Thursday, January 15, 2015
Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit's opinion today in Flora v. County of Luzerne held that a public defender's complaint contained sufficient allegations to proceed with a First Amendment retaliation claim.
The unanimous panel held that the United States Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Lane v. Franks "clarified that '[t]he critical question under Garcetti [v. Ceballos] is whether the speech at issue is itself ordinarily within the scope of an employee’s duties, not whether it merely concerns those duties.” While the Third Circuit noted that the district judge did not have the "benefit of Lane" when it rendered its decision, it stated that "Garcetti alone should have steered it away from applying" the standard it did, a “related to” employment standard.
So what did Chief Public Defender Flora do that he alleges was protected by the First Amendment? First, after many unsuccessful attempts to procure what he saw as inadequate funding for indigent defense, he eventually initiated a class action lawsuit for the benefit of indigent criminal defendants in state court, and interestingly simultaneously sought relief in federal court from being terminated for this action. Second, the county's notorious "Kids for Cash" scandal had resulted in a 2009 order by the state supreme court of vacatur and expungement of thousands of delinquency adjudications and consent decrees, but in 2013 Flora learned that over 3,000 expungements had not yet occurred. He "brought that failure to the attention of the County, the District Attorney for the County, the Administrator of the Court of Common Pleas, the public interest law firm that represented the juveniles in the expungement proceedings, and Judge Grim," who had been the special master in the case.
Both the lawsuit and the reporting of the failure to expunge were obviously "related to" Flora's position as a public defender. But the Third Circuit rejected the "related to" standard in favor of the "ordinary duties" standard. In this light, its interesting that the court highlights Flora's allegations that
his obligations as an attorney, rather than as the Chief Public Defender, compelled him to make the statements at issue. [And that] the funding crisis and the expungement issue as extraordinary circumstances impelling him to extraordinary speech.
The Third Circuit concludes:
A straightforward application of Lane leads us to conclude that, given those allegations, Flora’s speech with respect to both the funding litigation and the expungement problems was not part of his ordinary responsibilities – it was not part of the work he was paid to perform on an ordinary basis. . . Flora’s ordinary job duties did not include the public reporting of lingering effects from government corruption or the filing of a class action suit to compel adequate funding for his office. Rather, he represented indigent clients in criminal court and in related proceedings . . . .To view it otherwise would unduly restrict First Amendment rights, because reporting malfeasance or misfeasance will regularly benefit an employee in the execution of his job duties by, presumably, removing impediments to proper government functioning.
The Third Circuit's opinion is another example of courts retreating from the broad brush of Garcetti and providing First Amendment protections for "whistleblowers," including attorneys who take action based on their ethical obligations.
On Tuesday, January 20, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the closely-watched case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar involving a First Amendment challenge to a state rule prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign contributions in a judicial election. Our discussion of the grant of certiorari is here.
Vanderbilt Law Review has published its "Roundtable" symposium about the pending case. It includes:
The Absent Amicus: “With Friends Like These . . .”
Robert M. O’Neil · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 1 (2015).
Public Interest Lawyering & Judicial Politics: Four Cases Worth a Second Look in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Ruthann Robson · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 15 (2015).
Much Ado About Nothing: The Irrelevance of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar on the Conduct of Judicial Elections
Chris W. Bonneau & Shane M. Redman · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 31 (2015).
Williams-Yulee and the Inherent Value of Incremental Gains in Judicial Impartiality
David W. Earley & Matthew J. Menendez · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 43 (2015).
Judicial Elections, Judicial Impartiality and Legitimate Judicial Lawmaking: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Stephen J. Ware · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 59 (2015).
The Jekyll and Hyde of First Amendment Limits on the Regulation of Judicial Campaign Speech
Charles Gardner Geyh · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 83 (2015).
What Do Judges Do All Day? In Defense of Florida’s Flat Ban on the Personal Solicitation of Campaign Contributions From Attorneys by Candidates for Judicial Office
Burt Neuborne · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 99 (2015).
Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the First Amendment, and the Continuing Campaign to Delegitimize Judicial Elections
Michael E. DeBow & Brannon P. Denning · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 113 (2015).
January 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Scholarship, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 12, 2015
In her opinion in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, Judge Karen Schreier of the District of South Dakota found that the state's statute and constitutional amendment limiting marriage and quasi-marital recognition to "a man and a woman" was unconstitutional.
Judge Schreier's 28 page opinion is well-crafted, succinct yet comprehensive. It largely rests on marriage as a fundamental right under the due process clause:
Pertinent decisions from the Supreme Court are clear and consistent that the right to marriage is a fundamental right. The Supreme Court has also refused to describe the right to marriage by reference to the individuals wishing to exercise that right. In keeping with the decisions of most of the federal courts that have addressed this issue, this court agrees with plaintiffs that the question in this case is whether same-sex couples, like opposite-sex couples, may marry. Thus, the right at stake is not a new right to same-sex marriage, as defendants contend. Instead, the substantive due process right is the right to marry, which right is fundamental. South Dakota’s marriage laws significantly interfere with this fundamental right by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Because strict scrutiny applies to analyze deprivations of fundamental rights claims, the court will apply strict scrutiny here.
In applying strict scrutiny, Judge Schreier rejected South Dakota’s justifications - - - channeling procreation into marriage and proceeding with caution - - - as compelling, noting that the state seemingly conceded the failure to rise to this level. As to the caution interest, the judge remarked that if "accepted as a compelling state interest, this justification would support every existing law." Moreover, the denial of same-sex marriage was not narrowly tailored to serve these interests.
In a very brief paragraph, Judge Schreier addressed the equal protection claim, essentially bootstrapping it to the due process claim: "For reasons stated with respect to plaintiffs’ due process claim, South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex citizens of a fundamental right, and that classification is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Thus, South Dakota’s same-sex marriage."
Judge Schreier did issue a stay, however, writing that although the ongoing denial of a constitutional right is an irreparable injury, the lack of an opinion by the Eighth Circuit means that the decision "presents novel and substantial legal questions" warranting a stay.
Yet the legal questions may be growing less and less novel, even if still subject to a circuit split and still awaiting United States Supreme Court review.
The Court heard oral arguments today in Reed v. Town of Gilbert regarding a First Amendment challenge to the town's extensive regulation regarding signage. The town generally requires a permit to erect a sign, with nineteen different exemptions including “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to Qualifying Event.” The exemption for these temporary directional signs further specifies that such signs "shall be no greater than 6 feet in height and 6 square feet in area,”and “shall only be displayed up to 12 hours before, during and 1 hour after the qualifying event ends.”
Although the challenge involves a church sign, this was largely irrelevant. Instead the content at issue is the sign’s directional nature, if indeed "directions" is a matter of content. In a divided opinion the Ninth Circuit upheld the town regulation as content neutral. Today's oral argument seemed inclined toward a contrary opinion.
In part, the problem seemed to be the city's protection of political speech over other types of speech. As Justice Scalia asked "is there no First Amendment right to give somebody directions?" This question seemed to undercut the categorical approach, for as Justice Kagan asked earlier in the argument to counsel for Reed,
Can I ask about the category for political signs, which is the most favorable? Because all the time this Court says that political speech is the most valued kind of speech. It's at the heart of the First Amendment. It gets special First Amendment protection. So in a way, why aren't isn't isn't the locality here basically adopting the same kind of category based understanding of political speech and its special rule and First Amendment analysis that this Court has very frequently articulated?
Importantly, the directional content is relevant only for temporary signs. This of course raises the question of what is a temporary sign and how can one discern that without looking at the sign’s content. At one point Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the distinction might be whether the sign is stuck in the ground with a little stake or whether it's in concrete, but quickly said that doesn't help the city's legitimate concerns. Yet the city's concerns over aesthetics and safety never seemed adequately connected to regulating directional signs more severely than election signs. Later, Justice Scalia asked whether there was a difference between the function of a sign and the content of the sign and whether function doesn't depend upon content.
Much of the doctrinal discussion was whether the standard of review should be strict scrutiny or intermediate scrutiny. The assistant to the Solicitor General argued that the correct standard with intermediate scrutiny under which the ordinance would be unconstitutional.
Interestingly Justice Ginsburg sought to distinguish intermediate scrutiny in the context of the First Amendment from the context of equal protection in which "intermediate scrutiny is a pretty tough standard." One can presume she was referencing her own opinion for the Court in United States v. Virginia, the VMI case.
As anticipated the justices posed several hypos. Probably the most trenchant of these was "Happy Birthday, Uncle Fred." Especially as compared to "Birthplace of James Madison" given that both signs could "be up for the same length of time, same size" as Justice Kennedy stated.
If today's argument is any indication - - - always a risky proposition - - - the regulations are likely to be declared unconstitutional. It may be that such an application will have what counsel for the town called an "opposite effect" : it "will limit speech because towns, cities will enact one size fits all" and governments "would be inclined to ban all signs except those that the First Amendment absolutely allows." Justice Alito, in reply, essentially shrugged: "You can make that argument in all kinds of contexts. I don't know where it gets you."
Saturday, January 10, 2015
The Ninth Circuit, over a dissent of three judges, has denied the petitions for en banc review of Latta v. Otter (and Sevick v. Sandoval) in which a panel held that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada respectively are unconstitutional.
Recall that the unanimous panel opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt held that the Idaho and Nevada laws regarding same-sex marriage "violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard" of SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs.
The Ninth Circuit's panel opinion was rendered one day after the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari to the petitions in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit cases with similar holdings. However, since then, the Sixth Circuit rendered a divided panel decision in DeBoer v. Snyder reversing lower courts and upholding the same-sex marriage bans in in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Judge O'Scannlain's dissent from the denial of en banc review - - - joined by Judges Rawlinson and Bea - - - relies in part on the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder and the circuit split it created. Like the Sixth Circuit, O'Scannlain argues that the operative precedent is Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." And like the Sixth Circuit, the dissent distinguishes Windsor v. United States as limited to the federal government.
The major argument of the dissent, however, is that the question of same-sex marriage is not only one for the states, it is decidedly not one for the federal courts interpreting the constitution: "Nothing about the issue of same-sex marriage exempts it from the general principle that it is the right of the people to decide for themselves important issues of social policy."
This judicial restraint v. judicial activism debate is well-worn territory. And like other judges, O'Scannlain is not a consistent adherent to one side or the other: Recall his dissent from en banc review in Pickup v. Brown, in which the panel upheld a California statute banning sexual conversion therapy against a constitutional challenge. But O'Scannlain does interestingly write:
As Justice Kennedy wrote in Schuette, ‘‘It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds . . . . Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.”
Thus, O'Scannlain implicitly points to Kennedy's inconsistency regarding the desirability of resort to democratic processes and judicial restraint in the affirmative action case of Schuette as compared to his opinion in Romer v. Evans (on Colorado's Amendment 2), as well as Windsor and Lawrence v. Texas, and presumably Kennedy's opinion should the same-sex controversy reach the United States Supreme Court.
The Court itself is currently entertaining several petitions for certiorari on the same-sex marriage issue, including the Sixth Circuit opinion.
Meanwhile, the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments (January 9) on appeals in Robicheaux v. Caldwell (in which a federal judge upheld Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban); DeLeon v. Perry (preliminary injunction against Texas' same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional); and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, (preliminary injunction against Mississippi's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional). The oral arguments are available on the Fifth Circuit's website.
January 10, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Judge Irene Berger of the Southern District of West Virginia issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order clarifying and amending but essentially reaffirming her extensive "gag" order in United States v. Blankenship, the criminal prosecution (which some say is unprecedented) of CEO Don Blankenship (pictured below) of Massey Energy for his alleged responsibility for the the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Recall Blankenship as the outsized contributor to the campaign of Brent Benjamin for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; as a Justice Benjamin ruled in a case involving Massey Coal. The 2009 sharply divided Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal held that the failure of Benjamin to recuse himself violated due process. The case is the subject of the book The Price of Justice.
To say that Blankenship is controversial - - - given the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and Caperton with its underlying facts - - - is probably an understatement. And Judge Berger has a difficult task attempting to protect Blankenship's rights to an impartial jury and fair trial. But do Judge Berger's orders go too far?
The objections to Berger's original orders were filed as a motion to intervene by the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Charleston Gazette, National Public Radio, Inc., and the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Inc.. Judge Berger allowed the intervention for the limited purpose of challenging the previous orders and found that the press organizations had constitutional standing.
Judge Berger's analysis centered on the classic First Amendment/Sixth Amendment conflict cases of Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966) and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976). From these cases, Judge Berger noted she has
the discretion and, more importantly, the duty to take specific, reasonable steps to guard against prejudice at the outset where it has knowledge, given prior publicity, that continued publicity, regarding the facts underlying the indictment, is likely to taint prospective jurors. Courts do not exist or operate in a vacuum. In the Southern District of West Virginia, we live in coal country. Many of our families depend on coal mining for their livelihood. Many families and communities within the Southern District of this state were impacted by the deaths of the miners in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion referenced in the indictment. Interest in this case is, understandably, heightened by that loss of life. In short, the environment matters.
Judge Berger stressed that the court's order "is not directed toward the press." Instead, it limits the "parties" from communicating with press (and "only limits the subject matter") and keeps documents filed in the court case sealed.
Yet three questions remain about the orders.
First, the breadth of the "gag" order was challenged. In addition to the parties, attorneys, and court personnel it includes
potential witnesses, including actual and alleged victims, investigators, family members of actual and alleged victims as well as of the Defendant.
In a footnote, Judge Berger explained the inclusion of "family members":
the order applies only to those who may appear during some stage of the proceedings as parties or as witnesses. Even if not direct witnesses to the alleged offenses, victims and their family members may be witnesses at sentencing or potential beneficiaries of restitution, should the case reach that posture. As such, they are “trial participants.”
Later, she states that allowing " a potential trial participant to speak through his or her family member would eviscerate the protective measures, and is further evidence of the need for the inclusive order."
Yet "family" here could potentially be quite broad, especially in the context of rural West Virginia.
Second, Judge Berger relied on the fact that the docket was available, although not the underlying documents being referenced. Nevertheless, the new (Amended) Order released many documents, based on a principle that
any documents that do not contain information or argument related to the facts and substance of the underlying case do not fall within the purview of the [original] order, and should be publicly accessible.
Yet the standard does seem murky, and of course the press will have a difficult time objecting to the non-release of pleadings or other documents.
Third and last, Judge Berger's rejection of change of venue (as well as voir dire) as lesser restrictions of the First Amendment rights of the press (and public) as "not feasible options at this time" is interesting. Berger outlines the preference for an accused to be tried in the district in which the crime is alleged to have been committed. She writes that transfer of venue "takes place after pretrial publicity has tainted the jury pool such that a jury cannot be seated within the district." Thus, she essentially elevates the "right" to be tried in the alleged-crime's district over both the First and Sixth Amendment rights.
Judge Berger has crafted a delicate balance which will most likely need continuing calibration. Her task to prevent a "Roman holiday" for the media (as the Court said in Sheppard) is not only operative during the pre-trial publicity stage but will undoubtedly be pronounced during the trial itself.
January 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Ron Collins has a moving and instructive obituary for Al Bendich, who as a new lawyer represented Lawrence Ferlinghetti against obscenity charges for publishing Allen Ginsburg's now-classic HOWL and later representing well-known comedian Lenny Bruce against similar charges.
Collins is adamant about recalling the lawyers in First Amendment cases - - - and not merely the judges - - - and the career of Bendich is a reminder of the importance of litigators.
UPDATE: The New York Times Obituary of January 13, 2015, with quotes from Collins as well as others is here.
Monday, January 5, 2015
The actions - - - or inaction - - - of the grand jury that did not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown has prompted much controversy, including protests. At the heart of this controversy is not only the actual facts of the incident, but the conduct of the grand jury by the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch. McCulloch took the unusual step of providing a detailed statement about the grand jury proceedings to the press and of filing a motion in court for public disclosure of materials considered by the grand jury.
Both of those documents - - - McCulloch's statement to the press and his memorandum in support of the motion for disclosure - - - are appendices in a complaint filed today in the Eastern District of Missouri, by the ACLU of Missouri, Grand Juror Doe v. Robert McCulloch.
Grand Juror Doe, who served on the grand jury, argues that the Missouri statutes prohibiting grand jurors from discussing the proceedings are an infringement of the First Amendment as applied in this situation. A copy of these statutes, Mo. Stat. §540.080 (Oath of Jurors); Mo. Stat. §540.320 (Grand juror not to disclose evidence-penalty); and Mo. Stat. §540.310 (Cannot be compelled to disclose vote), were given to the grand jurors at "the conclusion of their service," according to paragraph 28 of the complaint. But because the prosecutor has released evidence and made statements, as well as because of the legislative resolution to submit for voter referendum a repeal of the Missouri state constitutional provision providing for grand juries, Doe argues that s/he is being chilled from expressing opinions about matters of public concern and engaging in political speech.
The factual allegations in the complaint do provide a window on the content and viewpoint of Doe's expression. Doe alleges that the conduct of the grand jury investigation of Darren Wilson "differed markedly" from other cases presented to the grand jury, and even more provocatively, that McCulloch's statement to the press and release of records do not comport with Doe's own opinions of the process.
This request for a permanent injunction against enforcing any of the challenged Missouri statutes against Doe should s/he speak about the grand jury proceedings against Wilson is supported by basic First Amendment considerations and basic notions of fairness. The root problem here is not grand jury secrecy, but the lifting of that veil of secrecy for one party and perspective only. As Justice Scalia stated in the context of vindicating First Amendment rights in RAV v. City of St. Paul, this would be akin to "authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquis of Queensberry rules."
Thursday, December 18, 2014
The Second Circuit has granted full court review in Garcia v. Does, a panel decision which allowed plaintiffs' complaint arising from their arrests for participating in a demonstration in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The panel, affirming the district judge, denied the motion to dismiss of the defendants/appellants, holding that on the current record it could not
resolve at this early stage the ultimately factual issue of whether certain defendants implicitly invited the demonstrators to walk onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, which would otherwise have been prohibited by New York law.
The unidentified Doe officers argued that video evidence warrants a dismissal. The First Amendment issue of "fair warning" to revoke permission to protest is at issue in the case - - - which would seemingly require more than (incomplete) video evidence. Yet the issue of qualified immunity is seemingly argued as overshadowing the incomplete evidence.
Judge Debra Ann Livingston's lengthy dissent from the opinion by Judges Calabresi and Lynch argues that the panel majority "failed to afford the NYPD officers policing the “Occupy Wall Street” march the basic protection that qualified immunity promises – namely, that police officers will not be called to endure the effort and expense of discovery, trial, and possible liability for making reasonable judgments in the exercise of their duties."
Judge Livingston's views most likely attracted other judges. Now the "in banc" court (as the spelling is used in the Second Circuit) will hear the case, including Senior Judge Calabresi because he was on the panel.
Friday, December 12, 2014
With the publication of the more than 500 page "Executive Summary" of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program (searchable document here), the subject of torture is dominating many public discussions.
A few items worth a look (or second look):
In French, Justice Scalia's interview with Le Journal du matin de la RTS (videos and report) published today. One need only be marginally fluent in French to understand the headline: "La torture pas anticonstitutionnelle", dit le doyen de la Cour suprême US. (h/t Prof Darren Rosenblum).
The French report will not surprise anyone familiar with Justice Scalia's discussion of torture from the 2008 "60 Minutes" interview discussed and excerpted here.
And while Justice Scalia contended that defining torture is going to be a "nice trick," LawProf David Luban's 2014 book Torture, Power, and Law offers very explicit definitions, even as it argues that these definitions can erode as torture becomes "normalized," seemingly giving credence to Scalia's point.
December 12, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Interpretation, News, Scholarship, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 8, 2014
Check out The Echo Chamber: A Small Group of Lawyers and its Outsized Influence at the U.S. Supreme Court, a penetrating study of the influence that an elite band of attorneys exerts on the cases the Court takes up, and how it decides them. Echo Chamber is a special report by Reuters, in three parts, penned by Joan Biskupic, Janet Roberts, and John Shiffman.
The upshot: A small group of attorneys, just 66 of them, exert a tremendous influence over the cases the Court hears, with a decidedly pro-business tilt.
According to the authors, public interest lawyers may exert an influence, too--but by not filing, so as to avoid a binding ruling against them by a conservative-leaning Court. "[P]ublic interest lawyers effectively influence the court's agenda, too. They do so by declining to draft petitions for some kinds of civil rights and consumer cases. Their rationale: They do not want the Supreme Court to revisit decades-old decisions that tend to favor the liberal agenda."
The authors examined cert. petitions, and the attorneys who filed them, over a nine-year period to identify the 66 lawyers and 31 law firms that were "most active and successful before the court."
The Reuters examination of the Supreme Court's docket, the most comprehensive ever, suggests that the justices essentially have added a new criterion to whether the court takes an appeal--one that goes beyond the merits of a case and extends to the merits of the lawyer who is bringing it.
The results: a decided advantage for corporate America, and a growing insularity at the court. Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber--a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Eleventh Circuit Finalizes Rejection of Constitutionality of Florida Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients
In its 54 page opinion today in Lebron v. Sec't Florida Dep't of Children & Families, a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit held that Florida Statute §414.0652 requiring drug testing of all persons who receive public benefits is unconstitutional.
Recall that a previous panel (of three different judges) had affirmed a district judge's grant of a preliminary injunction against the statute. The district judge then entered a permanent injunction and this appeal followed.
Today's opinion holds that the statute violates the Fourth Amendment because Florida "failed to meet its burden of establishing a substantial special need to drug test all TANF applicants without any suspicion." Importantly, the court also held that
the State cannot circumvent constitutional concerns by requiring that applicants consent to a drug test to receive TANF payments. When a government benefit is conditioned on suspicionless drug testing, the voluntariness of the program is properly viewed as a factor baked into the special needs reasonableness analysis, not as an exception to it.
The court rejected Florida's reliance "on unconstitutional conditions cases that arose in different contexts," such as Rust v. Sullivan, stating that "the consent inquiry is included within the special needs analysis" in the Fourth Amendment context.
The court concludes:
the State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis. We respect the State’s overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that § 414.0652 crosses the constitutional line.
While Florida and its governor have been adamant in defending the constitutionality of mandatory drug-testing, the federal courts have been just as adamant that such drug-testing is unconstitutional. But perhaps Florida will seek certiorari and a chance to validate this policy.
In August Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida found in Brenner v. Scott that Florida's same-sex marriage bans in the constitution as Article I §27 and Florida Statutes §741.04(1) violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
Today, an Eleventh Circuit panel consisting of Judges Frank Hull, Charles Wilson, and Aldaberto Jordon in a brief Order in Brenner v. Armstrong granted expedited treatment of a motion to extend the stay of the preliminary injunction, but denied the motion.
The Order concluded:
The stay of preliminary injunctions entered by the District Court expires at the end of the day on January 5, 2015.
Thus, unless there is en banc review or a United States Supreme Court stay, same-sex marriages will begin in Florida in first days of the new year.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Montana District Judge Follows Ninth Circuit: Declares State's Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
In his 18 page Order in Rolando v. Fox, US District Judge Brian Morris enjoined Montana's laws banning same-sex marriage (Article XIII, section 7 of the Montana Constitution, and Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-103 and section 40-1-401) as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The judge essentially found that the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter regarding same-sex marriage - - - inclusive of its decision to adhere to heightened scrutiny in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott - - - was binding. The court rejected the argument that the recent Sixth Circuit opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder changed Ninth Circuit precedent.
The judge, however, did discuss the state's asserted justifications, finding them with without merit and focusing on children. The judge ended by recognizing "that not everyone will celebrate this outcome," but nevertheless that the "time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit": "Today Montana becomes the thirty-fourth state to permit same-sex marriage."
The judge did not stay the injunction.
Friday, November 14, 2014
The D.C. Circuit today upheld HHS accommodations to religious nonprofits that object to complying with contraception requirements under agency regs and the ACA. The ruling aligns with earlier rulings from the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and means that the accommodations stay on the books. (The case is not governed by Hobby Lobby, because the plaintiffs here challenge the accommodation, not the "contraception mandate" itself. Hobby Lobby had no accommodation option.)
The case represents yet another judicial attack against the ACA and its implementation. And this issue may eventually work its way (back) to the Supreme Court. (Notre Dame filed a cert. petition in October, after losing in the Seventh Circuit.)
The case is the latest challenge to HHS regulations that allow religious nonprofits to opt-out of the "contraception mandate" by filing a form with their insurer or a letter with HHS stating their religious objection to providing contraception. (The letter to HHS is the agency's regulatory answer to the Supreme Court's action this summer that enjoined the form and held that a religious nonprofit could instead file a letter with HHS.) Plaintiffs (religious nonprofits) argue that the accommodation itself violates the RFRA (among other things), because the accommodation "triggers" the provision of contraception by third parties.
The D.C. Circuit flatly--and quite thoroughly--rejected this claim. In sum:
We conclude that the challenged regulations do not impose a substantial burden on Plaintiffs' religious exercise under RFRA. All plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they beleive and seek what they want via a letter or two-page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations' compliance with law in the modern administrative state. Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms. The ACA shifts to health insurers and administrators the obligation to pay for and provide contraceptive coverage for insured persons who would otherwise lose it as a result of the religious accommodation.
The court held that the accommodation was merely a de minimis requirement and not a substantial burden--and therefore not subject to RFRA's strict scrutiny. "In sum, both opt-out mechanisms let eligible organizations extricate themselves fully from the burden of providing contraceptive coverage to employees, pay nothing toward such coverage, and have the providers tell the employees that their employers play no role and in no way should be seen to endorse the coverage." The court emphasized that RFRA "does not grant Plaintiffs a religious veto against plan providers' compliance with those regulations, nor the right to enlist the government to effectuate such a religious veto against legally required conduct of third parties."
The court said that even if the accommodation were a substantial burden, the court would uphold it under RFRA's strict scrutiny. That's because "[a] confluence of compelling interests supports maintaining seamless application of contraceptive coverage to insured individuals even as Plaintiffs are excused from providing it." Examples: the benefits of planning for healthy births and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, and the promotion of equal preventive care for women. "The accommodation requires as little as it can from the objectors while still serving the government's compelling interests."
The court also clarified some important aspects of the way the accommodation works. For one, exercising the accommodation doesn't "trigger" anything; instead, it works to take the religious nonprofit entirely out of the contraception-provision business. For another, religious nonprofits' contracts with providers don't authorize or facilitate contraceptive coverage; the federal regs do. Finally, exercising the accommodation doesn't turn a religious nonprofit's plan into a "conduit for contraceptive coverage"; instead, it takes the the religious nonprofit out of the contraceptive business entirely.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Court has issued an Order vacating the temporary stay issued by Justice Sotomayor on Monday of the preliminary injunction of Judge Daniel Crabtree entered last week in Marie v. Moser regarding Kansas' same-sex marriage ban.
As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues.
The Order from the Court notes that "Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas would grant the application for stay," but there is no accompanying opinion.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
In a 26 page opinion today in Condon v. Haley, Judge Richard Mark Gergel held that South Carolina's same-sex marriage bans (by statute and state constitutional amendment) is unconstitutional.
Here is the gravamen of Judge Gergel's opinion:
This Court has carefully reviewed the language of South Carolina's constitutional and statutory ban on same sex marriage and now finds that there is no meaningful distinction between the existing South Carolina provisions and those of Virginia declared unconstitutional in Bostic.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer held that Virginia's same-sex marriage laws should be evaluated by strict scrutiny because marriage is a fundamental right; not surprisingly, the bans did not survive the standard. Recall also that the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Moreover, Judge Gergel rejected the argument that "same-sex couples should not look to the courts to protect their individual rights but to the 'usually reliable state democratic processes' for relief" as the Sixth Circuit's very recent opinion upholding state prohibitions of same-sex marriage declared, by noting that the Fourth Circuit rejected this same argument.
Judge Gergel did, however, dismiss Governor Nikki Haley as a defendant. Judge Gergel noted that "simply being the state's chief executive sworn to uphold the laws is not sufficient" and there is "little evidence to support an argument that Defendant Haley has taken enforcement action or engaged in other affirmative acts to obstruct Plaintiffs' asserted fundamental right to marry. " Judge Gergel specifically distinguished Bowling v. Pence, in which a federal judge reversed a prior order dismissing the Governor of Indiana as a defendant after he took "affirmative action to enforce the statute."
Judge Gergel issued a temporary stay of the injunction until November 20, 2014.
Monday, November 10, 2014
As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues.
As is usual, there is no reasoning supporting the Supreme Court stay. Here's the text of Justice Sotomayor's opinion:
UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,
IT IS ORDERED that the preliminary injunction entered by the United State District Court for the District of Kansas on November 4, 2014, is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Tuesday, November 11, 2014, by 5 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.
Perhaps we can expect another Order from Justice Sotomayor late on Tuesday?
Friday, November 7, 2014
A day after the Sixth Circuit's divided decision upholding same-sex marriage bans in several states, and thus creating a circuit split (with the Supreme Court having denied certiorari to the Seventh, Tenth, and Fourth Circuit opinions holding to the contrary), United States District Judge Ortrie D. Smith of Missouri (and in the Eighth Circuit) has rendered an opinion in Lawson v. Kelly, finding Missouri's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
Judge Smith's 18 page opinion agrees with the Sixth Circuit majority in one respect: The Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor v. United States holding DOMA unconstitutional is not dispositive. However, Judge Smith also states that the Court's 1972 dismissal in Baker v. Nelson is not dispositive.
Judge Smith holds that under Eighth Circuit precedent, sexual orientation "is not a suspect class and that classifications based on sexual orientation are not subject to heightened review of any kind." On that basis, he grants judgments on the pleadings to the defendants.
However, Judge Smith holds that the same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. First, Judge Smith concludes that marriage is a fundamental right under the Due Process Clause, even as he notes that not all regulations of marriage are subject to strict scrutiny. Following Zablocki v. Redhail, however, he applies the "interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry" standard and concludes that the "prohibition must be examined with strict scrutiny, and viewed in that light the restriction fails to satisfy the Due Process Clause’s dictates."
Additionally, Judge Smith analyzes the same-sex marriage ban under the Equal Protection Clause as a classification based on gender:
The restriction on same-sex marriage is a classification based on gender. The State’s “permission to marry” depends on the gender of the would-be participants. The State would permit Jack and Jill to be married but not Jack and John. Why? Because in the latter example, the person Jack wishes to marry is male. The State’s permission to marry depends on the genders of the participants, so the restriction is a gender-based classification.
As Judge Smith avers, "Restrictions based on gender are subject to intermediate scrutiny." He finds the standard is not satisfied:
The State has not carried its burden. Its sole justification for the restriction is the need to create rules that are predictable, consistent, and can be uniformly applied. Assuming this is a valid justification for a restriction, there is no suggestion as to why the gender-based classification is substantially related to that objective. A rule that ignores gender would be just as related to that objective and be just as easy to apply (and arguably would impose less of a burden on the Recorders of Deeds because they would not have to conduct any gender-based inquiry whatsoever). Regardless, administrative convenience is not a valid reason to differentiate between men and women.
Judge Smith therefore concluded that "section 451.022 of the Revised Missouri Statutes and Article I, section 33 of the Missouri Constitution, and any other provision of state law that precludes people from marrying solely because they are of the same gender violates the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment" and enjoined state officials from declining to issue same-sex marriage licenses although the Judge stayed the "effects of the judgment" until the judgment is final.
November 7, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)