Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Elmbrook School District: The "Graduation in a Church" Case

Over a dissent from Justice Scalia, joined by Thomas, the United States Supreme Court decided not to review the closely watched Elmbrook School District v. Doe.  The case was relisted by the Court at least ten times before the petition for certiorari was finally denied.

Recall as we discussed almost two years ago,  the Seventh Circuit en banc found a First Amendment Establishment Clause violation when two high schools held their graduation ceremonies in a church.  Justice Scalia's dissent contended that because the Seventh Circuit's opinion is now "fundamentally inconsistent" with a "number of points" "made clear" by Town of Greece v. Galloway  - - - this Term's controversial 5-4 decision upholding town council's prayer - - - "the Court ought, at a minimum, to grant certiorari, vacate the judgment, and remand for reconsideration (GVR)."

640px-Arnstein_(Lower_Franconia)_Maria_Sondheim_60156
image via

Yet Scalia's dissent might be most noteworthy for its casual evisceration of the Establishment Clause:

Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion. Religion, they believe, is a personal matter; if it must be given external manifestation, that should not occur in public places where others may be offended. I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky. And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.

My own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781, 790 (1989); Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, 422 U. S. 205, 210–211 (1975). Certain of this Court’s cases, however, have allowed the aversion to religious displays to be enforced directly through the First Amendment, at least in public facilities and with respect to public ceremonies—this despite the fact that the First Amendment explicitly favors religion and is, so to speak, agnostic about music.

(emphasis in original).

However, with the denial of certiorari in Elmbrook School District, the line between adult activities such as legislative meetings and "school" activities such as graduations persists in Establishment Clause doctrine.

 

June 17, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, History, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

No Damage Claim for U.S. Citizen Tortured in Africa

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed a case brought by a U.S. citizen against FBI agents for torturing and mistreating him as a terrorist suspect in Africa in violation of his constitutional rights

The plaintiff, Amir Meshal, was visiting Somalia in November 2006.  When fighting erupted there, Meshal fled to Kenya.  Upon arrival, he was captured by Kenyan soldiers, detained, and later interrogated repeatedly by FBI agents, who used threats, accusations that Meshal was a terrorist, and physical force to intimidate him.  Later, Meshal was transferred to Somalia, then Ethiopia, where interrogations by FBI agents continued.  Throughout, Meshal was denied outside communication (until U.S. consular officials later gained access to him), access to an attorney, and access to foreign courts.  In all, Meshal was detained abroad for four months.  He was never charged with a crime.

Meshal filed a Bivens suit for damages against the agents, but Judge Sullivan dismissed the case.  Judge Sullivan was highly critical of the U.S. government's treatment of Meshal and of the federal courts' refusal to hear Bivens claims by other U.S. citizens mistreated by government agents.  But he nevertheless concluded that the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Doe, the Fourth Circuit's ruling in Lebron, and the Seventh Circuit's ruling in Vance compelled him to dismiss Meshal's case.  DoeLebron, and Vance all also involved U.S. citizens suing government officers for violations of constitutional right in similar circumstances.  The circuit courts all ruled that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, however, because they all arose in the context of the military and national security.

Given the state of the law, there is no chance of a successful appeal.  But that didn't stop Judge Sullivan from delivering a full-throated condemnation of the agents' actions, the courts' rulings, and Congress's failure to create a remedy for U.S. citizens who are mistreated in these situations:

The facts alleged in this case and the legal questions presented are deeply troubling.  Although Congress has legislated with respect to detainee rights, it has provided no civil remedies for U.S. citizens subject to the appalling mistreatment Mr. Meshal has alleged against officials of his own government.  To deny him a judicial remedy under Bivens raises serious concerns about the separation of powers, the role of the judiciary, and whether our courts have the power to protect our own citizens from constitutional violations by our government when those violations occur abroad.

 

June 16, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

California State Trial Judge Declares Teacher Tenure Provisions Unconstitutional

In a 16 page "tentative decision" in Vergara v. California, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu has declared that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education.

The so-called "tenure statutes" challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including

The California constitutional provisions at issue include the state's equal protection clause in Article I §7, and the Article IX provisions relating to Education, including the "general diffusion of knowledge" section, §1 and the requirement that the legislature "shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported,"§5.

Students matter
image via "Students Matter" the organization funding Vergara

Judge Treu based his decision largely on equality grounds, but noted that the California Supreme Court had previously held education to be a fundamental right.  Importantly, the judge found that the trial showed that "there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms."  Judge Treu also found, although did not elaborate, that there was a "disproportionate impact on poor and minority students."  The judge applied strict scrutiny to the challenged statutes.

As to the permanent employment statute,  Judge Treu found that it disadvantaged both students and teachers, noting that California's short time frame for tenure - - - less than two years - - - was an outlier: the vast majority of states (32) have a three year time frame. 

Regarding the dismissal statutes, Judge Treu noted that dismissal of a teacher could take two to ten years and "cost $50,000 to $450,000," and that while due process for teachers was an "entirely legitimate issue" these statutes provided "uber due process."  The judge found that the provisions were "so complex, time consuming and expensive" that the statutes violated the state constitutional equal protection rights of the student plaintiffs.

Likewise, Judge Treu found that the LIFO statute violated the state constitutional equal protection rights of the student plaintiffs.  Judge Treu again noted that California was in a distinct minority of 10 states in which this seniority system was absolute and allowed no consideration of teacher effectiveness, with 20 states providing that seniority was a factor, and 19 states leaving the decision to the discretion of government. 

Judge Treu's relatively brief decision followed a rather high profile trial financed by a tech entrepreneur.  The opinion does not have a full discussion of the facts, especially those supporting the impact on poor and racial minority students. 

Vergara is heir to cases such as San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez (1973),  in which the United States Supreme Court rejected a challenge to school financing as disadvantaging students of color, and Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby, in which the Texas Supreme Court found the school financing scheme unconstitutional under the state constitution, including a "general diffusion of knowledge" provision.   Yet Vergara turns the focus from state resources to "bad teachers" and can tap into anti-teacher and anti-union and anti-government worker sentiments.

Judge Treu concludes his decision with an invocation of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper 78 on separation of powers, noting that it is not the task of the judiciary to advise the legislature on a solution.  But as the history of  Texas' Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby demonstrates, legislative solutions in school equality can have an extended career in the courts.

Most likely, Judge Treu's Vergara decision will itself be subject to further judicial interpretations in the appellate process.

June 11, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Daily Video: Brenda Cossman on Canada's Parliamentary Responses to Bedford Decision

Recall that in Canada v. Bedford, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared several provisions of Canada's criminal code regulating prostitution and sex work to be inconsistent with the Canadian Constitution's Charter of Rights and thus unconstitutional.  The Court suspended the declaration of invalidity for one year from its December 2013 decision to allow Parliament to act.

Parliament is acting, but not in the manner that some anticipated.

Here's University of Toronto Law Professor Brenda Cossman discussing the proposed law in a video for Canada's Globe & Mail:

Globe and Mail
full video here

 If Parliament does pass this legislation, it seems as if it will be swiftly challenged.  And perhaps the Canada Supreme Court will have a chance to reconsider whether giving Parliament a chance to correct the defects is the best way to proceed.

 

June 5, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Ellen Katz on Hobby Lobby and Citizens United

Image_facbioIn her relatively brief essay Hobby Lobby and the Pathology of Citizens United, available on ssrn, Professor Ellen Katz (pictured) advances a doctrinal and jurisprudential argument - - - rather than political or consequentialist ones - - - for the "danger" of Citizens United v. FEC.

Katz contends:

Citizens United read a number of prior decisions to adopt rules those decisions deliberately chose not to espouse. This is not an entirely new move for the Court as it has previously cast off a decision’s doctrinal limits and stated normative claims. The contribution of Citizens United, however, was to normalize this stance. The Roberts Court seems increasingly comfortable approaching precedent just as it did in that case. This Essay identifies this move as a consistent practice across a number of decisions, and explains both why it is likely to be used in the pending ACA cases and beyond, and why it is cause for deep concern.

It is a phenomenon Katz labels "fanciful precedent."  She contends it was operative in last Term's controversial Shelby County v. Holder.

She argues that it was prominent in Citizens United related to the Court's use of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (an issue of footnotes as we discuss here and here), in a manner that might foreshadow any Robert Court opinion in Hobby Lobby "relying" on United States v. Lee and Braunfeld v. Brown

Katz's short piece is worth a read as we await the Court's decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (and Conestoga Woods Specialties, Corp. v. Sebelius) argued in March. 

June 5, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

United States Supreme Court Denies Stay of Oregon Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Without dissent or opinion, the United States Supreme Court denied the application of stay in National Organization for Marriage v. Geiger.  The application was made to Justice Kennedy (as Circuit Justice) and "by him referred to the Court." 

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) was not a party to the orginal case, Geiger v. Kitzhaber in which Oregon District Judge Michael McShane declared unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition in Article 15 of the state constitution, as we discussed here.

Recall that Oregon conceded that the state law was unconstitutional; hence the application by NOM.  However, while Judge McShane did not analyze defendant standing or Article III "case and controversy" in Geiger, NOM's application for a stay in Geiger raises even more serious Article III issues after Hollingsworth v. Perry.

June 5, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Daily Read: Lithwick on Murphy on Scalia

Scalia bookDahlia Lithwick highlights the problematics of religion in her review in The Atlantic of the new biography of Justice Antonin Scalia, Scalia: A Court of One, by Bruce Allen Murphy. 

Lithwick highlights the Supreme Court's recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the constitutionality of  Christian prayers at a town board meeting and the upcoming decision in Hobby Lobby on the claims of a for-profit corporation to an exemption from the federal requirement that employer insurance coverage include contraception benefits. 

She is very complimentary of the biography:

In Bruce Allen Murphy, Scalia has met a timely and unintimidated biographer ready to probe. A professor of civil rights at Lafayette College, Murphy refuses to be daunted by the silence that surrounds most discussions about religion and the Court. In his view, understanding one of the most dazzling and polarizing jurists on the Supreme Court entails, above all, examining the inevitably murky relationship between judicial decision making and religious devotion.

Indeed, she writes

Murphy does not shrink from adjudicating Scalia’s dueling public claims: that separating faith from public life is impossible and, at the same time, that he himself has done just that on the Court.

From Lithwick's review, A Court of One is  a must-read this summer. But Lithwick's review is also a must-read; she conjectures that "Murphy misses the moral of his own story."

May 23, 2014 in Books, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pennsylvania District Judge Declares State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his opinion in Whitewood v. Wolf, Judge John E. Jones, III, announced that Pennsylvania would "join the twelve federal district courts across the country" that had declared their respective same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

The judge considered both a Due Process and Equal Protection challenge to Pennsylvania's statutory ban on same-sex marriage and found both had merit.

800px-1827_Finley_Map_of_Pennsylvania_-_Geographicus_-_Pennsylvania-finley-1827
1827 Finley map of Pennsylvania

Regarding due process, he concluded that

 the fundamental right to marry as protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right to marry a person of one’s own sex. . . . that this fundamental right is infringed upon by 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and thus precludes same-sex marriage. Accordingly, 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102 is unconstitutional.

Judge Jones' equal protection analysis first considered the proper level of scrutiny for sexual orientation and after extensive discussion of the factors (a modified Carolene Products analysis), he concluded that sexual orientation classifications are quasi-suspect and deserve heightened scrutiny. The application of this standard is relatively brief:

Significantly, Defendants claim only that the objectives are “legitimate,” advancing no argument that the interests are “important” state interests as required to withstand heightened scrutiny. Also, Defendants do not explain the relationship between the classification and the governmental objectives served; much less do they provide an exceedingly persuasive justification. In essence, Defendants argue within the framework of deferential review and go no further.  Indeed, it is unsurprising that Defendants muster no argument engaging the strictures of heightened scrutiny, as we, too, are unable to fathom an ingenuous defense saving the Marriage Laws from being invalidated under this more-searching standard.

Resembling many of the other opinions, including yesterday's opinion from an Oregon federal judge, Judge Jones' 39 page opinion acknowledges its part in a growing trend, cites all the other federal cases, includes a reference to Scalia's dissenting opinion in Windsor to support its rationale, and includes an acknowledgement of the divisiveness of the issue but invokes a historical perspective (represented by Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education) in its relatively brief conclusion. 

It differs from other similar opinions in explicitly resting its Equal Protection analysis in intermediate scrutiny befitting a quasi-suspect class.

But the doctrinal differences are less noteworthy than the tide of federal judges (and some state judges) striking down their state laws banning same-sex marriage.

May 20, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Oregon District Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining a decided trend which we last discussed here and here, today Oregon District Judge Michael McShane declared unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition in Article 15 of the state constitution. Judge McShane’s 26 page  opinion in Geiger v. Kitzhaber concludes that because “Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

275px-OR_2004_m36.svg
voting in 2004 ballot measure defining marriage as man/woman only: red is no; green is yes; dark green is yes by 2/3 or more; via

Judge McShane noted that the state defendants “concede that Oregon's marriage laws banning same-gender marriage are unconstitutional and legally indefensible, but state they are legally obligated to enforce the laws until this court declares the laws unconstitutional,” and thus, the case “presents itself to this court as something akin to a friendly tennis match rather than a contested and robust proceeding between adversaries.”  However, McShane did not find (or analyze) any Article III “case or controversies” issues, or address standing (including defendant standing).

Judge McShane notes that last term’s decision in Windsor v. United States  finding DOMA unconstitutional

may be distinguished from the present case in several respects. Yet, recounting such differences will not detract from the underlying principle shared in common by that case and the one now before me. The principle is one inscribed in the Constitution, and it requires that the state's marriage laws not "degrade or demean" the plaintiffs in violation of their rights to equal protection.

Unlike Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Windsor, however, Judge McShane’s opinion in Geiger is quite specific regarding the level of scrutiny being applied: rational basis.  McShane rejected two arguments for intermediate scrutiny.  First, he rejected the argument based upon a gender classification, concluding that the “targeted group here is neither males nor females, but homosexual males and homosexual females” and thus the state's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, not gender.  Second, he rejected the applicability of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, reasoning that the panel's decision in SmithKline is not yet a truly final and binding decision given that the mandate has not issued pending en banc review. (Recall that last week, a federal district judge in Idaho found "SmithKline’s examination of Windsor is authoritative and binding").

Judge McShane then engaged in the by now familiar analysis of government interests - - - including protecting traditional marriage and promoting responsible procreation - - - and their relationship to the same-sex marriage prohibition.  Like his fellow judges in recent cases, Judge McShane found rational basis is not satisfied.

And like some of his fellow judges, McShane shared his personal perspective.  McShane's provided his in an extended conclusion:

I am aware that a large number of Oregonians, perhaps even a majority, have religious or moral objections to expanding the definition of civil marriage (and thereby expanding the benefits and rights that accompany marriage) to gay and lesbian families. It was these same objections that led to the passage of Measure 36 in 2004 [the ballot measure defining marriage as only between a man and a woman]. Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion,
a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called "smear the queer" and it was played with great zeal and without a moment's thought to today' s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but 1~86 when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a"millennia of moral teaching," the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. Bowers, 478 U.S. at 197 (Burger, C.J., concurring), overruled by Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 578. Even today I am reminded ofthe legacy that we have bequeathed today's generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says "dad ... that is so gay."

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading "God Hates Fags" make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise.

 Judge McShane's opinion ends with a exhortation perhaps more befitting religious rhetoric than legal analysis.

 

May 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Court Temporarily Stops Force-Feeding at Guantanamo

Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) on Friday temporarily enjoined the government from force-feeding Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a hunger-striking Guantanamo detainee.  Judge Kessler's order also requires the government to produce medical records and videotapes of Dhiab's "forcible cell extractions" for the purpose of "enteral feedings."  Judge Kessler will preside over a status conference on May 21 to work some of this out.

This isn't the first time Judge Kessler ruled on the case.  In her earlier ruling, on July 10, 2013, she held that 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2) deprived the court of jurisdiction to hear a claim over a Guantanamo detainee's conditions of confinement.  She was also highly critical of force feedings in that ruling, however, and telegraphed her likely ruling on the merits, should it ever come to the merits.

It did come to the merits after the D.C. Circuit ruled that Guantanamo detainees could challenge the conditions of their confinement under 28 U.S.C. 2241(e)(2).  After that ruling, Dhiab's case came back to Judge Kessler, leading to Friday's ruling.

Judge Kessler's ruling is only temporary.  But if this ruling and her prior ruling (in the first round) are any indication, she's almost certain to rule against the practice. 

May 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Arkansas Supreme Court: Judge's Same Sex Marriage Order Stayed

The Arkansas Supreme Court's Order in Smith v. Wright grants a stay of the injunction against enforcing the ban on same-sex marriages.

Recall that last Friday, Circuit Judge Charles Piazza in Wright v. Arkansas declared unconstitutional Arkansas Act 144 and Arkansas Amendment 83, both of which define marriage as limited to one man and one woman. 

Judge Piazza later issued a clarifying order and there have been numerous procedural matters to resolve.  Today's order by the Arkansas Supreme Court Justices (pictured below) grants the request for an emergency stay without opinion. 

A full appeal will presumably follow.

SCgroup-new

 

May 16, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Arkansas State Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In an opinion issued late today in Wright v. Arkansas, Circuit Judge Charles Piazza declared unconstitutional Arkansas Act 144 and Arkansas Amendment 83, both of which define marriage as limited to one man and one woman.  The decision rests on the  Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, as well as on ARK. Const., art 2 §2, with equality and liberty provisions.  

The relatively brief opinion - - - 13 pages single spaced - - - tracks familiar ground, highlighting Windsor v. United States and the post-Windsor cases, emphasizing Kitchen v. Herbert and Bishop v. United States.  Judge Piazza also points to Justice Scalia's dissenting language as other cases have done; Judge Piazza bolsters his finding that "tradition" is not a legitimate state interest by stating:

And, as Justice Scalia has noted in dissent, " 'preserving the traditional institution of marriage' is just a kinder way of describing the State's moral disapproval of same-sex couples." Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 601 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

741px-Collier's_1921_Arkansas
Judge Piazza also confronts possible charges of judicial activism with a reference to Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856), including an extensive quote from Justice Taney's opinion, before moving onto Loving v. Virginia and Griswold v. Connecticut.  He also relies on Arkansas' precedent:

The Arkansas Supreme Court has previously addressed the right to privacy as it involves same-sex couples. ln Jegley v. Picado, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the sodomy statute as unconstitutional in violating Article 2, §2 and the right to privacy. 349 Ark. 600, 638 (2002). Justice Brown, in Arkansas Dep't of Human Services v. Cole, noted "that Arkansas has a rich and compelling tradition of protecting individual privacy and that a fundamental right to privacy is implicit in the Arkansas Constitution." 2011 Ark. 145, 380 S.W. 3d. 429, 435 (2011) (citing Jegley, id. at 632). The Arkansas Supreme Court applied a heightened scrutiny and struck down as unconstitutional an initiated act that prohibited unmarried opposite-sex and same-sex couples from adopting children. Id at 442. The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage for no rational basis violates the fundamental right to privacy and equal protection as described in Jegley and Cole, supra. The difference between opposite-sex and same-sex families is within the privacy of their homes.

The judge did not stay the opinion; it may be that some attorneys for the state of Arkansas will have a very busy weekend.

{UPDATE here}

May 9, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting it Wrong: Even Supreme Court Justices Do It and What that Means for Grading Students

Grading, marking, and giving feedback on student exams, papers, and projects can be wearing, which perhaps explains why professors can succumb to the temptation to bemoan student "bloopers" and mistakes. 

But at the end of this semester,  a mistake in Justice Scalia's dissent in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation provides some perspective.

From the original opinion, here's the passage in Justice Scalia's dissent:

[Section] D. Plus Ça Change:
EPA’s Continuing Quest for Cost-Benefit Authority

The majority agrees with EPA’s assessment that “[u]sing costs in the Transport Rule calculus . . . makes good sense.” Ante, at 26. Its opinion declares that “[e]liminating those amounts that can cost-effectively be reduced is an efficient and equitable solution to the alloca­tion problem the Good Neighbor Provision requires the Agency to address.” Ibid. Efficient, probably. Equitable? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. See Brief for Industry Re­spondents 35–36. But the point is that whether efficiency should have a dominant or subordinate role is not for EPA or this Court to determine.

This is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457 (2001), confronted EPA’s contention that it could consider costs in setting NAAQS. The provision at issue there, like this one, did not expressly bar cost-based decisionmak­ing—and unlike this one, it even contained words that were arguably ambiguous in the relevant respect. . . .

[emphasis added]

And from the current opinion, here's the corrected passage:

[Section] D. Our Precedent

The majority agrees with EPA’s assessment that “[u]sing costs in the Transport Rule calculus . . . makes good sense.” Ante, at 26. Its opinion declares that “[e]liminating those amounts that can cost-effectively be reduced is an efficient and equitable solution to the allocation problem the Good Neighbor Provision requires the Agency to address.” Ibid. Efficient, probably. Equitable? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. See Brief for Industry Respondents 35–36. But the point is that whether efficiency should have a dominant or subordinate role is for Congress, not this Court, to determine.

This is not the first time parties have sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U.S. 457 (2001), confronted the contention that EPA should consider costs in setting NAAQS. The provision at issue there, like this one, did not expressly bar cost-based decisionmaking—and unlike this one, it even contained words that were arguably ambiguous in the relevant respect.

[empasis added]

Justice Scalia misidentified the party that argued on behalf of considering costs in Whitman v. American Trucking - - - an opinion that Justice Scalia authored in 2001 - - - and reversed it.  Indeed, the EPA opposed considering costs in Whitman v. American Trucking.  

DeweydefeatsThe mistake has attracted attention: TPM labels  it an "epic blunder,"  Salon calls it an "embarrassing error," and WSJ says it was "cringeworthy" and "unusually glaring."

Why the mistake?  Blame law clerks or sloppiness.  Recite "to err is human."  Or perhaps the mistake simply fit with the dissent's "shadow argument" (the EPA has been on a quest to expand its authority, as conveyed in the subtitle to the section) and so the actual fact became misremembered or overlooked.

But whatever the possible explanations, it's a good reminder for professors as we read "mistakes" by students who are, afterall, students, and do not have law clerks, proofreaders, years of experience, the highest position in the legal field, or the ability to correct mistakes after the final version of the exam or paper is submitted. 

 

May 1, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, News, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Oral Argument Preview: Employee Speech at the Supreme Court and the Amicus Brief of Law Professors

As we explained when certiorari was granted in Lane v. Franks, the case involves a public employee's First Amendment rights in the context of retaliation and raising questions about the interpretation of Garcetti v. Ceballos.  My preview of Monday's oral argument is at SCOTUSBlog here. 

The Brief of Law Professors as Amici Curiae in Support of the Petitioner, the employee Edward Lane, available on ssrn, advances two basic arguments. 

Witness_stand_in_a_courtroom

The first argument is essentially that the Eleventh Circuit's opinion was a clearly erroneous expansion of Garcetti to include Lane's subpoened testimony in a criminal trial.  Here's an especially trenchant paragraph:

But the Garcetti Court took great pains to distinguish Mr. Ceballos from Mr. Pickering [in Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)], who spoke about what he observed and learned at his workplace and identified himself as a teacher in doing so, and Ms. Givhan [in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District (1979)], who spoke to her own supervisors about what she observed at her workplace and did so while at work. Neither of these employees could have prevailed if any speech they would not have made but for their employment were excluded from the First Amendment’s protections. The sole fact distinguishing Mr. Ceballos from these other two defendants was that neither Mr. Pickering nor Ms. Givhan was required by their employment contracts to engage in the speech for which they were punished. Petitioner was not required by his job duties to testify in court, so his speech is as protected as Ms. Givhan’s and Mr. Pickering’s.

(emphasis in original).  There are similar arguments in the merits briefs, but advancing this doctrinal clarity in the law professors' brief is not misplaced, given that the Eleventh Circuit's summary opinion had so little specific analysis. 

Perhaps more common to an amicus brief are the policy arguments raised here regarding the importance of protecting testimony by public employees from retaliation by their government employers.  The brief's "judicial integrity" argument seeks to draw an interesting parallel, arguing it is

crucial that public employees be able to speak freely and truthfully about government malfeasance so that the judicial process is not distorted. Distortion of the litigation process occurs when public employees do not feel free to testify in various legal proceedings for fear of losing their jobs. This Court expressed analogous concerns in Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez, 531 U.S. 533 (2001), where the Court struck down as violative of the First Amendment a federally imposed restriction prohibit- ing Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”)-funded attorneys, as a condition of the receipt of federal funds, from challenging the legality or constitutionality of existing welfare laws. . . . No less than in Velazquez, “[t]he restriction imposed by the [lack of protection for public employee testimonial speech] threatens severe impairment of the judicial function.” Id. at 546.

The brief argues in favor of a bright line rule that testimony is "citizen speech" and thus protected by the First Amendment.  Whether the line should be so bright might be a topic at oral argument given the arguments in the other briefs.

The named authors of the law professors brief, ConLawProfs  Paul Secunda, Scott Bauries, and Sheldon Nahmod, and the signatories, provide a terrific model of "engaged scholarship" and advocacy, and all in approximately 25 pages.

April 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Scholarship, Speech, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

India's Supreme Court Recognizes Transgender Constitutional Rights of Equality as "Third Gender"

In its opinion National Legal Services v. India, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the constitutional rights of transgender persons, including the right not to be denominated as either "male" or "female." 

 The opinion by K.S. Radhakrishnan begins with an invocation of the "trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo" but rather quickly also invokes the cultural roots and importance of the community: "TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts." 

436px-Constitution_of_IndiaThe judgment rests on an interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution of India, including Article 14 (equality before law); Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of various grounds, including sex); Article 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment, including sex); Article 19 (including freedom of expression); and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).  The judgment engaged in some originalist reasoning that broadly interpreted "sex" to include sex-stereotyping:

Constitution makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. Biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression ‘sex’ used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male or female.

Given this interpretation, the Court not suprisingly ruled

We, therefore, conclude that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.

The Court has some interesting discussions of dress and grooming as an aspect of gender which included references to US cases and is further discussed here. 

The Court also specifically disavowed any relationship between its present judgment in National Legal Services v. India and the controversial opinion Koushal v. NAZ Foundation decided in December in which the Court - - - or as the Court states here "A Division Bench of this Court" reversed the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court that §377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional under the India Constitution and upheld India's sodomy law as constitutional:

we express no opinion on it [Kousal] since we are in these cases concerned with an altogether different issue pertaining to the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community and their gender identity and sexual orientation.

In a separate judgment, A.K. Sikiri did not mention the sodomy decision in Koushal v. Naz Foundation, but the judgment's expansive rhetoric could be read as an implicit disagreement with that decision as well as serving as a further butressing of today's judgment.  The concurring opinion elaborated on the importance of TG persons and communities to India's culture. It referenced Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Amartya Sen as providing the "jurisprudential basis for doing justice to the Vulnerable Groups which definitely include TGs."  It explicitly stated the "dynamic" and "living character" of the Constitution and its interpretation.  It considered judicial review in the context of democracy (including, implicitly, "sexual democracy") and decidedly opined that it is the role of the judiciary to "ensure access to justice to the marginalized section of the society," and that undoubtedly "TGs belong to the unprivileged class which is a marginalized section."

The judgment not only requires the government to recognize a "third gender" and to grant "legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender," but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and "seriously address" various problems. 

April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Circuit Says Magistrates Can't Rule on 2255 Motions

The Eleventh Circuit ruled this week in Brown v. U.S. that a magistrate judge lacked authority to enter final judgment on a criminal defendant's motion to vacate his sentence. 

The case revisits, but then dodges, the issue whether a magistrate's ruling on a motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 violates Article III.

The court said that the Magistrate Act, 28 U.S.C. 636(c), which authorizes magistrates, with the consent of the parties, to enter a final judgment on any "civil matter," did not authorize a magistrate to enter a final judgment on a Section 2255 motion to vacate a sentence.  While the court recognized a Section 2255 motion was a civil matter, it said that Section 2255 wasn't a "civil matter" for purposes of Section 636(c).

Why?  According to the court, because to so conclude could result in a violation of Article III.

The court recognized that Section 636(c) is constitutional on its own--that is, that magistrates are constitutional in "civil matters."  But it said that special problems with a magistrate ruling on a Section 2255 motion made Section 636(c) constitutionally suspect.  In particular, when a magistrate enters a final judgment on a Section 2255 motion, that magistrate sits "in a quasi-appellate capacity, with the power to vacate the judgment the district court entered in the case."  "It is axiomatic that non-Article III judges [magistrates] may not revise or overturn Article III judgments."  Moreover, if a magistrate were to enter a final judgment on a Section 2255 motion, there's no procedure for district court review.  Yet, "the authority of a district court to review the magistrate judge's decision, even if neither party invokes such authority, is essential to ensuring that Article III values are protected."

These problems aren't new.  The Fifth Circuit recognized them, too, and in 2001 in U.S. v. Johnston ruled that a delegation of Section 2255 motions to a magistrate violated Article III.  (Prof. Ira Robbins (AU/WCL) helpfully explains all this in this 2002 article in the Federal Courts Law Review.  Both the article and Brown contain nice histories of magistrates in the Article III courts.)

But the Eleventh Circuit followed a different tack.  Instead of ruling that the constitutional problems with this kind of delegation resulted in a violation of Article III, it avoided the constitutional question by ruling (stretching and straining) that Section 2255 motions aren't "civil matters" for the purpose of Section 636(c) delegations to magistrates, and therefore as a matter of statutory construction the magistrate lacked authority to enter a final judgment on the Section 2255 motion.

For Brown, all this means that the magistrate's final judgment on his Section 2255 motion is invalid, and that he'll have to start over and have an Article III judge, not a magistrate, rule on his motion.

April 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Obamacare Challenges in the D.C. Circuit

Jessica Mason Pieklo writes over at RH Reality Check about the pair of challenges to the Affordable Care Act set for oral argument next month (on May 8) in the D.C. Circuit.  One of those cases challenges the government's accommodation to the so-called contraception mandate for religious nonprofits--the same issue in the Little  Sisters case and, more recently, Notre Dame's case at the Seventh Circuit.  (Those rulings were on injunctions against the accommodation pending appeal.  Recall that the Supreme Court issued an order in the Little Sisters case, allowing the organization simply to write a letter to the HHS Secretary stating its religious objection to the contraception mandate, pending appeal on the merits to the Tenth Circuit.  In contrast, the Seventh Circuit denied Notre Dame's request for an injunction pending appeal.  The difference between the two cases: Notre Dame had already complied with the government's accommodation (and the court couldn't undo its compliance), whereas Little Sisters had not.) 

The other case, Sissel v. HHS, is less well known.  It challenges the universal coverage provision, or the so-called individual mandate.  Plaintiffs in the case argue that as a tax (recall the Court's ruling in the ACA case) the provision had to originate in the House of Representatives under the Origination Clause.  But it originated in the Senate.  Plaintiffs say it's therefore invalid.

Pieklo writes that President Obama's recent appointees will have an impact on the court, and on these cases.  That's because the panel that will hear arguments in these cases next month includes Judge Nina Pillard and Judge Robert Wilkins, the recent Obama appointees that were held up in the Senate but then confirmed after Senate Democrats used the nuclear option and disallowed a filibuster of federal court nominees (except Supreme Court nominees).  Judge Rogers is also on the panel.

April 9, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

District Court Rejects Targeted Killing Claim

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a civil damages claim against government officials for their roles in authorizing the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, his son, and Samir Khan.  Judge Collyer wrote in Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta that "special factors" counseled against the Bivens claim.

We've covered Al-Aulaqi's claims extensively (sometimes Al-Awlaki, sometimes Al-Awlaqi), both pre-killing and post-killing, brought by his father, Nasser.  Here's our post on Judge Bates's ruling dismissing Nasser's case to stop the killing.

The ruling adds to a body of lower-court cases limiting civil damage remedies against government officials for constitutional violations for actions related to the military, intelligence, and terrorism.  Indeed, these cases give government officials a free pass against civil damages claims for any action even loosely related to these areas, even with no showing by the government that the claims raise special factors counseling against a remedy (as this case illustrates--see below).

Nasser Al-Aulaqi brought this claim on behalf of his son Anwar and grandson Abdulrahman, along with Sarah Khan, who brought the claim on behalf of her son Samir.  Anwar was designated for targeting; Abdulrahman and Samir were not (they were bystanders in Anwar's targeted killing and another targeted killing).  All three were U.S. citizens. 

Nasser and Sarah sued government officials in their personal capacity under Bivens for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations (among others).  The officials moved to dismiss, arguing that the complaint failed to state a claim, that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy, and that they enjoyed qualified immunity.  

Judge Collyer ruled that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.  Citing Doe v. Rumsfeld, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, and Vance v. Rumsfeld, she wrote that military decisions get a pass, and that Bivens ought not be extended to them:

In this delicate area of warmaking, national security, and foreign relations, the judiciary has an exceedingly limited role.  This Court is not equipped to qustion, and does not make a finding concerning, Defendants' actions in dealing with AQAP generally or Awar Al-Aulaqi in particular.  Its role is much more modest: only to ensure that the circumstances of the exercise of war powers against a specifically-targeted U.S. citizen overseas do not call for the recognition of a new area of Bivens relief.

Here, Congress and the Executive have acted in concert, pursuant to their Constitutional authorities to provide for national defense and to regulate the military.  The need to hesitate before implying a Bivens claim is particularly clear.  Congress enacted the AUMF, authorizing the Executive to use necessary and appropriate military force against al-Qa'ida and affiliated forces.  It is the Executive's position that AQAP is affiliated with al-Qa'ida. 

. . .

Permitting Plaintiffs to pursue a Bivens remedy under the circumstances of this case would impermissibly draw the Court into "the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation," as the suit would require the Court to examine national security policy and the military chain of command as well as operational combat decisions regarding the designation of targets and how best to counter threats to the United States.

. . .

Plaintiff's Complaint also raises questions regarding foreign policy because Anwar Al-Aulaqi was a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen who was killed in Yemen.  Plaintiff's suit against top U.S. officials for their role in ordering a missile strike against a dual citizen in a foreign country necessarily implicates foreign policy.

Remarkably, the court so concluded without any help of from the government--even after the court ordered the government to help by providing material in camera and ex parte to support the special-factors defense.

The United States filed a Statement of Interest in the case, stating that it might later assert a state secrets defense.  Judge Collyer ordered the government to lodge declarations, in camera and ex parte to explain why special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy in the case.  The government refused, arguing that the court could resolve the defendants' motion to dismiss on the complaint alone.  

Judge Collyer scolded the government for its refusal--and wrote that this made the court's job "unnecessarily difficult"--but still "cobble[d] together enough judicially-noticeable facts from various records" to conclude that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.  She wrote that without these facts, the court "would have denied the motion to dismiss."

April 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Second Circuit Holds NYC Can Ban Religious Services in School Buildings

Does a city policy governing "extended use" of school facilities that excludes permits for the "purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship" violate the First Amendment?

The Second Circuit in its opinion in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York answered in the negative, a majority of the panel holding that the policy, Regulation I.Q., does not violate either the Free Exercise Clause or the Establishment Clause.

If this controversy sounds familiar, that would not be surprising.  We discussed it here, and as today's opinion notes, the litigation has been "long-running," citing Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 650 F.3d 30 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Bronx Household IV”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 492 F.3d 89 (2d Cir. 2007) (“Bronx Household III”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 331 F.3d 342 (2d Cir. 2003); Bronx Household of Faith v. Cmty. Sch. Dist. No. 10, 127 F.3d 207 (2d Cir. 1997). 

800px-Winslow_Homer_-_Country_School
Country School by Winslow Homer circa 1873 via

Today's opinion  - - - Bronx Household V - - - reverses the district judge's grant of an injunction on Free Exercise claims which were arguably not before the courts previously.  The majority of the Second Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge Pierre Leval joined by Guido Calabresi, carefully refuted the district judge's reasoning.  In short, the panel majority held that Locke v Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004) (finding that the exclusion of devotional theology degree programs from eligibility for state scholarships does not violate Free Exercise Clause) was more apposite than Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)(holding that an ordinance "targeting" the Santeria practice of animal sacrifice merited strict scrutiny and violated the Free Exercise Clause). 

The panel rejected the argument that the Regulation I.Q. targets religion generally or targets religions that have worship services.  The panel also rejected the attempt to distinguish the scholarship in Locke v, Davey, noting that under the "extended use" policy, the city subsidizes the use of school facilities since the organizations can use the facilities without cost.  The panel also found that the city's desire not to violate the Establishment Clause was a valid one.  As the panel summarized:

In view of (1) the absence of discriminatory animus on the part of the Board against religion, or against religions that conduct worship services; (2) the bona fides and the reasonableness of the Board’s concern that offering school facilities for the subsidized conduct of religious worship services would create a substantial risk of incurring a violation of the Establishment Clause claim; and (3) the fact that the Board’s policy (a) leaves all persons and religions free to practice religion without interference as they choose, (b) treats all users, whether religious or secular, in identical fashion, and (c) imposes no burden on any religion, leaving all free to conduct worship services wherever they choose other than the Board’s schools; as well as the other reasons recited in this opinion and in Bronx Household IV, we conclude that Reg. I.Q. does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, whether or not it is subject to strict scrutiny.

As to the Establishment Clause, the court rejected Bronx Household's argument that for the city to determine what constituted "religious worship services" would infringe the Establishment Clause.  Bronx Household relied upon Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012) - - - an example of how doctrine has been changing during this protracted litigation - - - but the majority expressed a very different view:

Hosanna-Tabor, moreover, does not merely fail to support Bronx Household’s claim of Establishment Clause violation due to excessive entanglement by the Board; it actively contradicts the argument. This is because in Hosanna-Tabor the Supreme Court itself did precisely what the District Court found a governmental entity prohibited from doing.

In other words, when the United States Supreme Court "undertook to make its own determination whether the plaintiff was a minister subject to the ministerial exception," it engaged in the very same type of determination that Bronx Household argues would violate the Establishment Clause. 

If Senior Judge John Walker, dissenting, has his way, the Court might have a chance to discuss this Establishment Clause rationale again.  Walker contends that this "case presents substantial questions involving the contours of both religion clauses and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the resolution of which are ripe for Supreme Court review."  Most certainly, Bronx Household will be quoting that language in any petition seeking Supreme Court review.

April 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eleventh Circuit Invalidates Florida's Attempt to Remove Voters from Rolls

The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Arcia v. Florida Secretary of State, Detzner concludes that Florida's program to remove "suspected non-citizens" from the voter rolls in 2012 violated Section 8(c)(2)(A) of the National Voter Registration Act (the 90 Day Provision) which requires states to “complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.” 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg-6(c)(2)(A).

While the case rests on an issue of statutory application, it raises two constitutional concerns.

800px-Ferdinand_de_Soto_Florida_map
Ferdinand DeSoto's Map of "Florida"

First, there are Article III concerns of standing and mootness, with the Secretary of State arguing the court should not exercise jurisdiction over the matter.  The standing argument as to the individual plaintiffs focused on the lack of "injury in fact," but the court found that they were directly injured when they were wrongly identified as noncitizens, even though they were not ultimately prevented from voting.  Additionally, they had standing to challenge Florida's second attempt to remove voters by showing "imminent injury."   The standing argument as to the organization plaintiffs  -- Florida Immigration Coalition, Inc., The National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East - - - was resolved by the court's conclusion applying both a diversion-of-resources theory and an associational standing theory.

The court likewise rejected the mootness argument.  Although the 2012 election had certainly passed, the court found that the situation fit squarely within the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to the mootness doctrine.  It reasoned that the challenged action fit both prongs of the test: the action in its duration was too short to be fully litigated prior to cessation or expiration; and there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again.

The other constitutional aspect of the case involved the interpretation of the federal statute's 90 day provision itself:

We reject Secretary Detzner’s attempts to have us decide today whether both the General Removal Provision and the 90 Day Provision allow for removals of non-citizens. Certainly an interpretation of the General Removal Provision that prevents Florida from removing non-citizens would raise constitutional concerns regarding Congress’s power to determine the qualifications of eligible voters in federal elections. Cf. Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 2247, 2257 (2013) (“Arizona is correct that the Elections Clause empowers Congress to regulate how federal elections are held, but not who may vote in them.”). We are not convinced, however, that the Secretary’s perceived need for an equitable exception in the General Removal Provision also requires us to find the same exception in the 90 Day Provision. None of the parties before us have argued that we would reach an unconstitutional result in this case if we found that the 90 Day Provision prohibits systematic removals of non-citizens. Constitutional concerns would only arise in a later case which squarely presents the question of whether the General Removal Provision bars removal of non- citizens altogether. And before we ever get that case, Congress could change the language of the General Removal Provision to assuage any constitutional concerns. With this in mind, we will confine our ruling to apply to the plain meaning of the 90 Day Provision and decline Secretary Detzner’s invitation to go further.

The panel opinion, written by Judge Beverly Martin, was not unanimous.  While Judge Adalberto Martin joined the opinion, Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich, United States Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation, wrote a very brief dissent, simply citing the two federal district court cases on the issue.

April 2, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Fifteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Race, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)