November 28, 2012
Daily Read: Rostron on the Second Amendment After Heller and McDonald
The central argument of ConLawProf Allen Rostron's article, Justice Breyer’s Triumph in the Third Battle over the Second Amendment, published at 80 George Washington Law Review 703 (2012), and available in draft on ssrn, received further validation with yesterday's Second Circuit opinion upholding a New York law restricting concealed carrying of firearms in public.
Rostron (pictured) considers the range of lower court decisions resulting from challenges to state and local firearm regulations made possible by the Court's recent Second Amendment decisions. Heller v. District of Columbia, the first "battle" in the gun wars, recognized a Second Amendment right beyond the militia, and in the second battle of 2010, the Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago, incorporated this right to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in neither "battle" did the Supreme Court specify what level of scrutiny or test should be used to assess the validity of gun laws under the Second Amendment, leaving the lower courts to struggle with this issue.
Rostron's contribution is his engagement with the third "battle": the interpretation and application of Heller and McDonald in the lower courts. He argues that the third phase of the fight over the right to keep and bear arms is moving toward an unusual result, with these decisions reflecting the "pragmatic sentiments of Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinions in Heller and McDonald," rather than the majority, plurality, or concurring opinions that are long on history and rhetoric and short on doctrine or guidance.
Rostron is candid about his own preferences and equally candid that the politics or doctrine could shift, including the Court's grant of certiorari in an additional case in order to promulgate a strict scrutiny standard. For now, however, Rostron's compelling article demonstrates that Breyer's dissent operates in many ways as a majority opinion.
Of course, if Breyer's view had prevailed in the controversial 5-4 decisions in Heller and McDonald, the federal courts would not be busily adjudicating these Second Amendment challenges.
November 27, 2012
Daily Read: Political Parties and Judging
It's something that is, perhaps increasingly, difficult to ignore: the political affiliations of federal judges.
Adam Liptak's article in the NYT yesterday takes on the subject with a focus on the recent Michigan affirmative action decision from the en banc Sixth Circuit. Liptak provides the breakdown: "Every one of the eight judges in the majority was nominated by a Democratic president. Every one of the seven judges in dissent was nominated by a Republican president." This, he argues, is consistent with a forthcoming book, The Behavoir of Federal Judges, an empirical study authored by Lee Epstein, William Landes, and Richard Posner.
Liptak thus rejects - - - at least implicitly - - - the practice of SCOTUSBlog's preeminent reporter and commentator Lyle Dennison whose "note to readers" in his discussion of the Michigan affirmative action case explained; that he would not include "references to the political party affiliation of the Presidents who named the judges to the bench" because "the use of such references invites the reader to draw such a conclusion about partisan influence, without proof." Denniston, however, did include a caveat: he would provide that information" when "it is clearly demonstrated that the political source of a judge’s selection had a direct bearing upon how that judge voted — admittedly, a very difficult thing to prove."
Whether it is a question of causation, correlation, or coincidence is an issue often raised by law students in ConLaw classes, and one that ConLawProfs struggle to answer from various perspectives.
For Liptak, however, there is predictive certainty. Referencing the affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas argued in October, he writes:
The justices’ votes in the Texas case are as yet unknown. But here is a good bet: every vote to strike down the program will come from a justice appointed by a Republican president, and every vote to uphold it will come from a justice appointed by a Democratic one.
November 09, 2012
Supreme Court Puts Voting Rights in Crosshairs
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear the Shelby County challenge to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act as reauthorized in 2006. The preclearance provision, Section 5, is the centerpiece of the VRA; it requires covered jurisdictions--those with a particularly ugly history of discrimination in voting--to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court in D.C. before making any changes to their voting laws. The Court criticized Section 5 just three-and-a-half years ago in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder for not keeping up with improvements in covered jurisdictions and for intruding on the states. The Court wrote that Section 5 raised "serious constitutional questions," but declined to rule on its constitutionality. Thus Section 5 survived Northwest Austin--but just barely.
The cert. grant in the Shelby County case asks whether Section 5 is unconstitutional in light of Congress's reauthorization of it using pre-existing Section 4(b) coverage. Section 4(b) sets a formula for which states and counties are covered jurisdictions and therefore must obtain preclearance before changing their voting laws. The two sections go hand-in-hand, and a ruling overturning Section 5 would render Section 4(b) null. But a ruling overturning only Section 4(b) could leave Section 5 in place. Such a ruling would require Congress to go back and determine the covered jurisdictions more carefully--something some say it failed to do when it reauthorized the VRA in 2006 (and hasn't done since).
The way the Court poses the question presented leaves this possibility open--and it's the more restrained option for a Court inclined to overturn something in the 2006 reauthorization. But it seems highly unlikely. Section 5 is almost certainly the real target, whatever the coverage formula in Section 4(b). Here's the QP:
Whether Congress' decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.
The QP's references to the Tenth Amendment and Article IV ensure that the case will center on federalism concerns. Northwest Austin said as much, with its language suggesting that Section 5 unduly intrudes on the states.
The Court took no action on another Section 5 challenge, Nix. Petitioners in that case filed their cert. petition at the same time that the Shelby County petitioners filed, in late July.
November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Seventh Circuit Rejects Torture Claim Against Rumsfeld
The en banc Seventh Circuit this week ruled in Vance v. Rumsfeld that two American military contractors had no cause of action against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture. The ruling was expected: the court previously vacated the three-judge panel ruling allowing the case to move forward; oral arguments suggested that the full court was hostile to the plaintiffs' claims; and the ruling aligns with similar (but distinguishable and less sweeping) rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits. We posted last on the case, with links to an earlier post, here.
The ruling ends the plaintiffs' case and effectively creates absolute immunity against such claims for military personnel and their civilian commanders--at least in the Seventh Circuit. Given similar rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits--and no circuit going the other way--the case almost surely will not attract the attention of the Supreme Court. (Even if the Court took it up, it would almost certainly affirm the Seventh Circuit's ruling, given its trend with Bivens actions.) The case also extended the no-supervisory-liability rule for Bivens claims (affirmed in Iqbal), holding that Secretary Rumsfeld's alleged authorization of torture, even if true, was simply too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs.
The case involved two American military contractors who claimed that they were detained and tortured by military authorities in Iraq. They sued Secretary Rumsfeld under Bivens based on his alleged authorization of torture techniques.
The en banc Seventh Circuit reversed a three-judge panel and held that Bivens did not offer a remedy to the plaintiffs. Chief Judge Easterbrook, writing for the court, set the tone early in his opinion, expressing hostility to "creating new Bivens claims":
[The Supreme Court] has not created another [Bivens] remedy during the last 32 years--though it has reversed more than a dozen appellate decisions that had created new actions for damages. Whatever presumption in favor of a Bivens-like remedy may once have existed has long since been abrogated. The Supreme Court never created or even favorably mentioned the possibility of a non-statutory right of action for damages against military personnel, and it has twice held that it would be inappropriate to create such a claim for damges. The Court has never created or even favorably mentioned a non-statutory right of action for damages on account of conduct that occurred outside the borders of the United States. Yet plaintiffs propose a novel damages remedy against military personnel who acted in a foreign nation--and in a combat zone, no less.
Op. at 9. Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, in particular the courts' relative inability to assess the merits of military policies and decisions. Chief Judge Easterbrook also mentioned that Congress declined to create a statutory remedy, suggesting that it didn't want plaintiffs suing military personnel or their superiors, and that Congress created two administrative paths to remedies but that the plaintiffs did not pursue them. "But Congress has not authorized awards of damages against soldiers and their superiors, and creating a right of action in common-law fashion would intrude inapropriately into the military command structure." Op. at 17.
Note that the ruling (Part III) extends to "soldiers and their superiors," even though this case was only against Secretary Rumsfeld.
Chief Judge Easterbrook also wrote that Secretary Rumsfeld's authorization of torture was too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs to survive the no-supervisor-liability rule for Bivens claims. The plaintiffs sought to navigate this rule by alleging that Secretary Rumsfeld personally authorized torture--i.e., that he wasn't vicariously liable, but was rather directly responsible. But Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that Iqbal requires that a defendant "wants the unconstitutional or illegal conduct to occur." Op. at 19. That, he said, the plaintiffs did not allege.
Judge Wood concurred in the judgment only but wrote separately to emphasize that the alleged actions were torture, and could not hide behind the euphamism of enhanced interrogation techniques. Judge Wood also disagreed with the majority insofar as its opinion (Part III) would insulate military personnel (and not merely the Secretary of Defense) from Bivens liability.
Judges Hamilton, Rovner, and Williams all wrote a separate dissent and all joined each others' dissents, emphasizing different points. Judge Hamilton pointed out that the ruling gives more rights to aliens (under the Torture Victim Protection Act) than U.S. citizens and explained in great detail why U.S. law, in fact, assumes that the plaintiffs should have had a Bivens claim. Judge Rovner argued that the plaintiffs pleaded sufficiently specific facts related to Secretary Rumsfeld's direct responsibility to survive the pleading standards set in Iqbal and Twombley. And Judge Williams emphasized the remarkable scope of the majority's opinion. "No case from our highest court or our sister circuits has approached such a sweeping conclusion." Op. at 73.
November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 02, 2012
Daily Read: Cassandra Robertson on the Constitutional Right of Appeal
Professor Cassandra Robertson (pictured left) argues that we might be forgiven for thinking that there is a constitutional right to appeal, the practice is so ubiquitous and well-established in procedural rules. But in her article, The Right to Appeal, forthcoming in the North Carolina Law Review, and available in draft on ssrn, Robertson reminds us that "appellate review is not constitutionally guaranteed; in some jurisdictions, the losing litigant may be forced to go without any review of the trial court’s verdict at all," illustrating her conclusion with a civil and a criminal case, both from West Virginia.
It is time for the Supreme Court to explicitly recognize a constitutional right to appeal. Over the last century, both the federal and state judicial systems have increasingly relied on appellate remedies to protect essential rights. In spite of the modern importance of such remedies, however, the Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to recognize a due-process right to appeal in either civil or criminal cases. Instead, it has repeated nineteenth-century dicta denying the right of appeal, and it has declined petitions for certiorari in both civil and criminal cases seeking to persuade the Court to reconsider that position.
Even if the cases in which there is no access to direct appeal are "few in number," she argues that constitutional due process should protect the "unusual or rare case in which justice is denied."
Robertson's argument skillfully combines doctrinal, practical, and constitutional considerations. The "expressive power of constitutional recognition," she writes, would be especially helpful for marginalized groups and outlier cases (for example, in juvenile cases).
For law profs who teach both constitutional law and procedure courses, this is definitely a must-read.
November 01, 2012
Common Cause Challenges Indiana Judicial Elections
The Wall Street Journal reports that Common Cause sued the Indiana Secretary of State over judicial elections in Marion County, arguing that the process deprives voters of a meaning vote in violation of the First Amendment.
Here's the problem, from Paragraph 1 of the complaint:
[E]ach of the major political parties--the Democratic and Republican parties--nominates, through primary elections, candidates to fill precisely half of the seats to be filled. In 2012 and in recent history, no candidate for Marion Superior Court other than those nominated by the major political parties has qualified for the ballot at a general election. The general election is therefore of no significance whatsoever because the ballot only contains the names of judges who will ultimately be elected; rather, the only meaningful votes cast for Marion Superior Court are cast in the primary elections for the major political parties. Thus, a person who does not vote in a primary election is never afforded an opportunity to cast a meaningful vote for any judgeship on the Marion Superior Court. And even a person who votes in one of the primary elections is never afforded an opportunity to cast a meaningful vote for half of the judgeships on the Marion Superior Court.
Under Indiana law, a party gets to nominate candidates for half the number of seats available in the general election. In theory, this would allow several political parties to nominate candidates for half the seats, thus giving voters a real choice in the general election. But "in 2012 and in recent history," only the two major political parties nominated candidates. With just two parties each nominating only half the number of candidates, the general election gives voters no real choice. Common Cause says that this violates the First Amendment.
Florida's Ballot Measure: Legislative Supremacy?
Ballot Measure 5 before Florida voters on November 6 would, if approved, alter Florida's constitution to provide more power to the legislature at the expense to the judiciary and exceutive.
Perhaps not suprisingly, the measure is sponsored by the Florida legislature.
The full text clarifies some of the details, but the summary is not necessarily enlightening:
Proposing a revision of Article V of the State Constitution relating to the judiciary. The State Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts. The constitution further provides that a rule of court may be repealed by a general law enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. This proposed constitutional revision eliminates the requirement that a general law repealing a court rule pass by a two-thirds vote of each house, thereby providing that the Legislature may repeal a rule of court by a general law approved by a majority vote of each house of the Legislature that expresses the policy behind the repeal. The court could readopt the rule in conformity with the public policy expressed by the Legislature, but if the Legislature determines that a rule has been readopted and repeals the readopted rule, this proposed revision prohibits the court from further readopting the repealed rule without the Legislature's prior approval. Under current law, rules of the judicial nominating commissions and the Judicial Qualifications Commission may be repealed by general law enacted by a majority vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. Under this proposed revision, a vote to repeal those rules is changed to repeal by general law enacted by a majority vote of the legislators present. Under current law, the Governor appoints a justice of the Supreme Court from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating commission, and appointments by the Governor are not subject to confirmation. This revision requires Senate confirmation of a justice of the Supreme Court before the appointee can take office. If the Senate votes not to confirm the appointment, the judicial nominating commission must reconvene and may not renominate any person whose prior appointment to fill the same vacancy was not confirmed by the Senate. For the purpose of confirmation, the Senate may meet at any time. If the Senate fails to vote on the appointment of a justice within 90 days, the justice will be deemed confirmed and will take office. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is an independent commission created by the State Constitution to investigate and prosecute before the Florida Supreme Court alleged misconduct by a justice or judge. Currently under the constitution, commission proceedings are confidential until formal charges are filed by the investigative panel of the commission. Once formal charges are filed, the formal charges and all further proceedings of the commission are public. Currently, the constitution authorizes the House of Representatives to impeach a justice or judge. Further, the Speaker of the House of Representatives may request, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission must make available, all information in the commission's possession for use in deciding whether to impeach a justice or judge. This proposed revision requires the commission to make all of its files available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives but provides that such files would remain confidential during any investigation by the House of Representatives and until such information is used in the pursuit of an impeachment of a justice or judge. This revision also removes the power of the Governor to request files of the Judicial Qualifications Commission to conform to a prior constitutional change. This revision also makes technical and clarifying additions and deletions relating to the selection of chief judges of a circuit and relating to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and makes other nonsubstantive conforming and technical changes in the judicial article of the constitution.
The measure is seen by some as coupled with political efforts to vote against the "merit retention" of the three Florida Supreme Court justices- - - Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente (pictured) and Peggy Quince - - - arguably because "the Florida Supreme Court removed from the ballot a nonbinding amendment allowing Floridians to refuse to buy mandatory health insurance."
Another ballot initiative to watch on election day.
October 30, 2012
Daily Read: Toni Williams on Brinks & Gauri on Rights
Over at Jotwell, UK Law Prof Toni Williams (pictured) has a review entitled "Getting Rights Right," considering Daniel M. Brinks & Varun Gauri, Law's Majestic Equality? The Distributive Impact of Litigating Social and Economic Rights, World Bank Development Research Group Working Paper 5999 (March 2012), available on ssrn.
To investigate the distributive impact of socio-economic rights litigation is, of course, to engage with well-established and often-repeated findings about litigation processes and courts as tending either to favour the rich and powerful, the “haves” of the societies in which they are situated, or, more likely, to be ineffectual. Brinks and Gauri believe that such claims about the regressive impact and impotence of rights litigation over-generalise from a limited number and narrow range of courts, cases, constitutions and countries. They claim that a more systematic analysis, taking into account variation between different types of cases and characteristics of courts, shows that litigating social and economic rights may sometimes yield robustly pro-poor effects, at least in the areas of health care provision and education.
For those seeking a more global view of rights litigation than is so often present in US conversations, Williams' suggestion is an important one.
October 29, 2012
Government Faces Skeptical Court on Standing to Challenge FISA Amendments
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Clapper v. Amnesty International, the case testing the plaintiffs' standing to challenge the government's vastly expanded surveillance authority under the FISA Amendments Act, or the FAA. We posted on the lower court ruling that a group of attorneys, journalists, and human rights organizations had standing to challenge the FAA here.
The plaintiffs always faced a unique standing problem in challenging the FAA: The very nature of government surveillance says that those surveilled cannot know that they've been surveilled, or harmed, especially when the real targets of the surveillance are the plaintiffs' overseas clients and contacts (and not immediately the plaintiffs themselves). As a result, the plaintiffs had to argue two kinds of harm to satisfy standing requirements: (1) that they've had to take current measures to ensure against FAA surveillance and (2) that their communications are imminently going to be surveilled (given the nature of them).
The government, on the other hand, argued that any harm is purely speculative and the result of the plaintiffs' own doing (and not the authority under the FAA), and that any harm could have occurred, anyway, but under a different surveillance authority. (This last argument says that the plaintiffs' harm isn't sufficiently traceable to the FAA, and that a judgment on the FAA wouldn't redress the plaintiffs' harm. Causation and redressibility are two other requirements for standing, in addition to harm.)
The Court seemed skeptical of the government's claims at arguments today. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan grilled SG Verrilli on his arguments, and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan seemed especially troubled that the government's position would leave the plaintiffs without any effective way to challenge surveillance under the FAA. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia chimed in with concerns about the government's argument that it might conduct surveillance of the plaintiffs' communications under a different authority, leaving the plaintiffs unable to show causation or redressibility. (It wasn't clear that their concerns with the government's position extended beyond that particular argument, though.) And finally Justice Kennedy seemed especially troubled with the government's position on the attorney-plaintiffs: the government said that any decision by the attorney-plaintiffs not to communicate with overseas clients for fear of surveillance was caused by rules of professional responsibility, and not by the threat of FAA surveillance. (Justice Kennedy's concern is one to watch. This harm--attorney-plaintiffs curtailing communication with clients for fear of surveillance--is the most acute and well defined harm in the case. It's also one that will resonate best with this group of nine lawyers. And it's important that Justice Kennedy raised it: He may provide the key vote.)
In all, the government's argument came across as overly formalistic, especially considering the very high stakes for the plaintiffs. The Court's questions seemed to highlight that.
On the other side, there was some back-and-forth on just how certain government surveillance must be to create a sufficiently likely harm--"certainly impending," or "substantial risk." Chief Justice Roberts pushed for the former (and higher) standard, while Justice Kennedy pointed out that in those cases where we knew the government act was occurring (as here) the standard was the lower "substantial risk." Justice Alito asked whether the plaintiffs might manufacture their own standing (and thus work an end-run around a higher "certainly impending" standard) by alleging current preventative measures as the harm--just as the plaintiffs did here. As to the threat of surveillance and the plaintiffs' precautions against that threat, Chief Justice Roberts wondered whether that wasn't a harm in every case, e.g., in an ordinary criminal case when a criminal defense attorney seeks to get information from his or her client. (The attorney wouldn't use e-mail or phone; he or she would talk in person.) Finally, Justice Scalia asked whether the FISA court didn't serve as a check on Fourth Amendment violations.
If the government's argument was overly formalistic, the plaintiffs' claimed harms might have seemed too vague to some on the Court, especially if the Court adopts the higher "certainly impending" standard for the plaintiffs' claimed future harms.
Arguments today revealed what we already knew about this case: It'll be close. But on balance, the Court seemed to favor standing.
October 24, 2012
Daily Read: Posner at Columbia Law School's Federalist Society Lecture
A "daily read" worth watching: Richard Posner (pictured) presented his lecture "How I Interpret Statutes and the Constitution" via video for Columbia Law Federalist Society's Madison Lecture Series on Judicial Engagement.
Posner speaks about originalism and living constitutionalism, proposing his own "middle-ground theory of interpretation that emphasizes common sense and analytic simplicity."
October 23, 2012
Daily Read: Collins on Toobin on the Court
Here's an especially intriguing sample:
In The Oath you refer to Justice Clarence Thomas [pictured] as a “conservative intellectual path-breaker.” You mention this in the context of some of his First Amendment opinions. Of the 29 First Amendment free expression opinions rendered by the Roberts Court, however, Justice Thomas has authored only two majority opinions, neither of which was path-breaking. (See Reichle v. Howards, 2012 (8-0) and Washington State Grange v. Washington State Rep. Party, 2008 (7-2)).
In what sense, then, do you seem him as a First Amendment “path-breaker”? Which of his separate opinions do you see as point the path to future First Amendment precedents?
One of the many paradoxes of Justice Thomas’s tenure is that he has been influential without writing many important majority opinions. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a Justice who has been in the majority as often as Thomas for as long as Thomas and written so few important majority opinions. (Indeed, here’s an interesting exercise: What’s the most important majority opinion Thomas has written? Beats me.)
Still, I think Thomas’s concurrence in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission and his dissent in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC include themes that are clearly reflected in Justice Kennedy’s decision in Citizens United.
Collins and Toobin also discuss Roberts on affirmative action and the Court's work load. An interesting read!
October 19, 2012
Daily Read: Diane Marie Amann on Justice Stevens as an Orginalist
The labels of constitutional interpretative practice often attached to Justices such as "legal realist" or "originalist" are both useful and problematical. In her essay, John Paul Stevens, Originalist, 106 Northwestern University Law Review 743 (2012), available on ssrn, Professor Diane Marie Amann (pictured), makes an argument that Justice Stevens could just as well be called an originalist as his more usual label of pragmatist.
Amann's essay argues that scholars need to recognize that Stevens "has done battle upon originalism’s own field of combat." She highlights Stevens opinions in the "gun rights" cases of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), the latter of which was rendered the day before Stevens retired after almost thirty-five years as a Justice.
Importantly, she also situates Stevens career within the history of the Court, especially Justices appointed by FDR such as Justice Rutledge, for whom Stevens clerked in 1947.
For anyone teaching, writing, or studying theories of constitutional interpretation, Amman's essay is a must-read.
October 18, 2012
Second Circuit Affirms DOMA Unconstitutional
In a divided opinion issued today, the Second Circuit in Windsor v. United States, affirmed the district judge's conclusion that the defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) section 3 is unconstitutional. Recall that the United States position is being defended by BLAG, Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group, reportedly at a cost to taxpayers of 1.5 million dollars.
Second Circuit Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote the majority opinion that Judge Droney joined. The panel held that Windsor had standing, that the suit was not foreclosed by the Court's 1971 summary dismissal in Baker v. Nelson, that DOMA was subject to intermediate scrutiny and that DOMA failed intermediate scrutiny, as well as that there was no need to certify any questions to New York's highest court.
The Second Circuit rejected the district judge's finding that the appropriate level of scrutiny was rational basis, holding that intermediate scrutiny is correct under the basic Carolene Products factors as articulated in Cleburne. The panel stated:
In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny:
A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.
The panel then applied the classic articulation of intermediate scrutiny, requiring that the "classification must be substantially related to an important government interest." The panel analyzed BLAG's stated interests - - -the “unique federal interests ” (which include maintaining a consistent federal definition of marriage, protecting the fisc, and avoiding “the unknown consequences of a novel redefinition of a foundational social institution”) and the encouragement of “responsible procreation” - - - noting that at oral argument "BLAG’s counsel all but conceded that these reasons for enacting DOMA may not withstand intermediate scrutiny." The panel, however, does evaluate the interests, concluding they are not being substantially served by DOMA.
Dissenting Judge Straub, in a lengthy opinion, contends that DOMA merits only rational basis scrutiny and that it satisfies this low standard.
October 18, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Gender, News, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 17, 2012
DOJ Moves to Dismiss Fast and Furious Suit
Earlier this week the Justice Department filed its motion to dismiss and supporting memorandum in Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder. The motion was expected, and the arguments are not a surprise.
Recall that the Committee brought the case seeking a declaration that the administration's assertion of executive privilege was without merit and that its failure to turn over certain documents to the Committee in its investigation of the "Fast and Furious" program was without justification. The Committee seeks an order requiring the government to turn over these documents.
Recall also that since the Committee filed its suit, the DOJ Inspector General issued its report into the program and testified before Congress on it.
DOJ argues that the court lacks Article III jurisdiction because the case presents a political question and that separation-of-powers principles counsel against the case moving forward. In short, DOJ says that the political branches should work this out. According to the Department, this is especially so with regard to material on internal deliberations regarding the Department's responses to congressional inquiries for substantive material on the program.
DOJ also argued that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that the Committee has no cause of action. It says that the Committee brought the case under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1331, but that given the history of that provision and 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1365, the court lacks jurisdiction. In particular, DOJ argues that Congress enacted 1365, giving the court jurisdiction over Senate subpoena enforcement actions, after Congress was foiled by the old amount-in-controversy in 1331. (Congress asserted no claim for monetary damages in that case.) Congress later removed the amount-in-controversy requirement, but DOJ argues that 1365, with its careful language limiting jurisdiction to cases brought by the Senate (not the House), trumps. (Otherwise 1365 would be a nullity.) If so, the court lacks jurisdiction over the House Committee's suit. Morever, DOJ says that the Committee has no cause of action, because the Declaratory Judgment Act contains no independent cause of action (contrary to the D.C. District court's own relatively recent prior ruling in Miers) and because the Constitution grants no independent cause of action.
Now we wait for the Committee's response.
October 17, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Daily Read: Sunstein on Judges on Regulations (on the Election)
However fundamental, the debate over the Constitution misses a problem that may well be even more important in American life. Many of the most significant judicial decisions do not involve the Constitution at all. Most people never hear about those decisions. But they determine the fate of countless regulations, issued by federal agencies, that are indispensable to implementing important laws—including those designed to reform the health care system, promote financial stability, protect consumers, ensure clean air and water, protect civil rights, keep the food supply safe, reduce deaths from tobacco, promote energy efficiency, maintain safe workplaces, and much more.
He proposes the following "simple way to test whether political convictions matter in legal disputes over regulations":
Ask just two questions. (1) Is the regulation being challenged by industry or instead by a public interest group? (2) How many of the three judges were appointed by a Republican president and how many by a Democratic president?
Though writing from a particular partisan viewpoint - - - Sunstein was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012 - - - his argument is certainly worth a read, and worth trying to refute with counter-examples.
October 16, 2012
D.C. Circuit Vacates Hamdan's Conviction for "Material Support for Terrorism"
A unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today in Hamdan v. U.S. reversed the judgment of the Court of Military Commission Review and directed that Salim Ahmed Hamdan's conviction for "material support for terrorism" be vacated. The ruling clears Hamdan, who already served time (66 months minus credit for time already served at Guantanamo) and has been released, of this conviction.
Hamdan here is the same Hamdan who successfully challenged the government's authority to try him by military commission in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. After Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and expanded the list of crimes for which a person could be tried by military commission, the government re-charged Hamdan with conspiracy and material support for terrorism. Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy, but convicted of five specifications of material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to 66 months, but credited for served for most of that sentence, and released in Yemen in 2008.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that Hamdan's case was not moot (even though he already served time and was released in 2008 in Yemen) and that the MCA, which specifically made "material support for terrorism" a crime triable in a military commission, did not apply (in order to avoid ex post facto problems). This left the court to determine whether the government had authority to try Hamdan for "material support for terrorism" under 10 U.S.C. Sec. 821, which authorizes the government to try persons by military commission for violations of the "law of war."
In short, the court ruled that the international law of war at the time did not proscribe "material support for terrorism" and that the government therefore lacked authority to try Hamdan for that crime by military commission. The court wrote that
neither the major conventions on the law of war nor prominent modern international tribunals nor leading international-law experts have identified material support for terrorism as a war crime. Perhaps most telling, before this case, no person has ever been tried by an international-law war crimes tribunal for material support of terrorism.
Op. at 25. The court said that international law leaves "material support for terrorism" to domestic law (even if international law does establish some other forms of terrorism as war crimes), and domestic law didn't outlaw it until the 2006 MCA--after Hamdan's actions.
Judge Ginsburg joined the court's opinion but wrote separately to "explain the unfortunate state of . . . precedent" that saved the case from mootness.
Only Judge Kavanaugh, the author of the court's opinion, joined footnote 6, which explained why Congress had authority to make "material support for terrorism" a war crime, and why it is appropriate to address that question in the first place. Judge Kavanaugh wrote that Congress's war powers are not confined by international law, and therefore even if international law did not define "material support for terrorism" as a war crime, Congress could.
October 16, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Daily Read: Laura Appleman on Oscar Wilde (and Proposition 8)
As the United States Supreme Court continues to hold in abeyance its decision on whether to grant certiorari in the cases challenging the constitutionality of prohibitions on same-sex marriage in Proposition 8 or DOMA, and many mark the 158th birthday of Oscar Wilde (pictured), Professor Laura Appleman's 2011 article Oscar Wilde's Long Tail: Framing Sexual Identity in the Law, available here, is worth a read.
Appleman argues that Wilde's 1895 trials for sodomy and the 2010 Proposition 8 trial both functioned as a legal stage for "enacting social-cultural anxiety over sexuality." But beyond comparisons, Appleman argues that the Wilde trials constructed certain narratives about sexuality that the Court has been unwilling to confront in its sexuality decisions, including in Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas. The same-sex marriage decisions by state courts likewise participate in these narrative constructs. Although, as her article states in its last sentence, how the courts continue down these paths is "a story yet untold."
[image of Oscar Wilde, circa 1882 via]
October 15, 2012
Developments in Montana Campaign Contribution Case
Recall that District Judge Charles C. Lovell (Montana) ruled earlier this month in Lair v. Murry that Montana's low campaign contribution limits for individuals and political parties violated the First Amendment and permanently enjoined the state from enforcing those limits. Judge Lovell wrote that he'd issue more detailed findings and conclusions soon. (He did; see below.)
But late last week, before Judge Lovell issued his follow-up, the Ninth Circuit issued a temporary stay of Judge Lovell's ruling, putting the limits back into place pending further action by the Ninth Circuit. The three-judge panel wrote that Judge Lovell's original ruling contained no findings and conclusions, and thus "the court is severely constrained in its consideration of the underlying issues raised in the emergency motion [for a temporary stay], including whether, in light of Randall v. Sorrell . . . our decision in Montana Right to Life Ass'n v. Eddleman . . . must be revisited."
A little background. The Ninth Circuit previously upheld Montana's low limits against a First Amendment challenge in Montana Right to Life Ass'n in 2003. The Ninth Circuit in Montana Right to Life Ass'n relied on the Supreme Court's Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC (2000), which rejected a claimed constitutional minimum on campaign contributions and instead said the test was whether Missouri's contribution limit was so low as to impede the ability of the candidates to amass the resources necessary for effective advocacy. But since 2003, the Supreme Court overturned Vermont's ultra-low contribution limits in Randall v. Sorrell (2006). Thus, the Ninth Circuit panel wondered whether Judge Lovell thought that Randall v. Sorrell abrogated circuit law in Montana Right to Life Ass'n.
The Randall opinion is directly on point here. The Randall decision undeniably paints a new gloss on the law and provides important insight into the lower bound for contribution limits. Randall is intervening law that obviates Montana Right to Life's precedential value, particularly in light of the Randall plurality's expressed suspicion of Montana's contribution limits.
Op. at 28.
The case is now in the Ninth Circuit's court. While its temporary stay is still in effect, the court may revoke it in light of Judge Lovell's findings, or it may not. Whatever the court does with its temporary stay, it looks like the appeal will move forward. The Ninth Circuit established a page for the case here.
October 10, 2012
Congressional Denial of Automatic COLAs for Judges Violates Compensation Clause
The en banc Federal Circuit ruled on Friday in Beer v. U.S. that congressional denial of automatic and determinate cost-of-living-adjustments to the salaries of federal judges violated the Compensation Clause in Article III. The ruling sends the case back to the Court of Federal Claims and almost surely means that federal judges will receive retroactive COLAs, unless the case is overturned on appeal (to the Supreme Court). It means that Congress can't go back on automatic and definite COLA increases for judges--or any other future salary adjustments that are sufficiently determinate to set judges' expectations--even if it can go back on future year COLA increases if they are sufficiently squishy.
The case involved a 1989 congressional act that set an automatic and determinate formula--a "mechanical" formula, according to the court--for COLAs for federal judges. (Under the prior law, enacted in 1975, judges' COLAs were pegged to the President's report to Congress on General Schedule federal employee COLAs, which, in turn, was set based on annual reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Advisory Committee on Federal Pay. The 1975 law, then, set no definite formula for future COLAs; instead, COLAs could vary year-to-year based on the BLS and Advisory Committee reports and based on the President's report to Congress.) Despite the automatic formula in the 1989 act, Congress denied COLAs in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1999. Judges sued, arguing that these denials violated the Compensation Clause.
The Compensation Clause says that federal judicial "Compensation . . . shall not be diminished during [judges'] Continuance in Office." But the framers deliberately declined to tie judicial salaries to commodities or other standards of measurement (to establish an early kind of COLA), and the Clause does not require periodic increases in judicial salaries to offset inflation or other economic factors. Indeed, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Will (1980) that congressional acts declining to extend COLAs under the 1975 law did not violate the Compensation Clause. (The Court in Will said that Congress could go back on future year COLAs, but not on current year COLAs, under the 1975 law, because "a salary increase 'vests' . . . only when it takes effect as part of the compensation due and payable to Article III judges"--in the current year.)
The difference here, said the court, is that the 1989 law, with its automatic and determinate formula, set judges' salary expectations, which then became part of their "Compensation" for Compensation Clause purposes. The court explained:
In essence, the statutes reviewed in Will required judicial divination to predict a COLA and prevented the creation of firm expectations that judges would in fact receive any inflation-compensating adjustment. In that context, as the Supreme Court noted, no adjustment vested until formally enacted and received. However, the statutes in Williams and in this case provide COLAs according to a mechanical, automatic process that creates expectation and reliance when read in light of the Compensation Clause. Indeed a prospective judicial nominee in 1989 might well have decided to forego a lucrative legal career, based, in part, on the promise that the new adjustment scheme would preserve the real value of judicial compensation.
Op. at 13.
Moreover, the automatic formula in the 1989 act was part of a legislative quid pro quo that included limits on judges' outside income, effectively limiting their income. Thus, "the statute ensured that real judicial salary would not be reduced in the fact of the elimination of outside income and the operation of inflation." Op. at 15.
In ruling that congressional denials of COLAs violated the Compensation Clause, the court overturned its own precedent, Williams v. United States, which held that denials of COLAs under the 1989 law did not violate the Compensation Clause.
October 09, 2012
Daily Read: Bowden on Obama on binLaden's Possible Article III Trial
in the unlikely event that bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw an opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial, which Attorney General Eric Holder had planned for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This time, the president tells Bowden, he was prepared to bring bin Laden back and put him on trial in a federal court. “We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantánamo, and to not try him, and Article III.” Obama continues: “I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”
Obama's representations, given in an interview with Bowden, present an interesting - - - and perhaps unlikely - - - counterfactual. Over at Lawfare, Wells Bennett observes that "it seems a safe bet that congressional resistance to a civilian prosecution would have been extreme, at least as heated as the resistance to the civilian prosecution of the 9/11 co-conspirators."
October 9, 2012 in Books, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack