Thursday, January 21, 2016

No Damages for Enforcing State Residency Requirement for Petition Circulators

Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in Citizens in Charge v. Husted that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted enjoyed qualified immunity against a damages claim that arose out of his enforcement of Ohio's law that prohibits out-of-staters from circulating petitions within the state to propose new legislation and constitutional amendments.

The court granted immunity because it said that Ohio's law didn't clearly violate the Constitution. In support, it pointed to a circuit split on the question whether a state law that requires in-state residency to circulate a petition violates the First Amendment.

In so ruling, the court came close to saying that an official's enforcement of a state statute is per se reasonable, if no court has (yet) ruled the law unconstitutional--a result that puts a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of qualified immunity (and against plaintiffs who seek to recover damages for constitutional torts). The outer boundary is only when a law is "grossly and flagrantly unconstitutional." (The court gave as one example separate-but-equal racial discrimination.) The court explained:

So far as the parties' research has revealed and so far as our own research has uncovered, the Supreme Court has never denied qualified immunity to a public official who enforced a properly enacted statute that no court had invalidated. This indeed would seem to be the paradigmatic way of showing objectively reasonable conduct by a public official.

. . .

Any other approach would place risky pressures on public officials to second-guess legislative decisions. When faced with a statute of questionable validity, executive actors would find themselves forced to choose between applying the law (and subjecting themselves to monetary liability) or declining to do so (and subjecting themselves to a mandamus lawsuit). When personal liability is added to the mix, one could well imagine the balance tipping toward non-enforcement in close cases, all the while sacrificing the legislature's considered judgments about a statute's unconstitutionality. That is not a recipe for good government or for encouraging public officials to act independently.

January 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Court Rebuffs Pick-Off Tactic in Class Action Suits

Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Supreme Court ruled today that a plaintiff's case does not become moot when the plaintiff rejects an offer of settlement for complete relief. The ruling means that a case can go on, even after a plaintiff rejects an offer of complete relief.

The ruling is a huge victory for plaintiffs, especially plaintiffs who might lead a class-action. It's also a sharp rebuke of the defense-side tactic to moot out a case or class action by offering full relief to the lead plaintiff--a tactic known as pick-off. By ruling for the plaintiff, and by rejecting the pick-off tactic, today's ruling is also a victory for access to justice, and stands in contrast to the spate of other Court rulings limiting access and favoring corporate defendants.

The case arose when Jose Gomez received an unwanted Navy recruitment text on his cell phone from Navy contractor Campbell-Ewald. Gomez sued Campbell-Ewald under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Before Gomez could move for class certification, however, the defendant offered complete relief; Gomez rejected the offer; and the defendant moved to dismiss the case as moot.

The Court ruled that the case was not moot. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, wrote that under basic contract principles, Campbell-Ewald's offer, once rejected by Gomez, had no continuing effect. With no settlement offer on the table, the parties retained the adversity necessary for an Article III case or controversy--so the rejected offer didn't render the case moot.

Justice Thomas concurred separately to argue that the result should "rest instead on the common-law history of tenders," not contract principles.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, dissented. The Chief wrote that the rejected settlement offer meant that there was no longer any real dispute in the case:

If there is no actual case or controversy, the lawsuit is moot, and the power of the federal courts to declare the law has come to an end. Here, the District Court found that Campbell agreed to fully satisfy Gomez's claims. That makes the case moot, and Gomez is not entitled to a ruling on the merits of a moot case.

January 20, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2016

En Banc Ninth Circuit Finds "Stolen Valor" Falsely Wearing Medal Provision Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in United States v. Swisher authored by Judge Sandra Ikuta, the en banc Ninth Circuit found that the provision in 18 USC §704(a) that criminalized the unauthorized wearing of any military medal violates the First Amendment.  Swisher was photographed wearing "the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze “V,” and UMC Expeditionary Medal," none of which he ever received.

The Court's opinion occurs in the shadow of the United States Supreme Court's 2012 decision in United States v. Alvarez which held that 18 USC §704(b) - - - prohibiting false statements about military medals - - - violated the First Amendment.  A panel of the Ninth Circuit had previously held in United States v. Perelman that Alvarez was not dispositive regarding §704(a) because wearing the medal was conduct rather than speech, akin to "impersonation" rather than expression.  The en banc opinion in Swisher explicitly overruled Perelman "to the extent inconsistent with this opinion."  

1024px-Purple_Heart_caseThe en banc opinion in Swisher held that while wearing the medal may have been expressive conduct, the government's purpose in regulating that conduct was aimed at regulating the message conveyed by the expressive conduct rather than the conduct itself.  Judge Ikuta's opinion interestingly relied upon the Court's decision last Term in Reed v. Town of Gilbert as "authoritative direction for differentiating between content-neutral and content-based enactments." 

Thus, Judge Ikuta's opinion determined that the lenient standard of United States v. O'Brien for expressive conduct was not the correct analysis and instead the standard as articulated in Alvarez should apply.  But what is the Alvarez standard, given that Justice Kennedy's opinion for a plurality applied an exacting scrutiny standard and Justice Breyer's concurring opinion applied more of an intermediate scrutiny test?  The en banc Ninth Circuit adroitly circumvented the need to decide the United States Supreme Court's holding by beginning with Justice Breyer's "less demanding standard": consideration of the seriousness of the speech related harm the provision will likely cause; evaluating the nature and importance of the provision's countervailing objectives; and the extent to which the provision will tend to achieve those objectives and whether there are other, less restrictive means, of doing so."  The en banc Ninth Circuit found that the criminalizing of inappropriately wearing military medals failed the intermediate Breyer standard and thus would obviously fail the stricter more exacting scrutiny standard of the plurality.

Not surprisingly Judge Bybee, who wrote a vigorous dissent in 2010 when a panel of the Ninth Circuit held the provision in Alvarez unconstitutional, dissented in Swisher, joined by Judges N.R. Smith and Watford.

The practical consequences of the Ninth Circuit's en banc opinion are marginal: the statute has already been amended and Swisher was also convicted on other provisions including fraud.  However, the doctrinal consequences of the opinion include an important demonstration of an application of Alvarez and the even more important holding clarifying that "wearing" is not always mere conduct evaluated at the lowest levels of First Amendment scrutiny.

[image via]

January 15, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Daily Read: The Late Judge Judith Kaye's Dissenting Opinion in New York's Same-Sex Marriage Challenge

In Memoriam:

Former Chief Judge of New York's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, Judith Kaye.

Judith_S.KayeThe New York Times obituary notes the highlights of her amazing career, including her dissenting opinion in Hernandez v. Robles, the New York same-sex marriage case, in 2006.  Today's "Daily Read" reproduces that opinion, notable for its lucid reasoning as well as its excellent analytic structure.  It is in sharp contrast to the majority's opinion which became the subject of derisive comments, including most notably John Mitchell's  terrific send-up Chatting with the Lady in the Grocery Store about Hernandez V. Robles, the New York Same-Sex Marriage Case (available on srrn).


Here is Chief Judge Kaye's opinion in full:


Chief Judge Kaye (dissenting).

Plaintiffs (including petitioners) are 44 same-sex couples who wish to marry. They include a doctor, a police officer, a public school teacher, a nurse, an artist and a state legislator. Ranging in age from under 30 to 68, plaintiffs reflect a diversity of races, religions and ethnicities. They come from upstate and down, from rural, urban and suburban settings. Many have been together in committed relationships for decades, and many are raising children—from toddlers to teenagers. Many are active in their communities, serving on their local school board, for example, or their cooperative apartment building board. In short, plaintiffs represent a cross-section of New Yorkers who want only to live full lives, raise their children, better their communities and be good neighbors.

For most of us, leading a full life includes establishing a family. Indeed, most New Yorkers can look back on, or forward to, their wedding as among the most significant events of their lives. They, like plaintiffs, grew up hoping to find that one person with whom they would share their future, eager to express their mutual lifetime pledge through civil marriage. Solely because of their sexual orientation, however—that is, because of who they love—plaintiffs are denied the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. This State has a proud tradition of affording equal rights to all New Yorkers. Sadly, the Court today retreats from that proud tradition.

  1. Due Process

Under both the state and federal constitutions, the right to due process of law protects certain fundamental liberty interests, including the right to marry. Central to the right to marry is the right to marry the person of one's choice (see e.g. Crosby v State of N.Y., Workers' Compensation Bd., 57 NY2d 305, 312 [1982] ["clearly falling within (the right of privacy) are matters relating to the decision of whom one will marry"]; People v Shepard, 50 NY2d 640, 644 [1980] ["the government has been prevented from interfering with an individual's decision about whom to marry"]). The deprivation of a fundamental right is subject to strict scrutiny and requires that the infringement be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest (see e.g. Carey v Population Services Int'l, 431 US 678, 686 [1977]).

Fundamental rights are those "which are, objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition . . . and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed" (Washington v Glucksberg, 521 US 702, 720-721 [1997] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). Again and again, the Supreme Court and this Court have made clear that the right to marry is fundamental (see e.g. Loving v Virginia, 388 US 1 [1967]; Zablocki v Redhail, 434 US 374 [1978]; Turner v Safley, 482 US 78 [1987]; Matter of Doe v Coughlin, 71 NY2d 48, 52 [1987]; Cooper v Morin, 49 NY2d 69, 80 [1979]; Levin v Yeshiva Univ., 96 NY2d 484, 500 [2001] [G.B. Smith, J., concurring] ["marriage is a fundamental constitutional right"]).

The Court concludes, however, that same-sex marriage is not deeply rooted in tradition, and thus cannot implicate any fundamental liberty. But fundamental rights, once recognized, cannot be denied to particular groups on the ground that these groups have historically been denied those rights. Indeed, in recasting plaintiffs' invocation of their fundamental right to marry as a request for recognition of a "new" right to same-sex marriage, the Court misapprehends the nature of the liberty interest at stake. In Lawrence v Texas (539 US 558 [2003]), the Supreme Court warned against such error.

Lawrence overruled Bowers v Hardwick (478 US 186 [1986]), which had upheld a Georgia statute criminalizing sodomy. In so doing, the Lawrence court criticized Bowers for framing the issue presented too narrowly. Declaring that "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today" (539 US at 578), Lawrence explained that Bowers purported to analyze—erroneously—whether the Constitution conferred a "fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy" (539 US at 566 [citation omitted]). This was, however, the wrong question. The fundamental right at issue, properly framed, was the right to engage in private consensual sexual conduct—a right that applied to both homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. In narrowing the claimed liberty interest to embody the very exclusion being challenged, Bowers "disclose[d] the Court's own failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake" (Lawrence, 539 US at 567).

The same failure is evident here. An asserted liberty interest is not to be characterized so narrowly as to make inevitable the conclusion that the claimed right could not be fundamental because historically it has been denied to those who now seek to exercise it (see Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v Casey, 505 US 833, 847 [1992] [it is "tempting . . . to suppose that the Due Process Clause protects only those practices, defined at the most specific level, that were protected against government interference by other rules of law when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. . . . But such a view would be inconsistent with our law"]).

Notably, the result in Lawrence was not affected by the fact, acknowledged by the Court, that there had been no long history of tolerance for homosexuality. Rather, in holding that "[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for the[ ] purpose[ of making intimate and personal choices], just as heterosexual persons do" (539 US at 574), Lawrence rejected the notion that fundamental rights it had already identified could be restricted based on traditional assumptions about who should be permitted their protection. As the Court noted, "times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom" (Lawrence, 539 US at 579; see also id. at 572 ["(h)istory and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry" (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)]; Cleburne v Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 US 432, 466 [1985] [Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part] ["what once was a 'natural' and 'self-evident' ordering later comes to be seen as an artificial and invidious constraint on human potential and freedom"]).

Simply put, fundamental rights are fundamental rights. They are not defined in terms of who is entitled to exercise them.

Instead, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the fundamental right to marry must be afforded even to those who have previously been excluded from its scope—that is, to those whose exclusion from the right was "deeply rooted."[FN1]Well into the twentieth century, the sheer weight of precedent accepting the constitutionality of bans on interracial marriage was deemed sufficient justification in and of itself to perpetuate these discriminatory laws (see e.g. Jones v Lorenzen, 441 P2d 986, 989{**7 NY3d at 383} [Okla 1965] [upholding antimiscegenation law since the "great weight of authority holds such statutes constitutional"])—much as defendants now contend that same-sex couples should be prohibited from marrying because historically they always have been.

Just 10 years before Loving declared unconstitutional state laws banning marriage between persons of different races, 96% of Americans were opposed to interracial marriage (see brief of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., as amicus curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 5). Sadly, many of the arguments then raised in support of the antimiscegenation laws were identical to those made today in opposition to same-sex marriage (see e.g. Kinney v Commonwealth, 71 Va [30 Gratt] 858, 869 [1878] [marriage between the races is "unnatural" and a violation of God's will]; Pace v State, 69 Ala 231, 232 [1881] ["amalgamation" of the races would produce a "degraded civilization"]; see also Lonas v State, 50 Tenn [3 Heisk] 287, 310 [1871] ["(t)he laws of civilization demand that the races be kept apart"]).

To those who appealed to history as a basis for prohibiting interracial marriage, it was simply inconceivable that the right of interracial couples to marry could be deemed "fundamental." Incredible as it may seem today, during the lifetime of every Judge on this Court, interracial marriage was forbidden in at least a third of American jurisdictions. In 1948, New York was one of only 18 states in the nation that did not have such a ban. By 1967, when Loving was decided, 16 states still outlawed marriages between persons of different races. Nevertheless, even though it was the ban on interracial marriage—not interracial marriage itself—that had a long and shameful national tradition, the Supreme Court determined that interracial couples could not be deprived of their fundamental right to marry. [*21]

Unconstitutional infringements on the right to marry are not limited to impermissible racial restrictions. Inasmuch as the fundamental right to marry is shared by "all the State's citizens" (Loving, 388 US at 12), the State may not, for example, require individuals with child support obligations to obtain court approval before getting married (see Zablocki, 434 US 374 [1978]). Calling Loving the "leading decision of this Court on the right to marry," Justice Marshall made clear in Zablocki that Loving

"could have rested solely on the ground that the{**7 NY3d at 384} statutes discriminated on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. But the Court went on to hold that laws arbitrarily deprived the couple of a fundamental liberty protected by the Due Process Clause, the freedom to marry. . . .

"Although Loving arose in the context of racial discrimination, prior and subsequent decisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals" (434 US at 383-384 [citation omitted]).

Similarly, in Turner (482 US 78 [1987]), the Supreme Court determined that the right to marry was so fundamental that it could not be denied to prison inmates (see also Boddie v Connecticut, 401 US 371 [1971] [state requirement that indigent individuals pay court fees to obtain divorce unconstitutionally burdened fundamental right to marry]).

Under our Constitution, discriminatory views about proper marriage partners can no more prevent same-sex couples from marrying than they could different-race couples. Nor can "deeply rooted" prejudices uphold the infringement of a fundamental right (see People v Onofre, 51 NY2d 476, 490 [1980] ["disapproval by a majority of the populace . . . may not substitute for the required demonstration of a valid basis for intrusion by the State in an area of important personal decision"]). For these reasons, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as amicus, contends that

"[a]lthough the historical experiences in this country of African Americans, on the one hand, and gay men and lesbians, on the other, are in many important ways quite different, the legal questions raised here and in Loving are analogous. The state law at issue here, like the law struck down in Loving, restricts an individual's right to marry the person of his or her choice. We respectfully submit that the decisions below must be reversed if this Court follows the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Loving" (brief of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., as amicus curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 3-4; see also brief of New York County Lawyers' Association and National Black Justice Coalition, as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs [detailing history of antimiscegenation laws and public attitudes toward interracial marriage]).{**7 NY3d at 385}

It is no answer that same-sex couples can be excluded from marriage because "marriage," by definition, does not include them. In the end, "an argument that marriage is heterosexual because it 'just is' amounts to circular reasoning" (Halpern v Attorney Gen. of Can., 65 OR3d 161, 172 OAC 276, ¶ 71 [2003]). "To define the institution of marriage by the characteristics of those to whom it always has been accessible, in order to justify the exclusion of those to whom it never has been accessible, is conclusory and bypasses the core question we are asked to decide" (Goodridge v Department of Pub. Health, 440 Mass 309, 348, 798 NE2d 941, 972-973 [2003] [Greaney, J., concurring]). [*22]

The claim that marriage has always had a single and unalterable meaning is a plain distortion of history. In truth, the common understanding of "marriage" has changed dramatically over the centuries (see brief of Professors of History and Family Law, as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs). Until well into the nineteenth century, for example, marriage was defined by the doctrine of coverture, according to which the wife's legal identity was merged into that of her husband, whose property she became. A married woman, by definition, could not own property and could not enter into contracts.[FN2] Such was the very "meaning" of marriage. Only since the mid-twentieth century has the institution of marriage come to be understood as a relationship between two equal partners, founded upon shared intimacy and mutual financial and emotional support. Indeed, as amici professors note, "The historical record shows that, through adjudication and legislation, all of New York's sex-specific rules for marriage have been invalidated save for the one at issue here."

That restrictions on same-sex marriage are prevalent cannot in itself justify their retention. After all, widespread public opposition to interracial marriage in the years before Loving could not sustain the antimiscegenation laws. "[T]he fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice" (Lawrence, 539 US at 577-578 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see also id. at 571 [fundamental right to engage in private consensual sexual conduct extends to homosexuals, notwithstanding that "for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual{**7 NY3d at 386} conduct as immoral"]). The long duration of a constitutional wrong cannot justify its perpetuation, no matter how strongly tradition or public sentiment might support it.

  1. Equal Protection

By virtue of their being denied entry into civil marriage, plaintiff couples are deprived of a number of statutory benefits and protections extended to married couples under New York law. Unlike married spouses, same-sex partners may be denied hospital visitation of their critically ill life partners. They must spend more of their joint income to obtain equivalent levels of health care coverage. They may, upon the death of their partners, find themselves at risk of losing the family home. The record is replete with examples of the hundreds of ways in which committed same-sex couples and their children are deprived of equal benefits under New York law. Same-sex families are, among other things, denied equal treatment with respect to intestacy, inheritance, tenancy by the entirety, taxes, insurance, health benefits, medical decisionmaking, workers' compensation, the right to sue for wrongful death and spousal privilege. Each of these statutory inequities, as well as the discriminatory exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefits and protections of civil marriage as a whole, violates their constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.

Correctly framed, the question before us is not whether the marriage statutes properly benefit those they are intended to benefit—any discriminatory classification does that—but whether there exists any legitimate basis for excluding those who are not covered by the law. [*23]That the language of the licensing statute does not expressly reference the implicit exclusion of same-sex couples is of no moment (see Domestic Relations Law § 13 ["persons intended to be married" must obtain a marriage license]). The Court has, properly, construed the statutory scheme as prohibiting same-sex marriage. That being so, the statute, in practical effect, becomes identical to—and, for purposes of equal protection analysis, must be analyzed as if it were—one explicitly providing that "civil marriage is hereby established for couples consisting of a man and a woman," or, synonymously, "marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited."

On three independent grounds, this discriminatory classification is subject to heightened scrutiny, a test that defendants concede it cannot pass.{**7 NY3d at 387}

  1. Heightened Scrutiny
  2. Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Homosexuals meet the constitutional definition of a suspect class, that is, a group whose defining characteristic is "so seldom relevant to the achievement of any legitimate state interest that laws grounded in such considerations are deemed to reflect prejudice and antipathy—a view that those in the burdened class are not as worthy or deserving as others" (Cleburne, 473 US at 440). Accordingly, any classification discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest (see e.g. Alevy v Downstate Med. Ctr. of State of N.Y., 39 NY2d 326, 332 [1976]; Matter of Aliessa v Novello, 96 NY2d 418, 431 [2001]).

"No single talisman can define those groups likely to be the target of classifications offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore warranting heightened or strict scrutiny" (Cleburne, 473 US at 472 n 24 [Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part]). Rather, such scrutiny is to be applied when analyzing legislative classifications involving groups who "may well be the target of the sort of prejudiced, thoughtless, or stereotyped action that offends principles of equality found in" the Constitution (id. at 472).

Although no single factor is dispositive, the Supreme Court has generally looked to three criteria in determining whether a group subject to legislative classification must be considered "suspect." First, the Court has considered whether the group has historically been subjected to purposeful discrimination. Homosexuals plainly have been, as the Legislature expressly found when it recently enacted the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), barring discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit and the exercise of civil rights. Specifically, the Legislature found

"that many residents of this state have encountered prejudice on account of their sexual orientation, and that this prejudice has severely limited or actually prevented access to employment, housing and other basic necessities of life, leading to deprivation and suffering. The legislature further recognizes that this prejudice has fostered a general climate of hostility and distrust, leading in some instances to{**7 NY3d at 388} physical violence against those perceived to be homosexual or bisexual" (L 2002, ch 2, § 1; see also brief of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc., et al., as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 22-49 [detailing history of state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians]).


Second, the Court has considered whether the trait used to define the class is unrelated to the ability to perform and participate in society. When the State differentiates among its citizens "on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities" (Massachusetts Bd. of Retirement v Murgia, 427 US 307, 313 [1976]), the legislative classification must be closely scrutinized. Obviously, sexual orientation is irrelevant to one's ability to perform or contribute.

Third, the Court has taken into account the group's relative political powerlessness. Defendants contend that classifications based on sexual orientation should not be afforded heightened scrutiny because, they claim, homosexuals are sufficiently able to achieve protection from discrimination through the political process, as evidenced by the Legislature's passage of SONDA in 2002. SONDA, however, was first introduced in 1971. It failed repeatedly for 31 years, until it was finally enacted just four years ago. Further, during the Senate debate on the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, one Senator noted that "[i]t's no secret that for years we could have passed a hate-crimes bill if we were willing to take out gay people, if we were willing to take out sexual orientation" (New York State Senate Debate on Senate Bill S 4691-A, June 7, 2000, at 4609 [statement of Senator Schneiderman]; accord id. at 4548-4549 [statement of Senator Connor]). The simple fact is that New York has not enacted anything approaching comprehensive statewide domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples, much less marriage or even civil unions.

In any event, the Supreme Court has never suggested that racial or sexual classifications are not (or are no longer) subject to heightened scrutiny because of the passage of even comprehensive civil rights laws (see Cleburne, 473 US at 467 [Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part]). Indeed, sex discrimination was first held to deserve heightened scrutiny in 1973—after passage of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination. Such measures acknowledge—rather {**7 NY3d at 389}than mark the end of—a history of purposeful discrimination (see Frontiero v Richardson, 411 US 677, 687-688 [1973] [citing antidiscrimination legislation to support conclusion that classifications based on sex merit heightened scrutiny]).

Nor is plaintiffs' claim legitimately answered by the argument that the licensing statute does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation since it permits homosexuals to marry persons of the opposite sex and forbids heterosexuals to marry persons of the same sex. The purported "right" of gays and lesbians to enter into marriages with different-sex partners to whom they have no innate attraction cannot possibly cure the constitutional violation actually at issue here. "The right to marry is the right of individuals, not of . . . groups" (Perez v Sharp, 32 Cal 2d 711, 716, 198 P2d 17, 20 [1948]). "Human beings are bereft of worth and dignity by a doctrine that would make them as interchangeable as trains" (32 Cal 2d at 725, 198 P2d at 25). Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples undeniably restricts gays and lesbians from marrying their chosen same-sex partners whom "to [them] may be irreplaceable" (id.)—and thus constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation.[FN3]

[*25]2. Sex Discrimination

The exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage also discriminates on the basis of sex, which provides a further basis for requiring heightened scrutiny. Classifications based on sex must be substantially related to the achievement of important governmental objectives (see e.g. Craig v Boren, 429 US 190, 197 [1976]), and must have an "exceedingly persuasive justification" (Mississippi Univ. for Women v Hogan, 458 US 718, 724 [1982] [citations omitted]).

Under the Domestic Relations Law, a woman who seeks to marry another woman is prevented from doing so on account of her sex—that is, because she is not a man. If she were, she would be given a marriage license to marry that woman. That{**7 NY3d at 390} the statutory scheme applies equally to both sexes does not alter the conclusion that the classification here is based on sex. The "equal application" approach to equal protection analysis was expressly rejected by the Supreme Court in Loving: "[W]e reject the notion that the mere 'equal application' of a statute containing [discriminatory] classifications is enough to remove the classifications from the [constitutional] proscription of all invidious . . . discriminations" (388 US at 8). Instead, the Loving court held that "[t]here can be no question but that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race [where the] statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races" (id. at 11; see also Johnson v California, 543 US 499, 506 [2005]; McLaughlin v Florida, 379 US 184, 191 [1964]; Anderson v Martin, 375 US 399, 403-404 [1964]; Shelley v Kraemer, 334 US 1, 21-22 [1948]; J. E. B. v Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 US 127, 141-142 [1994] [government exercise of peremptory challenges on the basis of gender constitutes impermissible sex discrimination even though based on gender stereotyping of both men and women]).

  1. Fundamental Right

"Equality of treatment and the due process right to demand respect for conduct protected by the substantive guarantee of liberty are linked in important respects, and a decision on the latter point advances both interests" (Lawrence, 539 US at 575). Because, as already discussed, the legislative classification here infringes on the exercise of the fundamental right to marry, the classification cannot be upheld unless it is necessary to the achievement of a compelling state interest (see Onofre, 51 NY2d at 492 n 6; Alevy, 39 NY2d at 332; Eisenstadt v Baird, 405 US 438, 447 n 7 [1972]). "[C]ritical examination of the state interests advanced in support of the classification is required" (Zablocki, 434 US at 383 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). And if "the means selected by the State for achieving" even "legitimate and substantial interests" unnecessarily impinge on the right to marry, the statutory distinction "cannot be sustained" (id. at 388).

  1. Rational-Basis Analysis

Although the classification challenged here should be analyzed using heightened scrutiny, it does not satisfy even rational-basis review, which requires that the classification "rationally further{**7 NY3d at 391} a legitimate state interest" (Affronti v Crosson, 95 NY2d 713, 718 [2001], cert [*26]denied sub nom. Affronti v Lippman, 534 US 826 [2001]). Rational-basis review requires both the existence of a legitimate interest and that the classification rationally advance that interest. Although a number of interests have been proffered in support of the challenged classification at issue, none is rationally furthered by the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Some fail even to meet the threshold test of legitimacy.

Properly analyzed, equal protection requires that it be the legislated distinction that furthers a legitimate state interest, not the discriminatory law itself (see e.g. Cooper, 49 NY2d at 78; Romer v Evans, 517 US 620, 633 [1996]). Were it otherwise, an irrational or invidious exclusion of a particular group would be permitted so long as there was an identifiable group that benefitted from the challenged legislation. In other words, it is not enough that the State have a legitimate interest in recognizing or supporting opposite-sex marriages. The relevant question here is whether there exists a rational basis for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, and, in fact, whether the State's interests in recognizing or supporting opposite-sex marriages are rationally furthered by the exclusion.

  1. Children

Defendants primarily assert an interest in encouraging procreation within marriage. But while encouraging opposite-sex couples to marry before they have children is certainly a legitimate interest of the State, the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from marriage in no way furthers this interest. There are enough marriage licenses to go around for everyone.

Nor does this exclusion rationally further the State's legitimate interest in encouraging heterosexual married couples to procreate. Plainly, the ability or desire to procreate is not a prerequisite for marriage. The elderly are permitted to marry, and many same-sex couples do indeed have children. Thus, the statutory classification here—which prohibits only same-sex couples, and no one else, from marrying—is so grossly underinclusive and overinclusive as to make the asserted rationale in promoting procreation "impossible to credit" (Romer, 517 US at 635).[FN4] Indeed, even the Lawrence dissenters observed that "encouragement of procreation" could not "possibly" be a justification for {**7 NY3d at 392}denying marriage to gay and lesbian couples, "since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry" (539 US at 605 [Scalia, J., dissenting]; see also Lapides v Lapides, 254 NY 73, 80 [1930] ["inability to bear children" does not justify an annulment under the Domestic Relations Law]).

Of course, there are many ways in which the government could rationally promote procreation—for example, by giving tax breaks to couples who have children, subsidizing child care for those couples, or mandating generous family leave for parents. Any of these benefits—and many more—might convince people who would not otherwise have children [*27]to do so. But no one rationally decides to have children because gays and lesbians are excluded from marriage.

In holding that prison inmates have a fundamental right to marry—even though they cannot procreate—the Supreme Court has made it clear that procreation is not the sine qua non of marriage. "Many important attributes of marriage remain . . . after taking into account the limitations imposed by prison life. . . . [I]nmate marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and public commitment. These elements are an important and significant aspect of the marital relationship" (Turner, 482 US at 95-96). Nor is there any conceivable rational basis for allowing prison inmates to marry, but not homosexuals. It is, of course, no answer that inmates could potentially procreate once they are released—that is, once they are no longer prisoners—since, as nonprisoners, they would then undeniably have a right to marry even in the absence of Turner.

Marriage is about much more than producing children, yet same-sex couples are excluded from the entire spectrum of protections that come with civil marriage—purportedly to encourage other people to procreate. Indeed, the protections that the State gives to couples who do marry—such as the right to own property as a unit or to make medical decisions for each other—are focused largely on the adult relationship, rather than on the couple's possible role as parents. Nor does the{**7 NY3d at 393} plurality even attempt to explain how offering only heterosexuals the right to visit a sick loved one in the hospital, for example, conceivably furthers the State's interest in encouraging opposite-sex couples to have children, or indeed how excluding same-sex couples from each of the specific legal benefits of civil marriage—even apart from the totality of marriage itself—does not independently violate plaintiffs' rights to equal protection of the laws. The breadth of protections that the marriage laws make unavailable to gays and lesbians is "so far removed" from the State's asserted goal of promoting procreation that the justification is, again, "impossible to credit" (Romer, 517 US at 635).

The State plainly has a legitimate interest in the welfare of children, but excluding same-sex couples from marriage in no way furthers this interest. In fact, it undermines it. Civil marriage provides tangible legal protections and economic benefits to married couples and their children, and tens of thousands of children are currently being raised by same-sex couples in New York. Depriving these children of the benefits and protections available to the children of opposite-sex couples is antithetical to their welfare, as defendants do not dispute (see e.g. Baker v State, 170 Vt 194, 219, 744 A2d 864, 882 [1999] ["(i)f anything, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the legal protections incident to marriage exposes their children to the precise risks that the State argues the marriage laws are designed to secure against"]; cf. Matter of Jacob, 86 NY2d 651, 656 [1995] ["(t)o rule otherwise would mean that the thousands of New York children actually being raised in homes headed by two unmarried persons could have only one legal parent, not the two who want them"]). The State's interest in a stable society is rationally advanced when families are established and remain intact irrespective of the gender of the spouses.

Nor may the State legitimately seek either to promote heterosexual parents over homosexual parents, as the plurality posits, or to discourage same-sex parenting. First, granting such a preference to heterosexuals would be an acknowledgment of purposeful discrimination against homosexuals, thus constituting a flagrant equal protection violation. Second, such a preference would be contrary to the stated public policy of New York, and therefore irrational (see 18 NYCRR 421.16 [h] [2] [applicants to be adoptive parents "shall not be rejected solely on the basis of homosexuality"]; see also Jacob, 86 NY2d at 668 [same-sex partner of a legal parent may adopt that parent's child; "(a)ny proffered justification for rejecting (adoptions) based on a governmental policy disapproving of homosexuality or encouraging marriage would not apply"]; brief of American Psychological Association et al., as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 34-43 [collecting the results of social scientific research studies which conclude that children raised by same-sex parents fare no differently from, and do as well as, those raised by opposite-sex parents in terms of the quality of the parent-child relationship and the mental health, development and social adjustment of the child]; brief of Association to Benefit Children et al., as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 31-35 [same conclusion]).[FN5]

  1. Moral Disapproval

The government cannot legitimately justify discrimination against one group of persons as a mere desire to preference another group (see Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v Ward, 470 US 869, 882 and n 10 [1985]). Further, the Supreme Court has held that classifications "drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law" can never be legitimate (Romer, 517 US at 633), and that "a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest" (Department of Agriculture v Moreno, 413 US 528, 534 [1973]; see also Onofre, 51 NY2d at 490 ["disapproval by a majority of the populace . . . may not substitute for the required demonstration of a valid basis for intrusion by the State in an area of important personal decision"]; Palmore v Sidoti, 466 US 429, 433 [1984] ["(p)rivate biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect"]; Lawrence, 539 US at 571 [no legitimate basis to penalize gay and lesbian relationships notwithstanding that "for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral"]; id. at 583 [O'Connor, J., concurring in the judgment] ["(m)oral disapproval" of homosexuals cannot be a legitimate state interest]).

  1. Tradition

That civil marriage has traditionally excluded same-sex couples—i.e., that the "historic and cultural understanding of marriage" has been between a man and a woman—cannot in itself provide a rational basis for the challenged exclusion. To say that discrimination is "traditional" is to say only that the discrimination has existed for a long time. A classification, however, cannot be maintained merely "for its own sake" (Romer, 517 US at 635). Instead, the classification (here, the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from civil marriage) must advance a state interest that is separate from the classification itself (see Romer, 517 US at 633, 635). Because the "tradition" of excluding gay men and lesbians from civil marriage is no different from the classification itself, the exclusion cannot be justified on the basis of "history." Indeed, the justification of "tradition" does not explain the classification; it merely repeats it. Simply put, a history or tradition of discrimination—no matter how entrenched—does not make the discrimination constitutional (see also Goodridge, 440 Mass at 332 n 23, 798 NE2d at 961 n 23 ["it is circular reasoning, not analysis, to maintain that marriage must remain a heterosexual institution because that is what it historically has been"]).[FN6]

  1. Uniformity

The State asserts an interest in maintaining uniformity with the marriage laws of other states. But our marriage laws currently are not uniform with those of other states. For example, New York—unlike most other states in the nation—permits first cousins to marry (see Domestic Relations Law § 5). This disparity has caused no trouble, however, because well-settled principles of comity resolve any conflicts. The same well-settled principles of comity would resolve any conflicts arising from any disparity involving the recognition of same-sex marriages.

It is, additionally, already impossible to maintain uniformity among all the states, inasmuch as Massachusetts has now legalized same-sex marriage. Indeed, of the seven jurisdictions that border New York State, only Pennsylvania currently affords no legal status to same-sex relationships. Massachusetts, Ontario and Quebec all authorize same-sex marriage; Vermont and Connecticut provide for civil unions (see Vt Stat Ann, tit 15, § 1204 [a]; Conn Gen Stat § 46b-38nn); and New Jersey has a statewide domestic partnership law (see NJ Stat Ann § 26:8A-1 et seq.). Moreover, insofar as a number of localities within New York offer domestic partnership registration, even the law within the state is not uniform. Finally, and most fundamentally, to justify the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from civil marriage because "others do it too" is no more a justification for the discriminatory classification than the contention that the discrimination is rational because it has existed for a long time. As history has well taught us, separate is inherently unequal.

III. The Legislature

The Court ultimately concludes that the issue of same-sex marriage should be addressed by the Legislature. If the Legislature were to amend the statutory scheme by making it gender neutral, obviously the instant controversy would disappear. But this Court cannot avoid its obligation to remedy constitutional violations in the hope that the Legislature might some day render the question presented academic. After all, by the time the Court decided Loving in 1967, many states had already repealed their antimiscegenation laws. Despite this trend, however, the Supreme Court did not refrain from fulfilling its constitutional obligation.

The fact remains that although a number of bills to authorize same-sex marriage have been introduced in the Legislature over the past several years, none has ever made it out of committee (see 2005 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 5156, A 7463; 2005 NY Assembly Bill A 1823; 2003 NY Senate Bill S 3816; 2003 NY Assembly Bill A 7392; 2001 NY Senate Bill S 1205; see also 2005 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 1887-A, A 3693-A [proposing establishment of domestic partnerships]; 2004 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 3393-A, A 7304-A [same]).

It is uniquely the function of the Judicial Branch to safeguard individual liberties guaranteed by the New York State Constitution, and to order redress for their violation. The Court's duty to protect constitutional rights is an imperative of the separation of powers, not its enemy.

I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep


Footnote 1: In other contexts, this Court has also recognized that due process rights must be afforded to all, even as against a history of exclusion of one group or another from past exercise of these rights (see e.g. Matter of Raquel Marie X., 76 NY2d 387, 397 [1990] [affording the right to custody of one's children to unwed fathers, despite a long history of excluding unwed fathers from that right]; Rivers v Katz, 67 NY2d 485, 495-496 [1986] [affording the right to refuse medical treatment to the mentally disabled, despite a long history of excluding the mentally ill from that right]).
Footnote 2: Moreover, until as recently as 1984, a husband could not be prosecuted for raping his wife (see People v Liberta, 64 NY2d 152 [1984]).
Footnote 3: Indeed, the true nature and extent of the discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians in this regard is perhaps best illustrated by the simple truth that each one of the plaintiffs here could lawfully enter into a marriage of convenience with a complete stranger of the opposite sex tomorrow, and thereby immediately obtain all of the myriad benefits and protections incident to marriage. Plaintiffs are, however, denied these rights because they each desire instead to marry the person they love and with whom they have created their family.
Footnote 4: Although the plurality asserts that the Legislature could not possibly exclude from marriage opposite-sex couples unable to have children because to do so would require "grossly intrusive inquiries" (plurality op at 365), no explanation is given as to why the Legislature could not easily remedy the irrationality inherent in allowing all childless couples to marry—if, as the plurality believes, the sole purpose of marriage is procreation—by simply barring from civil marriage all couples in which both spouses are older than, say, 55. In that event, the State would have no need to undertake intrusive inquiries of any kind.
Footnote 5: Nor could the State have a legitimate interest in privileging some children over others depending on the manner in which they were conceived or whether or not their parents were married (see Jacob, 86 NY2d at 667 [depriving children of legal relationship with de facto parents "based solely on their biological mother's sexual orientation or marital status . . . raise(s) constitutional concerns"]; Levy v Louisiana, 391 US 68, 71 [1968] [child born out of wedlock may not be denied rights enjoyed by other citizens]).
Footnote 6: Ultimately, as the Lawrence dissenters recognized, " 'preserving the traditional institution of marriage' is just a kinder way of describing the State's moral disapproval of same-sex couples" (539 US at 601 [Scalia, J., dissenting]), an illegitimate basis for depriving gay and lesbian couples of the equal protection of the laws.

January 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Gender, News, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Opposing Obama's Gun EO (and all else federal), Arizona Style

Here's one way to oppose President Obama's recent executive actions to reduce gun violence (or any other federal action you don't like): Exempt your state from them.

That's just what Arizona HB 2024 does. It prohibits the use of any state funds or resources "to enforce, administer or cooperate with an executive order issued by the President of the United States that is not in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States and that has not been affirmed by a vote of the Congress of the United States and signed into law as prescribed by the Constitution of the United States." HB 2024 also prohibits the use of state funds and resources to enforce any federal administrative action not "affirmed by a vote of the Congress," and any Supreme Court ruling not "affirmed by a vote of Congress."

But HB 2024 (obviously) runs head-on into the Supremacy Clause. So it's only a political statement. But even so, it's an awfully weak one: It fundamentally misunderstands the separation of powers, in particular the President's role in enforcing the law and the Supreme Court's role in interpreting and applying the law.

January 7, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daily Read: Attorneys, Abortions, and the Amicus Brief in Whole Women's Health

The amicus brief of Anice MacAvoy, Janie Schulman, and Over 110 Other Women in the Legal Profession Who Have Exercised their Constitutional Right to an Abortion filed in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the abortion case before the United States Supreme Court regarding Texas's controversial HB2 statute, puts the emotions and stories of legal professionals whose abortions have played a positive role in their lives and careers.

Although the amicus does not cite the Court's most recent abortion decision, Gonzales v. Carhart (Carhart II), the import of the amicus is a challenge to some of the reasoning in that case.  Specifically, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Carhart II stated that:

Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. The Act recognizes this reality as well. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision. Casey, supra, at 852–853 (opinion of the Court). While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. See Brief for Sandra Cano et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 05–380, pp. 22–24. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow. See ibid.

The dissenting opinion of four Justices, authored by Justice Ginsburg, responded to this passage at length:

Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from “[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.” Ante, at 29. Because of women’s fragile emotional state and because of the “bond of love the mother has for her child,” the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. Ante, at 28–29. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Cf. Casey, 505 U. S., at 873 (plurality opinion) (“States are free to enact laws to provide a reasonable framework for a woman to make a decision that has such profound and lasting meaning.”). Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.


Myra Bradwell, attorney, circa 1870

This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution—ideas that have long since been discredited. Compare, e.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U. S. 412, 422–423 (1908) (“protective” legislation imposing hours-of-work limitations on women only held permissible in view of women’s “physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal funct[ion]”); Bradwell v. State, 16Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, J., concurring) (“Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. … The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”), with United States v. Virginia, 518 U. S. 515 , n. 12 (1996) (State may not rely on “overbroad generalizations” about the “talents, capacities, or preferences” of women; “[s]uch judgments have … impeded … women’s progress toward full citizenship stature throughout our Nation’s history”); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U. S. 199, 207 (1977) (gender-based Social Security classification rejected because it rested on “archaic and overbroad generalizations” “such as assumptions as to [women’s] dependency” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Though today’s majority may regard women’s feelings on the matter as “self-evident,” ante, at 29, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]he destiny of the woman must be shaped … on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 852. See also id., at 877 (plurality opinion) (“[M]eans chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.”); supra, at 3–4.

[footnotes omitted].

The brief of the attorneys who have had abortions and are legal professionals clearly supports the view that women must be able to exercise reproductive free choice.  The stories of the women attorneys gathered in the amicus brief is a testament to the positive aspects of abortions - - - rather than the regrets - - - that women attorneys have experienced. 





January 7, 2016 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alabama's CJ Roy Moore Issues Administrative Order on Same-Sex Marriage

Despite the United States Supreme Court's holding last Term in Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the controversial Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an " Adminstrative Order" forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect."

Alabama5Today's administrative opinion is part of Moore's ongoing reaction to constitutional issues surrounding same-sex marriage.  After an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Judge Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue.  Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment.  Despite these direct orders, seemingly Moore's current argument in today's Administrative Order is that Obergfell does not apply to Alabama but only the states involved in the Sixth Circuit opinion to which the Court granted certiorari.

Judge Moore's "interesting" construction of constitutional law is not limited to the precedential value of United States Supreme Court opinions.  Several months ago - - - in a lesbian second-parent adoption case, E.L. - - - the Alabama Supreme held that Alabama need not accord full faith and credit to a Georgia decision because of a dissenting opinion. The United States Supreme Court stayed the decision in E.L. pending a decision on the petition for certiorari.



January 6, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 14, 2015

United States Supreme Court Stays Alabama Opinion Refusing to Recognize Adoption

The United States Supreme Court today issued a simple Order staying the mandate of the Alabama Supreme Court's controversial denial of full faith and credit to a Georgia adoption of three children by a member of a same-sex couple in V.L. v. E.L.   Recall that the Supreme Court of Alabama's opinion, reversing the lower courts, relied primarily on a dissent from the Georgia Supreme Court in another case.

Today's Order reads in full:

The applications for recall and stay of the Supreme Court of Alabama’s Certificate of Judgment, in case No. 1140595, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, are granted pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the issuance of the mandate of this Court.

It is clearly not a ruling on the merits.  Whether or not it provides an indication that the Court will grant the petition for writ of certiorari is speculative. 


Nevertheless, this controversy is reminiscent of previous controversies involving the Alabama Supreme Court - - - whose Chief Justice is Roy Moore  (pictured above) - - - and the state courts' interpretation of same-sex marriage as opposed to the United States Supreme Court.

December 14, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Court Hears Oral Arguments In Fisher II

Today the Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas - - -  Fisher II - - - (again) raising the constitutionality of the admissions plan at the University of Texas that includes a consideration of race.  How much a consideration of race is included in the plan as well as the effect of any considerations surfaced in today's argument which demonstrated the deep divide amongst the Justices on issues of race.

This deep divide was apparent, despite the fact that Fisher I was a 7-1 opinion as Justice Breyer noted today.  (Only Justice Ginsburg dissented in Fisher I; Justice Kagan was recused).  Breyer stated that the Court "promised in Fisher I" that strict scrutiny would not be "fatal in fact" as applied in university affirmative action.  Justice Breyer had previously stressed in a colloquy with Bert Rein, representing Fisher, that it must be possible to use race, actually "spelling it out" to counsel.  After Breyer asked for an example of using race and Rein replied "you could give more emphasis to socio-economic factors," Breyer stated:

That's not to use race. I'm saying r­-a­-c­-e, race. I want to know which are the things they could do that, in your view, would be okay. Because I'm really trying to find out. Not fatal in fact, we've said. Okay? Not fatal in fact. Fine.

Yet the problem of the requirement of narrowly tailored proved difficult.  Perhaps Solicitor General Verrilli, supporting the University of Texas, expressed the problem best by calling it a "Catch-22."  Indeed, it seemed that the university's plan was problematic both because it was and was not effective. Nevertheless, one recurring argument was whether the University of Texas plan was as good as - - - if not better - - - than the plans upheld in Grutter and Bakke.

The arguments were not limited to the means chosen, however, for the continued validity of diversity as a compelling interest in higher education surfaced repeatedly.  While General Verrilli did not mention George Washington, he did aver to the continued importance of diversity in higher education and for the nation.  Moreover, there were references to the hope expressed by the Court in Grutter v. University of Michigan that affirmative action would not be necessary in 25 years.  Chief Justice Roberts asked counsel for University of Texas, Gregory Garre, whether we were going to "hit the deadline" in 12 more years.  Justice Scalia asked Solicitor General Verrilli if he thought we could "stop disadvantaging some applicants because of their race" in another 13 years.

Scalia made it clear that he thought the time for any type of racial affirmative action was long past, if there ever was such a time.  Indeed, in what was probably the most controversial commentary in the argument, Scalia advanced what might be called a separate-but-unequal argument:

There are ­­ there are those who contend that it does not benefit African­-Americans to ­­ to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­ advanced school, a less ­­ a slower ­track school where they do well. One of ­­ one of the briefs pointed out that ­­ that most of the ­­ most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas.

. . . . They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're ­­ that they're being pushed ahead in ­­ in classes that are too ­­ too fast for them.

Will it all devolve to Justice Kennedy?

5900480459_2e14f47115_oIf Justice Kennedy, the author of Fisher I,  is the "swing vote" in Fisher II, it may be that the Court would remand Fisher to the district court for a trial. 

Recall that the Fifth Circuit in Fisher on remand from the United States Supreme Court did not remand to the district court, but decided the case.  But just what that evidence might possibly be adduced at a trial was also a controversial subject at the oral argument. 


Still, this might be the only compromise available for such a divided Court.


December 9, 2015 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Seventh Circuit Finds Wisconsin's Physician "Admitting Privileges" Abortion Requirement Unconstitutional

In its divided opinion in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Schimel, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's grant of a permanent injunction against the 2013 Wisconsin Statute, §253.095(2), that prohibits a physician from performing an abortion unless she or he has admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from the clinic in which the abortion is performed.

Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner (pictured) concluded that the state statute imposed an undue burden on women seeking abortions and focused on the statute's intent to "strew impediments to abortion" rather than achieve its stated purpose of protecting women's health. 

Posner, Richard 08-10Judge Posner first noted that the statute was signed into law on a Friday and required doctors comply with it by Sunday; this revealed the legislative intent to prevent abortions rather than protect women's health. 

Additionally, Judge Posner concluded that any focus on women's health was spurious.  First, "A woman who experiences complications from an abortion (either while still at the clinic where the abortion was per- formed or at home afterward) will go to the nearest hospital, which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doc- tor has admitting privileges," citing the brief by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the Wisconsin Medical Society.  Second, citing the same brief, Judge Posner concluded that studies show that "complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous," and contended that this fact "further attenuates the need for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges."  Third, Posner found it troublesome that abortion was singled out for such an admitting privileges law:

Wisconsin appears to be indifferent to complications of any other outpatient procedures, even when they are far more likely to produce complications than abortions are. For example, the rate of complications resulting in hospitalization from colonoscopies done for screening purposes is four times the rate of complications requiring hospitalization from first-trimester abortions.

As to the "continuity of care" justification, Posner noted that while the statute requires the physician to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, it does not require the physician to care for that patient at the hospital.

Judge Posner firmly rejected the argument that women in Wisconsin could exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Chicago - - - across state lines - - - and further found that there was an undue burden for women given that such a trip could be "prohibitively expensive" especially for women living below the poverty line.

In his inimitable style, Judge Posner also provided his views on the Fifth Circuit's decision regarding Texas's HB2 in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, to which the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari.  Judge Posner distinguished the Fifth Circuit's conclusion on the admitting privileges provision, noting that the plaintiffs there did not satisfy the court that the statute would lead to a substantial decline in the availability of abortion.  But Judge Posner also provided his opinion on the Texas statute's ambulatory surgical center requirements - - - notwithstanding the fact that a similar provision was not before the Seventh Circuit - - - noting that

The [Fifth Circuit] court remarked the absence of evidence that the remaining clinics could not expand their capacity to compensate for the closing of more than three-fourths of them,  although one wouldn’t think it necessary to parade evidence that the remaining clinics would find it extremely difficult to quadruple their capacity to provide abortions, which would require, in the face of fierce opposition to abortion clinics and the difficulty of relocating abortion doctors from the closed clinics, extensive physical enlargement to house additional patients and doctors.

Judge Posner also responded to the Fifth Circuit's previous decision on HB2 in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott that "excoriated" the Seventh Circuit's opinion upholding the preliminary injunction against the Wisconsin statute for engaging in "empirical basis review." Judge Posner wrote:

But a statute that curtails the constitutional right to an abortion, such as the Wisconsin and Texas statutes, cannot survive challenge without evidence that the curtailment is justifiable by reference to the benefits conferred by the statute. The statute may not be irrational, yet may still impose an undue burden—a burden excessive in relation to the aims of the statute and the benefits likely to be conferred by it— and if so it is unconstitutional.

Judge Posner ultimately concluded that "We do not agree with the Fifth Circuit that evidence is irrelevant in a constitutional case concerning abortion."

Judge Daniel Manion's well-organized dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority at almost every turn.  For example, Judge Manion finds that abortion is "subject to less regulatory oversight than almost any area of medicine."  On the subject of state-lines, Judge Manion declares: "Consumers who live near the border of two states tend to shop at the closest destination, regardless of whether they reside in that state." Thus, the courts should consider "distance" rather than "the governor's mansion" to decide whether or not a regulation will constitute an undue burden.  Instead, Wisconsin - - - or the courts - - -need not intervene if "the market fails to provide qualified abortionists within its boundaries." 

For Posner, joined in the opinion by Judge David Hamilton, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a "steep uphill fight," so persons opposed to abortion "proceed indirectly" in the guise of protecting women's health and thereby pass unconstitutional laws.  Whether or not Judge Posner's predictions will prove correct will be tested as the United States Supreme Court considers Whole Woman's Health this Term.

November 24, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Gender, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Students Lack Standing to Challenge SAT, ACT Sale of Personal Information for Profit

The Seventh Circuit ruled today that students who authorized the corporations who run the SAT and ACT standardized tests to provide their personal information to educational organizations lacked standing to challenge the corporations' sale of that information. The ruling means that the putative class action against the SAT and ACT is dismissed.

Along the way, the court also ruled that the Iqbal/Twombly heightened pleading standard ("plausibility") applies to facial challenges to standing under Rule 12(b)(6). This may raise the bar for plaintiffs in pleading and arguing standing. This portion of the ruling aligns with the approach in several other circuits; but it's in tension with the Ninth Circuit, which says that "Twombly and Iqbal are ill-suited to application in the constitutional standing context."

The case arose when ACT, Inc., and The College Board (which administers the SAT) sold personal information of students who signed up to take the tests. The students agreed that the corporations could share their personal information with educational groups (schools, scholarship funds, and the like), but they didn't know that the corporations were going to sell their personal information. (The price was small--$.33 per student per educational group--but would add up quickly for the defendants.) The plaintiffs argued that they were harmed by the sale because (1) they should have received some of the proceeds, (2) the sale diminished the value of their personal information, and (3) they paid a fee to take the ACT or SAT, which presumably would have been lower if they had not consented to the sale.

The Seventh Circuit flatly rejected these claims. The court ruled that under the Iqbal/Twombly standard, the plaintiffs' allegations didn't plausibly suggest that they'd been harmed. The court said that just because the defendants benefited doesn't mean that the plaintiffs were harmed for standing purposes: "Plaintiffs have claimed injury based solely on a gain to Defendants and without alleging a loss to themselves." (Although the court applied the Iqbal/Twombly standard, it looks like the plaintiffs would have failed even without it.)

The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that their complaint gave rise to a reasonable inference that if they knew of the sale they would have conditioned their permission on receipt of a portion of the proceeds. The court said that the plaintiffs didn't provide factual support for the inference, so it didn't even need to get to whether the claim gives rise to a plausible claim of subject matter jurisdiction under Iqbal and Twombly.

In other words, it's not clear that the heightened Iqbal/Twombly standard mattered to the outcome at all. Still, the case says that the standard now applies to standing in the Seventh Circuit.


November 18, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Texas HB2 Abortion Case

The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole to the Fifth Circuit's decision essentially upholding the bulk of the controversial HB2 statute passed in 2013 (despite the famous filibuster by Wendy Davis).   Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.

The Fifth Circuit's most recent opinion, reversing the district judge, held that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, did not impose an "undue burden" on women and were thus constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. 

596px-Texas_travel_map.svgThe Fifth Circuit did find that HB2 was unconstitutional as applied to the Whole Woman's Health facility in McAllen, Texas, but not as to the the Reproductive Services Facility in El Paso, Texas.  The facility in McAllen is the only one in the "Rio Grande Valley."  However, there is another facility close to the closed facility in El Paso - - - a mere 12 miles away - - - but importantly across the state line in New Mexico.  The Fifth Circuit distinguished its own opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier regarding Mississippi's restrictive abortion law which had the effect of closing all the clinics in the state, by emphasizing the fact that even before HB2 "half of the patients at the St. Teresa [New Mexico] clinic came from El Paso which is in the same 'cross-border' metropolitan area as St. Teresa," and including a footnote that the court's analysis would be different "in the context of an international border."   Thus, the court found it irrelevant that the nearest in-state facility was 550 miles away.

The United States Supreme Court's grant of certiorari means that the Court will consider direct abortion regulations - - - and thus the continuing precedential value of Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) - - - for the first time since Carhart v. Gonzales in 2007 in which the Court upheld the controversial federal so-called partial birth abortion ban.  The Court's most recent foray into the abortion controversy was its 2014 opinion in McCullen v. Coakley finding Massachusetts' buffer-zone legislation protecting abortion clinics violative of the First Amendment.

November 13, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Reproductive Rights, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Standing, Access Case Meets Sharply Divided Court

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Spokeo v. Robins, the case testing whether Congress can confer standing on a plaintiff by statute, even when the plaintiff lacks a sufficient and independent harm for Article III standing purposes.

The case is important for what it will say about access to the courts, and, in particular, class actions. The justices at oral arguments seemed sharply divided along conventional ideological lines, with progressives favoring access and conservatives, including Justice Kennedy, going the other way. If so, the case will take its place among the line of cases coming out of the Roberts Court that limit access to the judiciary and favor (corporate and government) defendants.

(Check out the outstanding Vanderbilt roundtable on the case, with six different takes, available here.)

The case arose when Spokeo, the owner of a web-site that provides searchable reports containing personal information about individuals, reported false information about Thomas Robins. For example, Spokeo reported that Robins had a graduate degree (he doesn't), that he was employed in a professional or technical field, with "very strong" "economic health" and wealth in the "Top 10% (he's unemployed), and that he's in his 50s, married, with children (he's not in his 50s, not married, and no children).

Robins filed suit, claiming that Spokeo's representations violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. He sought damages under the Act for a willful violation. Robins claimed that Spokeo's false report made it harder for him to find a job.

Justices Kagan and Scalia marked out the competing positions early in Spokeo's argument, and at times bypassed Spokeo's attorney (Andrew Pincus) entirely and simply argued with each other. At one point, Justice Scalia even intervened to answer a question for Pincus, and then told Pincus that it was the right answer. In short, Justice Kagan argued that Congress identified a concrete harm in the Act and provided a remedy for it; Justice Scalia argued that any harm was merely "procedural," because any harm was only Spokeo's violation of the Act's procedures (with no additional concrete harm). Here's a little of the exchange:

Justice Kagan: But did that procedural requirement--this is--this is exactly what Lujan says, "It's a procedural requirement the disregard of which could impair a concrete interest of the plaintiff."

And we distinguished that from procedural requirements in vacuo.

. . .

Justice Scalia: Excuse me. That--that would lead to the conclusion that anybody can sue . . . not just somebody who--whose information was wrong.

Pincus seemed to make an important concession in response to a question by Justice Kennedy, whether "Congress could have drafted a statute that would allow [Robins] to bring suit?" Pincus said yes, and proceeded to describe it--basically a statute that required a plaintiff to show a concrete harm that would be sufficient for Article III. If Justice Kennedy is in play, Pincus's softer position may assuage any concerns over an extreme position that Congress can never confer standing. The softer position also saves other statutes that have similar Congress-confered-standing provisions. (Justice Kennedy picked up this theme with Robins's attorney (William Consovoy) and noted that Consovoy's position of a Congress-created-harm (alone) seemed circular--but Consovoy didn't seem to give a satisfying answer.) At one point Pincus made another important concession: some plaintiffs might have standing under the FCRA, so long as they show an independent and sufficient harm.

On the other side, Chief Justice Roberts pressed Consovoy early on the limits of his argument--a point we're likely to see in the opinion:

Chief Justice Roberts: What about a law that says you get a--a--$10,000 statutory damages if a company publishes inaccurate information about you? . . . The company publishes your phone number, but it's wrong. That is inaccurate information about you, but you have no injury whatever. Can that person bring an action for that statutory damage?

Consovoy didn't have a response, or, rather, his response only opened new cans of worms. (Justice Breyer intervened and offered an interpretation of the statutory language that gives a cause of action to "any consumer who has obtained--who suffers from false information.") Chief Justice Roberts and Consovoy had a similar exchange later in the argument, too. Consovoy maintained that the FCRA was different than the Chief's hypotheticals, because the FCRA authorizes damages only for someone who was injured. He didn't seem to persuade the Chief on this point, though, despite Justice Breyer's help.

Justice Alito pointed to the record and argued that it didn't support a concrete harm. Indeed, he pointed out that nobody in the record (other than Robins himself) searched for him on Spokeo--a "quintessential speculative harm"--probably another point we'll see in the final opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts asked a different question--and a far more loaded one (politically, and constitutionally)--to the government, amicus for Robins:

Chief Justice Roberts: [L]et's kind of say your--your--Congress thinks that the president is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration, so it passes a law that says, anyone in a border State--so it's particularized--who is unemployed may bring an action against an illegal immigrant who has a job. And they get damages, maybe they get an injunction.

. . .

And I would have thought that the--the president would be concerned about Congress being able to create its own enforcement mechanism. I thought that you would be concerned that that would interfere with the executive prerogative.

The government tried to distinguish the hypo, but, again, counsel probably didn't persuade the conservatives.

November 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Hears Oral Arguments in Batson Challenge to Death Sentence

The Court heard oral arguments today in Foster v. Humphrey regarding a challenge to a 1987 conviction and death sentence by an all-white Georgia jury based on  Batson v. Kentucky (1986) applying equal protection principles to peremptory challenges in jury selection.

A seemingly new issue on the case involved whether or not the United States Supreme Court should be hearing the case at all.  While the Court granted certiorari to the Georgia Supreme Court (as we discussed and as the petition requested), the problem is that the Georgia Supreme Court had denied review . . . . for reasons that are unclear.  Was it discretionary? Was that discretion bounded?  Did the Georgia Supreme Court's denial of review for lack of a meritorous claim constitute a decision on the merits?  And even more complexly, did the Georgia state courts have an adequate and independent state ground - - - res judicata - - - under Michigan v. Long (1983)?  (Beth Burton, the attorney for Georgia seemed to concede this was not the case.)  And to add yet another layer of complexity, even if the United States Supreme Court decided it should review the matter, what exactly should it review? As Chief Justice Roberts asked, "In other words, are we addressing just whether there's arguable merit to the claim or are we addressing the claim on its own merits?"

On the merits of the Batson claim, the problem arises from the "smoking gun" of prosecutorial notes singling out the Black potential jurors in the case.  Although Steve Bright, attorney for Foster suggested that there was "an arsenal of smoking guns" here, Justice Scalia suggested that Foster had to "establish [in order ] to reverse the Georgia courts is that the new smoking gun, assuming that all the rest were not enough to demonstrate a Batson violation ­­ the new smoking guns would tip the scale."  Justice Kagan seemed to see it differently, suggesting to Beth Burton, the Georgia Deputy Attorney, that this was a clear Batson violation:

You have a lot of new information here from these files that suggests that what the prosecutors were doing was looking at the African-­American prospective jurors as a group, that they had basically said, we don't want any of these people.  Here is the one we want if we really have to take one.  But that there ­­ all the evidence suggests a kind of singling out, which is the very antithesis of the Batson rule.

Burton initially suggested that the prosecutors' notes highlighting Black jurors was that the prosecutor was preparing for a Batson challenge.  Justice Breyer expressed some incredulity at this based on the fact that prosecutors never previously advanced such a reason.  Justice Breyer also seemingly expressed incredulity at the prosecutors' argument that there were "40 different reasons" - - - other than race - - - meant that one was truly valid, rather than drawing an inference from the sheer number of reasons that they were invalid. 

Justice Kennedy, perhaps the decisive vote, seemed convinced the prosecutors committed a Batson violation: "They've ­­ - - - they've made a mistake - - - ­­ they've made a mistake of - - -­­ in Batson."  But Justice Kennedy was also quite vocal in pressing the attorneys on the procedural issue, which could be an escape hatch for the Court in what could prove to be a difficult case.




November 2, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 30, 2015

D.C. Circuit Finds Competitor Standing in Case Against IRS

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that an association of CPAs and their firms had "competitor standing" to challenge an IRS program that allows previously uncredentialed tax return preparers who meet certain prerequisites to have their names listed in the IRS's online "Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers."

The ruling is a victory for the association and allows the case to go forward on the merits.

The ruling is also a victory for anyone who wants to get into federal court to challenge an action that may give their competitors an edge, even if the link between the action and the edge is based only on "basic economic logic."

The IRS program allows previously uncredentialed tax return preparers--so-called "unenrolled preparers"--to get listed if they take a class and meet other requirements. The program is a boon to preparers who take advantage of it, because they'll get listed with the IRS and, as a result, get more tax preparation business. It'll also likely deal a blow to CPAs and other already-credentialed preparers, because they'll now have to compete toe-to-toe with lower-cost unenrolled preparers.

The association challenged the program for violating notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The association appealed and argued, among other things, competitor standing.

The D.C. Circuit agreed with the association. It wrote that association members "will face intensified competition as a result of the challenged government action. Specifically, participating unenrolled preparers will gain a credential and a listing in the government directory." The court accepted the association's claim that this "will 'dilute[] the value of a CPA's credential in the market for tax-return-preparer services' and permit unenrolled preparers to more effectively compete with and take business away from presumably higher-priced CPAs."

You might wonder why the link between the IRS program and the CPAs' harm isn't too speculative (under, say, Clapper v. Amnesty International). After all, the IRS program is voluntary, not compulsory, so it's not obvious that any unenrolled preparer will even participate; moreover, it's not obvious that IRS listing will benefit a participant; and moreover it's not obvious that listing will benefit a participant to the detriment of CPAs. The court had an answer to all this: "basic economic logic." The court explained:

To begin with, the link between the government-backed credentials offered to unenrolled preparers and the reputational benefit they will enjoy is hardly speculative. Indeed, the reputational benefit is the very point of the IRS Program. . . . Moreover . . . the IRS Program at issue here is both voluntary and clearly intended to offer competitive benefits to those unenrolled preparers who participate in the Program. "Basic economic logic" suggests that unenrolld preparers will choose to participate only if they believe the resulting reputational benefit will produce a substantial enough competitive advantage to outweigh their compliance costs.

The court declined to consider the IRS argument that the association's complaint wasn't within the "zone of interests protected or regulated by the statutory provision" it invokes, because the IRS didn't raise it at the district court.

October 30, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

En Banc Sixth Circuit Rejects "Heckler's Veto" in "Bible Believers" Protest at Arab-American Festival

The en banc Sixth Circuit's opinion in Bible Believers v. Wayne County clearly rejected the existence of a "heckler's veto" to inflammatory but protected speech under the First Amendment's speech clause, as well as finding the speech protected under the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The en banc court also found that the government was liable and that there was no qualified immunity.

Recall that last year a panel of the Sixth Circuit rejected the constitutional challenges of the Bible Believers group, affirming the district judge's grant of summary judgment for the government.

The underlying controversy arose when a group known as the "Bible Believers," Evangelical Christians, came to the Arab International festival on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan - - - as they had done the year before - - - to "preach."  Their speech included "strongly worded" slogans on signs, t-shirts, and banners (e.g., "Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder"),  a "severed pig's head

Repin, Demontsration 1905, via

on a stick" (intended to protect the Bible Believers by repelling observers who feared it), statements through a megaphone castigating the following of a "pedophile prophet" and warning of "God's impending judgment."  A crowd gathered, seemingly mostly of children and adolescents, who yelled back and threw items at the preachers.  A law enforcement asked the Bible Believers to leave, and - when pressed - saying they would be cited for disorderly conduct. They were eventually escorted out.

The Sixth Circuit's extensive en banc opinion, authored by Judge Eric Clay - - - and in which 8 (including Clay) of the 15 Sixth Circuit judges joined - - - resolutely "confirms" the free speech protections that should be accorded to a speaker even when "angry, hostile, or violent crowds" seek to silence that speaker. 

The opinion first finds that the Bible Believers' speech was protected, rejecting exception of incitement (to riot) and fighting words.  The "fighting words" discussion is regrettably short - - - a single paragraph - - - and summarily advances the "objective standard" requiring the insult to be likely to provoke the "average person" (emphasis in original) and moreover to be directed at an "individual."  In the context of the facts here, these principles deserved further exploration.

After a brief discussion of the public forum, the en banc opinion then discussed at length the "heckler's veto" doctrine and concluded it was not a viable doctrine.  Applying that conclusion, the opinion discussed law enforcement performance, citing the video record (which the court did at several points in the opinion): there was "next to no attempt made by the officers to protect the Bible Believers or prevent the lawless actions of the audience" and  it was not sufficient an effort "to maintain peace among a group of rowdy youths" - - - i.e., the crowd at the festival - - - if it consists of  a"few verbal warnings and a single arrest.  The court advised:

We do not presume to dictate to law enforcement precisely how it should maintain the public order. But in this case, there were a number of easily identifiable measures that could have been taken short of removing the speaker: e.g., increasing police presence in the immediate vicinity, as was requested; erecting a barricade for free speech, as was requested; arresting or threatening to arrest more of the law breakers, as was also requested; or allowing the Bible Believers to speak from the already constructed barricade to which they were eventually secluded prior to being ejected from the Festival. If none of these measures were feasible or had been deemed unlikely to prevail, the WCSO [Wayne County Sheriff's Office] officers could have called for backup—as they appear to have done when they decided to eject the Bible Believers from the Festival—prior to finding that it was necessary to infringe on the group’s First Amendment rights. We simply cannot accept Defendants’ position that they were compelled to abridge constitutional rights for the sake of public safety, when at the same time the lawless adolescents who caused the risk with their assaultive behavior were left unmolested.

In a very brief analysis, the court held that the free exercise claim "succeeds on the same basis as the free speech claim."  As for the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court's discussion is similarly summary, but its analysis seems much too conclusory:

The Festival included a number of other religious organizations that came to share their faith by spreading a particular message. There are several distinctions between the Bible Believers and these other groups. Mainly, the Bible Believers chose, as was their right, not to register for an assigned table under the information tent. Instead, they paraded through the Festival and proselytized, as was also their right, while carrying signs and a severed pig’s head. Although these actions set them apart from the other speakers and religious organizations at the Festival, they do not do so in any relevant respect. Any speaker could have walked the Festival grounds with or without signs if they chose to do so. The Bible Believers, like the other religious organizations at the Festival, sought to spread their faith and religious message. Although they declined to utilize the tent set aside for outside groups, their conduct was at all times peaceful while they passionately advocated for their cause, much like any other religious group. Wayne County did not threaten the Bible Believers based on their decision to march with signs and banners, but based on the content of the messages displayed on the signs and banners. The county’s disparate treatment of the Bible Believers was based explicitly on the fact that the Bible Believers’ speech was found to be objectionable by a number of people attending the Festival. Wayne County therefore violated the Bible Believers’ right to equal protection by treating them in a manner different from other speakers, whose messages were not objectionable to Festival-goers, by burdening their First Amendment rights.

The en banc court also held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity and that municipal liability was established.  On these issues, there were vigorous dissents.  And indeed, the en banc majority seems on tenuous ground, especially given its earlier discussion of Sixth Circuit precedent in Glasson v. City of Louisville decided in 1975:

In this Circuit, a modicum of confusion is understandable with respect to the prohibition against the heckler’s veto due to Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith affirmative defense.  . . . . Therefore, to the extent that Glasson’s good-faith defense may be interpreted as altering the substantive duties of a police officer not to effectuate a heckler’s veto, it is overruled.

Yet in the discussion of qualified immunity, the en banc court reasoned:

To the extent that Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith defense confused the issue of whether a heckler’s veto constitutes a constitutional violation, the facts and analysis in Glasson nonetheless alerted Defendants that removing a peaceful speaker, when the police have made no serious attempt to quell the lawless agitators, could subject them to liability.

That both the district judge and a previous panel of the Sixth Circuit had found that law enforcement's actions were constitutional, this seems a harsh conclusion - - - and is inconsistent with recent qualified immunity in First Amendment cases.  (For example, recall the unanimous Supreme Court 2014 opinion in Lane v. Franks, not cited in the Sixth Circuit opinions).

On the whole, the Sixth Circuit opinion validates the First Amendment right of provocative, offensive, and "challenging speech" - - - including symbolic speech such as marching with a pig's head on a stick - - - and requires law enforcement to protect such speech against (physically) hostile reactions by directing their efforts against those who are hostile rather than the speakers.   As Judge John Rogers, dissenting, suggested, one way to view the underlying controversy was that the "Bible Believers were hecklers seeking to disrupt the cultural fair" being held by the Arab-American community as an expressive enterprise.  The en banc majority clearly rejected that view - - - and held that the government should be liable for damages.

October 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ninth Circuit on Unconscious Bias, Equal Protection, and Batson

A divided Ninth Circuit panel has affirmed the district judge in granting habeas corpus and vacating a death sentence in its opinion in Crittenden v. Chappell.

Crittenden's claimed the prosecutor at trial excluded an African-American prospective juror on account of her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The Ninth Circuit had previously clarified that the peremptory challenge at issue need not be motivated solely by race, but only “motivated in substantial part” by race, “regardless of whether the strike would have issued if race had played no role.” On remand, the district judge found that the prosecutor was substantially motivated by race.

Lady-justice-juryWhile there are several issues in the case, including deference, appellate procedure, and retroactivity, the issue of "intent" under equal protection doctrine in the Batson context was central. The district judge's opinion engaged in specific comparisons regarding jurors and also stated "[t]he [side-by-side juror] comparisons demonstrate that . . . [the prosecutor] was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race."   The relevance of "unconsciously" was a division among the Circuit judges.  For the majority, this was a "passing comment" in the district judge's opinion, and "all the court meant was, whatever the explanation for the prosecutor’s racial motive, that motive was a substantial reason for his use of a peremptory strike." (emphasis in original).  The majority added, "In other words, why the prosecutor had a conscious racial motive to strike [the potential juror] Casey in the first place – whether or not 'unconscious racism' partly explained that motive – was simply irrelevant to the Batson inquiry."  It interestingly added this footnote:

It was relevant, of course, to the prosecutor’s reputation. The district court’s reference to “unconscious racism” spared him from being found a racist. By suggesting the prosecutor may have had more benign racial motives for the strike, or that his racial motive may have been influenced by unconscious racism, the court hoped to shield the prosecutor from possible disrepute. As the court made clear, however, this effort was not designed to – and did not – detract from the court’s key finding that the strike was consciously motivated by race.

Thus, because the majority upheld the district court’s finding of a conscious racial motive, "we do not – and need not – address whether unconscious bias can establish a Batson violation."

Judge Margaret McKeown dissented from the opinion authored by Judge Raymond Fisher and joined by Judge Marsha Berzon, arguing that there needed to be a clearer indication of discriminatory purpose:

The remaining question is whether, in striking [the potential juror] Casey, the prosecutor had a discriminatory purpose. “‘Discriminatory purpose’ . . . implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected . . . a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Hernandez v. New York (1991) (plurality) (quoting Person. Admin. of Mass. v. Feeney,  (1979)). The touchstone, as described in our caselaw, is whether race was a “substantial motivating factor” in the prosecutor’s decision to strike Casey.

(ellipses in original).  For dissenting judge McKeown, the burden was on the defendant to prove purposeful discrimination and he failed to do so. She added,

This case calls to mind Justice Breyer’s observation that the Batson inquiry can be an “awkward, sometime hopeless, task of second-guessing a prosecutor’s instinctive judgment—the underlying basis for which may be invisible even to the prosecutor exercising the challenge.” Miller-El v. Dretke (2005) (Breyer, J., concurring). In view of the record of what actually happened, the trial judge’s findings and the ultimate composition of the jury, our retrospective parsing simply cannot elevate ambiguous, speculative foundation to proof that the prosecutor was motivated in substantial part by racism.

The problem of the degree of proof of intent in equal protection claims generally and Batson specifically has vexed the courts.  Recall that the United States Supreme Court will be taking another look at equal protection doctrine under Batson this term in Foster v. Humphrey; the lower court had held that  merely because the prosecutor's notes and records revealed "that the race" - - - meaning Black - - - "of prospective jurors was either circled, highlighted or otherwise noted on various lists" did not establish purposeful discrimination. 

October 27, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Bivens Remedy for Overseas Violations in Criminal Terrorism Investigation

The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled in a fractured opinion that a U.S. citizen secretly detained, transferred involuntarily between countries, and threatened with torture by FBI agents did not have a claim for violation of the Fourth Amendment in federal courts. That's because "special factors" counseled against such a remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents.

The ruling means that Plaintiff Meshal's case is dismissed, and leaves him without a remedy. It also makes it yet even more difficult for plaintiffs like Meshal to get their cases heard in federal court. 

The FBI originally detained and held Meshal because of his alleged connections to al Qaeda; it later released him without charges.

The court wrote that Meshal's claim involved a "new context" for Bivens--a strike against him right out of the gate:

Not only does Meshal's claim involve new circumstances--a criminal terrorism investigation conducted abroad--it also involves different legal components--the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections. Such a different context requires us to think anew. To our knowledge, no court has previously extended Bivens to cases involving either the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections or in the national security domain, let alone a case implicating both--another signal that this context is a novel one.

Because the case arose in a "new context," the court looked to special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. And it found two, which, taken together, left Meshal without a Bivens cause of action: (1) the case involves "the military, national security, or intelligence," and (2) the conduct occurred outside the borders of the United States. The court also said that a host of "practical factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, including requiring the court to second guest executive officials operating in foreign justice systems, unknown diplomatic consequences of the suit, and forcing the courts to answer hard questions about the extraterritorial application of the Constitution outside of peacetime.

Judge Kavanaugh wrote separately to especially emphasize the military, counter-terrorism, and foreign context of the suit--the "new context" that triggered the special factors analysis and weighted so heavily against a Bivens claim.

Judge Pillard wrote a lengthy and scathing dissent, dissecting the court's analysis point-by-point. Judge Pillard was particularly concerned about the blind judicial deference to the government's mere invocation, without reasonable explanation, of foreign policy and national security as special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. She summed up the strange and deeply disturbing result:

Had Meshal suffered these injuries in the United States, there is no dispute that he could have sought redress under Bivens. If Meshal's tormentors had been foreign officials, he could have sought a remedy under the Torture Victim Protection Act. Yet the majority holds that because of unspecified national security and foreign policy concerns, a United States citizen who was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and threatened with disappearance by United States law enforcement agents in Africa must be denied any remedy whatsoever.

October 26, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No Standing in Case for Constitutional Convention

Judge James E. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled today that an individual plaintiff lacked standing to sue House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to force them to call a constitutional convention. But the ruling doesn't end the matter: the case now goes back to D.C. Superior Court under the federal statute that allowed the defendants to remove to federal court in the first place.

Repeat plaintiff Montgomery Blair Sibley, described by the court as "a United States citizen with a propensity for filing unmeritorious lawsuits," sued Boehner and McConnell, arguing that thirty-five states have voiced their support for a constitutional convention, "some as far back as 1901 (Minnesota), some as recently as 1979 (Mississippi)." But Sibley argued that the congressional leaders failed to call a convention, as required by Article V. ("The Congress . . . on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments . . . .")

While Sibley filed first in D.C. Superior Court, Boehner and McConnell removed the case to federal court under a federal statutes that allows removal of suits in state court against any officer of either House of Congress. They then moved to dismiss, arguing that Sibley lacked standing, that they're protected by the Speech and Debate Clause, and that the case raises a non-justiciable political question.

Judge Boasberg ruled only on standing, and said that Sibley lacked it. (The ruling was even easier than it looks, as it turned out, because Sibley conceded the point early in the lawsuit.)

But Judge Boasberg also remanded the case to D.C. Superior Court, because the statues that allowed removal also required remand, and because Judge Boasberg held that there was no futility exception.

Still, the D.C. court is almost certain to dismiss the case, if only because D.C. law on standing follows the federal courts.

October 13, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Daily Read: Chief Justice Roberts at Ten

The inimitable Linda Greenhouse in "A Chief Justice Without A Friend" notes that John Roberts is unpopular as he celebrates his decade on the bench.

I can’t think of a chief justice who has been so uniformly vilified by both left and right.

The attacks from the left are logical enough. It’s the fire from the right that merits closer observation than it has generally received. Sure, it’s titillating in a man-bites-dog sort of way. But it’s also revealing of an ideological transformation now underway in how an increasingly influential segment of the conservative elite views the role of courts.

A good quick read, with a link to The Nation special issue - - - The Case Against the Roberts Court - - - which is likewise worth a read.



October 2, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)