conditions cases that arose in different contexts," such as Rust v. Sullivan, stating that  "the consent inquiry is included within the special needs analysis" in the Fourth Amendment context.

The court concludes:

the State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis. We respect the State’s overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that § 414.0652 crosses the constitutional line.

While Florida and its governor have been adamant in defending the constitutionality of mandatory drug-testing, the federal courts have been just as adamant that such drug-testing is unconstitutional.  But perhaps Florida will seek certiorari and a chance to validate this policy.

 

December 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Fourth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Eleventh Circuit Denies Stay of Same-Sex Marriage Ban Injunction in Florida

In August Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida found in Brenner v. Scott that Florida's same-sex marriage bans in the constitution as Article I §27 and Florida Statutes §741.04(1) violated the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Today, an Eleventh Circuit panel consisting of Judges Frank Hull, Charles Wilson, and Aldaberto Jordon in a brief Order in Brenner v. Armstrong granted expedited treatment of a motion to extend the stay of the preliminary injunction, but denied the motion. 

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Elbert P. Tuttle Courthouse in Atlanta


The Order concluded:

The stay of preliminary injunctions entered by the District Court expires at the end of the day on January 5, 2015.

Thus, unless there is en banc review or a United States Supreme Court stay, same-sex marriages will begin in Florida in first days of the new year.

December 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Montana District Judge Follows Ninth Circuit: Declares State's Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his 18 page Order in Rolando v. Fox, US District Judge Brian Morris enjoined Montana's laws banning same-sex marriage (Article XIII, section 7 of the Montana Constitution, and Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-103 and section 40-1-401) as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The judge essentially found that the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter regarding same-sex marriage - - - inclusive of its decision to adhere to heightened scrutiny in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott - - - was binding.  The court rejected the argument that the recent Sixth Circuit opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder changed Ninth Circuit precedent.

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The judge, however, did discuss the state's asserted justifications, finding them with without merit and focusing on children.  The judge ended by recognizing "that not everyone will celebrate this outcome," but nevertheless that the "time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit":  "Today Montana becomes the thirty-fourth state to permit same-sex marriage."

The judge did not stay the injunction.

November 20, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 14, 2014

D.C. Circuit Upholds Contraception Opt-Out for Religious Nonprofits

The D.C. Circuit today upheld HHS accommodations to religious nonprofits that object to complying with contraception requirements under agency regs and the ACA. The ruling aligns with earlier rulings from the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and means that the accommodations stay on the books. (The case is not governed by Hobby Lobby, because the plaintiffs here challenge the accommodation, not the "contraception mandate" itself. Hobby Lobby had no accommodation option.)

The case represents yet another judicial attack against the ACA and its implementation. And this issue may eventually work its way (back) to the Supreme Court. (Notre Dame filed a cert. petition in October, after losing in the Seventh Circuit.)

The case is the latest challenge to HHS regulations that allow religious nonprofits to opt-out of the "contraception mandate" by filing a form with their insurer or a letter with HHS stating their religious objection to providing contraception. (The letter to HHS is the agency's regulatory answer to the Supreme Court's action this summer that enjoined the form and held that a religious nonprofit could instead file a letter with HHS.) Plaintiffs (religious nonprofits) argue that the accommodation itself violates the RFRA (among other things), because the accommodation "triggers" the provision of contraception by third parties.

The D.C. Circuit flatly--and quite thoroughly--rejected this claim. In sum:

We conclude that the challenged regulations do not impose a substantial burden on Plaintiffs' religious exercise under RFRA. All plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they beleive and seek what they want via a letter or two-page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations' compliance with law in the modern administrative state. Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms. The ACA shifts to health insurers and administrators the obligation to pay for and provide contraceptive coverage for insured persons who would otherwise lose it as a result of the religious accommodation.

The court held that the accommodation was merely a de minimis requirement and not a substantial burden--and therefore not subject to RFRA's strict scrutiny. "In sum, both opt-out mechanisms let eligible organizations extricate themselves fully from the burden of providing contraceptive coverage to employees, pay nothing toward such coverage, and have the providers tell the employees that their employers play no role and in no way should be seen to endorse the coverage." The court emphasized that RFRA "does not grant Plaintiffs a religious veto against plan providers' compliance with those regulations, nor the right to enlist the government to effectuate such a religious veto against legally required conduct of third parties."

The court said that even if the accommodation were a substantial burden, the court would uphold it under RFRA's strict scrutiny.  That's because "[a] confluence of compelling interests supports maintaining seamless application of contraceptive coverage to insured individuals even as Plaintiffs are excused from providing it." Examples: the benefits of planning for healthy births and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, and the promotion of equal preventive care for women. "The accommodation requires as little as it can from the objectors while still serving the government's compelling interests."

The court also clarified some important aspects of the way the accommodation works. For one, exercising the accommodation doesn't "trigger" anything; instead, it works to take the religious nonprofit entirely out of the contraception-provision business. For another, religious nonprofits' contracts with providers don't authorize or facilitate contraceptive coverage; the federal regs do. Finally, exercising the accommodation doesn't turn a religious nonprofit's plan into a "conduit for contraceptive coverage"; instead, it takes the the religious nonprofit out of the contraceptive business entirely.

 

November 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)