Monday, January 16, 2017
While we often think of protest and civil disobedience under the First Amendment, in her article Protest is Different in Richmond Law Review, Professor Jesssica West of University of Washington essentially argues that the First Amendment has not been a sufficiently robust defense criminal prosecutions. Instead, she contends that we should reconceptualize protest relying upon evolving concepts of capital jurisprudence flowing from the Eighth Amendment contention that "death is different." She argues that similar to the complexity of the moral determination inherent in a sentence of death requiring a judgment of community condemnation, a criminal conviction resulting from acts of protest likewise involves deep and complex values of individualization and community conscience.
It's a worthwhile read on this Martin Luther King Day: "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Apr. 16, 1963.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
President Obama's 2016 Proclamation regarding Bill of Rights Day stresses the evolving nature of the Bill of Rights protections:
As it was originally created, the Bill of Rights safeguarded personal liberties and ensured equal justice under the law for many -- but not for all. In the centuries that followed its ratification, courageous Americans agitated and sacrificed to extend these rights to more people, moving us closer to ensuring opportunity and equality are not limited by one's race, sex, or circumstances. The desire and capacity to forge our own destinies have propelled us forward at every turn in history. The same principles that drove patriots to choose revolution over tyranny, a country to cast off the stains of slavery, women to reach for the ballot, and workers to organize for their rights still remind us that our freedom is intertwined with the freedom of others. If we are to ensure the sacred ideals embodied in the Bill of Rights are afforded to everyone, each generation must do what those who came before them have done and recommit to holding fast to our values and protecting these freedoms.
Two and a quarter centuries later, these 10 Constitutional Amendments remain a symbol of one of our Nation's first successful steps in our journey to uphold the rights of all citizens. On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate the long arc of progress that transformed our Nation from a fledgling and fragile democracy to one in which civil rights are the birthright of all Americans. This progress was never inevitable, and as long as people remain willing to fight for justice, we can work to swing open more doors of opportunity and carry forward a vision of liberty and equality for generations to come.
As for how "Bill of Rights Day" became a named day - - - if not a true holiday - - - my previous discussion is here.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
It's time again for Constitutional Law final exam. In previous posts, such as here, we've discussed the common strategy of using current controversies as exam material, and have highlighted the best practices regarding final exam drafting, including the baseline that the exam question must include ALL the specific material and explanations that a student would need to answer the question and not rely upon extraneous information that not all students might share.
This end-of-semester, the President-Elect has provided ample fodder for exam material.
A good place to start would be the ACLU Report entitled The Trump Memos, a 27 page discussion of issues of immigration, creation of a Muslim "database," torture, libel, mass surveillance, and abortion. Embedded in many of these issues are constitutional structural considerations involving federalism (e.g., sanctuary cities) and separation of powers (building "the wall).
For First Amendment issues, augmenting the ACLU's libel discussion with the ABA section article about Trump as a "libel bully" provides lots of material. There is also the recent "flag-burning" tweet, though this may be too simple given the precedent, although it could be combined with the lesser known doctrine regarding denaturalization, as we discuss here.
Lesser known doctrine that may not have been covered this semester (but presumably would be covered next semester) includes the Emoluments Clause, given Trump's many possible conflicts, as we've mentioned here and here. Additionally, some argue that the "election" is not "over": recounts are occurring and there are calls for the Electoral College to select the popular vote winner as President. The problems with the voting and the election could also provide exam material; there are also interesting equal protection voting cases such as the recent Ninth Circuit en banc case.
While Trump looms large on the constitutional landscape, there are also some interesting cases before the United States Supreme Court, in which the issues are more focused.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The United States Supreme Court has held that flag burning as expressive speech is protected by the First Amendment and that loss of citizenship is not a constitutional punishment for a crime.
In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Court declared:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. . . . In short, nothing in our precedents suggests that a State may foster its own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it.. . . There is, moreover, no indication -- either in the text of the Constitution or in our cases interpreting it -- that a separate juridical category exists for the American flag alone. Indeed, we would not be surprised to learn that the persons who framed our Constitution and wrote the Amendment that we now construe were not known for their reverence for the Union Jack. The First Amendment does not guarantee that other concepts virtually sacred to our Nation as a whole -- such as the principle that discrimination on the basis of race is odious and destructive -- will go unquestioned in the marketplace of ideas. . . .
We are tempted to say, in fact, that the flag's deservedly cherished place in our community will be strengthened, not weakened, by our holding today. Our decision is a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism such as Johnson's is a sign and source of our strength. Indeed, one of the proudest images of our flag, the one immortalized in our own national anthem, is of the bombardment it survived at Fort McHenry. It is the Nation's resilience, not its rigidity, that Texas sees reflected in the flag -- and it is that resilience that we reassert today.
The way to preserve the flag's special role is not to punish those who feel differently about these matters. It is to persuade them that they are wrong.
To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to bee applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
Whitney v. California(1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring). And, precisely because it is our flag that is involved, one's response to the flag-burner may exploit the uniquely persuasive power of the flag itself. We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one's own, no better way to counter a flag burner's message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by -- as one witness here did -- according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.
During the oral argument in Texas v. Johnson, the late Justice Scalia, who joined the Court's opinion, expressed scorn for the notion that the flag should be insulated from the First Amendment protections of speech. In a colloquy with the attorney for the State of Texas, Justice Scalia wondered if Texas could similarly criminalize desecration of the state flower, the blue bonnet. Scalia then remarked:
Well, how do you pick out what to protect?
I mean, you know, if I had to pick between the Constitution and the flag, I might well go with the Constitution.
As for the constitutionality of "loss of citizenship" as punishment for a criminal violation, the United States Supreme Court, in Trop v. Dulles (1958), declared that "Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior." In considering a statute that revoked citizenship for desertion by a member of the armed forces, the Court stated that the
use of denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment. There may be involved no physical mistreatment, no primitive torture. There is instead the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself. While any one country may accord him some rights, and presumably as long as he remained in this country he would enjoy the limited rights of an alien, no country need do so because he is stateless. Furthermore, his enjoyment of even the limited rights of an alien might be subject to termination at any time by reason of deportation. In short, the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.
This punishment is offensive to cardinal principles for which the Constitution stands. It subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him, and when and for what cause his existence in his native land may be terminated. He may be subject to banishment, a fate universally decried by civilized people. He is stateless, a condition deplored in the international community of democracies. It is no answer to suggest that all the disastrous consequences of this fate may not be brought to bear on a stateless person. The threat makes the punishment obnoxious.
The civilized nations of the world are in virtual unanimity that statelessness is not to be imposed as punishment for crime.
Thus it seems that the president-elect's sentiment is at odds with our constitutional precedent.
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
A complaint alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments by North Dakota officials has been filed on behalf of "water protectors" at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest at Standing Rock. The plaintiffs in Dundon v. Kirchmeier have also filed a motion and memo for a Temporary Restraining Order "enjoining Defendants from curtailing their First and Fourth Amendment rights by using highly dangerous weaponry, including Specialty Impact Munitions (SIM, also known as Kinetic Impact Projectiles or KIP), explosive “blast” grenades, other chemical agent devices, and a water cannon and water hoses in freezing temperatures, to quell protests and prayer ceremonies associated with opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
As to the First Amendment, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants have sought to eliminate protected First Amendment activity in a public forum. Additionally, even if there were an "unlawful assembly" not protected by the First Amendment, the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of excessive force. Moreover, the plaintiffs claim that the activities of the government officials have become a custom warranting government liability.
The factual claims in the complaint and memo supporting the TRO are troubling; some of the accounts will be familiar from reporting, but the legal documents compare the use of force at Standing Rock to other situations.
For example, on the water cannon:
The use of water cannons in riot control contexts also can lead to injury or death. Potential health effects include hypothermia and frostbite, particularly if appropriate medical and warming services are not easily accessible. High-pressure water can cause both direct and indirect injuries. Direct injuries may include trauma directly to the body or internal injuries from the force of the water stream. Eye damage resulting in blindness as well as facial bone fractures and serious head injuries have been documented. Ex. V at 59; Anna Feifenbaum, White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses, Open Democracy (Feb. 25, 2014); https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/anna-feigenbaum/white-washingwater-cannon-salesmen-scientific-experts-and-human-rights; https://web.archive.org/web/20070221053037/http://newzimbabwe.com/pages/mdc44.15976.html (fatalities reported in Zimbabwe in 2007, when water cannons were used on peaceful crowd, causing panic); http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=49009 (fatalities reported in Turkey in 2013, when water cannon water was mixed with teargas); https://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/ukraine-politics/activist-watered-by-police-diedbecause-of-pneumonia-335885.html (fatality reported in Ukraine in 2014, when businessman Bogdan Kalynyak died from pneumonia after being sprayed by water cannon in freezing temperatures). There is no current caselaw on the use of water cannons against protesters in the United States because, along with attack dogs, such use effectively ended in the U.S. in the 1960s amidst national outcry over the use of these tactics on nonviolent civil rights protesters.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
The safety pin has been recognized as an expression of support for the "vulnerable," becoming popular in the UK in response to xenophobic incidents after the Brexit vote and now in the US after reports of similar incidents. While some deride it as being a mere (and insufficient) fashion accessory without accompanying actions, the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas has issued a message to its employees essentially prohibiting them from wearing safety pins as a form of expression. Here is the statement from the school district's Facebook page, seemingly crafted in consultation with its local NEA chapter:
"Recent events require us to remind our employees of their rights and responsibilities. As a staff member, you do not give up your first amendment right to free-speech on matters of public concern. However, your communication inside the classroom on school time is considered speech on behalf of the school district and there is a limitation on that speech.
The wearing of a safety pin as a political statement is the latest example of such political speech. Although wearing the safety pin as political speech is not the problem, any disruption the political statement causes in the classroom or school is a distraction in the education process. We ask staff members to refrain from wearing safety pins or other symbols of divisive and partisan political speech while on duty--unless such activity is specifically in conjunction with District curriculum.
Further, the use of district owned devices and accounts is strictly forbidden for anything other than District business. If you have questions regarding appropriate use, please see BOE policies IIBF and GAT.
NEA-SM and the Board of Education are committed to the safety of every student. Thank you in advance for your careful review of this statement and for working with all students of the Shawnee Mission community.”
The Kansas ACLU has sent a letter to the school district urging it to "reconsider the prohibition on the wearing of safety pins." The ACLU letter argues that the safety pin is not partisan political speech and is "highly vulnerable to legal challenge" under the classic case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969). In Tinker, involving students wearing black armbands to protest the Viet Nam war, the Court ruled that public schools could not curtail students' symbolic speech unless the speech would "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school," or infringe on the rights of others. The Supreme Court famously stated that "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," and the Tinker standard has been applied to teachers as well as students.
The ACLU has the better argument here. As I've written in Dressing Constitutionally, the Tinker standard has been applied to teachers as well as students. Moreover, the school district's contention that teachers' expression "inside the classroom on school time is considered speech on behalf of the school district," is an overstatement (and is at odds with doctrine limiting government liability for teacher speech unless it is official policy). Importantly, the school's communication recognizes the "safety pin" as conveying a specific meaning - - - contrasted with cases involving teacher dress in which the expression is debatable (e.g., long hair or mustaches for male teachers) - - - and thus the First Amendment clearly applies to the safety pin as expression. As for disruption, the Tinker standard requires the school officials "had reason to anticipate" a substantial disruption rather than merely "an urgent wish to avoid the controversy which might result from the expression." There do not seem to be any facts indicating that there would be disruption - - - again, contrasted with cases in which there was a history of racial violence and student Confederate flag attire could be banned - - - and thus the Tinker standard is not satisfied.
The school board is on shaky First Amendment ground in its banning of safety pins as symbolic expression.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Julie Silverbrook of The Constitutional Sources Project has a worthwhile "brief history" of the Emoluments Clause, including the text and this excerpt from The Federalist No. 22: "Evils of this description ought not to be regarded as imaginary. One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption." The passage goes on to contrast monarchies with republican governments, the former being less susceptible to corruption because the hereditary monarch "has so great a personal interest in the government, and in the external glory of the nation, that it is not easy for a foreign power to give him an equivalent for what he would sacrifice by treachery to the State."
Scholar Zephyr Teachout has also been discussing Emoluments, as we noted here; And now might be a good time to reread Teachout's 2014 book Corruption in America). [update: If you don't have the book handy, her 2012 essay, Gifts, Offices, and Corruption is available on ssrn.]
While it has been argued that the Emoluments Clause should not apply to the President as we noted here, its application to a President-Elect is even more uncertain.
Law professors looking for a class exercise (or perhaps a paper topic) could use any number of examples, although a "hypothetical" based on an Argentina construction project might be useful. Here is the situation courtesy of a storify of tweets and here is the piece from The Hill.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo (1974), a unanimous Supreme Court held that Florida's "right of reply" statute granting a political candidate a right to equal space to answer criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper violated the First Amendment.
As the opinion by Chief Justice Burger phrased it:
the Court has expressed sensitivity as to whether a restriction or requirement constituted the compulsion exerted by government on a newspaper to print that which it would not otherwise print. The clear implication has been that any such a compulsion to publish that which "reason' tells them should not be published" is unconstitutional. A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution, and, like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated. . . . Governmental restraint on publishing need not fall into familiar or traditional patterns to be subject to constitutional limitations on governmental powers.
Thus, while the President-Elect may simply be requesting "equal time" for "us," his widely reported tweet implicates serious constitutional concerns.
I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show - nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
In a nearly 100 page complaint filed in the federal court in D.H. v. City of New York, the plaintiffs argue that New York's Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, NY Penal Code § 240.37, is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Represented by The Legal Aid Society, the central constitutional claims are that the statute is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause and that its enforcement violates First Amendment rights to expression, Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and Fourth Amendment rights.
The intersections and distinctions between vagueness under the Due Process Clause and overbreadth under the First Amendment were elucidated by the United States Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010) and the complaint in D.H. might serve as a textbook example of these issues. Essentially, the complaint alleges that the NY Penal Code section, §240.37 , does not provide people with adequate notice of the conduct they should avoid to preclude arrest and results in the inclusion of First Amendment protected speech, expressive conduct, and association. Further, these lack of statutory guidelines have meant that law enforcement actions under the statute have been arbitrary as well as discriminatory on the basis of classifications involving race, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity.
In addition to the statutory arguments, plaintiffs allege that the NYPD guidelines and practices have failed to remedy the problems and have in fact exacerbated them. One central allegation regards attire:
Furthermore, the purported guidance provided in the NYPD Patrol Guide is equally vague and otherwise ﬂawed, thereby increasing arbitrary enforcement. For instance, the NYPD Patrol Guide instructs ofﬁcers that an arrestee’s “clothing” is “pertinent” to the probable cause inquiry. At the same time, the NYPD Patrol Guide does not provide any objective criteria regarding what types of attire may or may not have probative value for purposes of establishing probable cause, thus encouraging officers to make arrests based on individual, subjective opinions regarding what clothing someone who might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” would wear. In pre-printed affidavits provided by prosecutors (also referred to as supporting depositions), which prompt the arresting officer to describe “revealing” or “provocative” clothing, ofﬁcers often respond by citing a wide range of innocuous attire, such as “jeans,” a “black pea coat” or a pair of leggings.
[¶ 54]. The "black pea coat" as grounds supporting a solicitation for prostitution charge attracted attention in 2013 when a judge dismissed a charge which was based on the defendant "wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes."
The unconstitutional inequality in the application of NY Penal Code section, §240.37 is analogous to the equal protection problems in New York City's practice of stop and frisk. Recall that a federal judge found NYC's practices violated equal protection in her opinion in Floyd v. City of New York, later stayed - - - and thereafter clarified - - - by the Second Circuit, followed by the City's new administration agreeing with the decision and abandoning the appeals. One of the complaint's pendent state law claims is a violation of the city's own prohibition of bias-based profiling, NYC Admin. Code §14-151 (passed in 2013 by City Council overriding the then-mayor's veto).
Loitering statutes in general, and more specifically loitering (and even soliciting) for "criminal sex" statutes, whether that sex is criminalized because it is commercial, public, or "unnatural" (as in previous sodomy prohibitions), have always been constitutionally problematic. And the use of dress or appearance to establish "probable cause" or to constitute elements of a crime are constitutionally suspect. It will be interesting to see whether or not the City defends the action, and if it does, how vigorously.
[image: Moulin Rouge by Toulouse Latrec via]
October 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 26, 2016
The United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.
Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.
The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Virginia concededly did consider race in the redistricting, but the more precise issue is an interpretation under current doctrine regarding whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court is faulted for requiring an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race. The petitioners argue that “where a legislature intentionally assigns voters to districts according to a fixed, nonnegotiable racial threshold, “strict scrutiny cannot be avoided simply by demonstrating that the shape and location of the districts can rationally be explained by reference to some districting principle other than race.” If it were other-wise, they argue, even the most egregious race-based districting schemes would escape constitutional scrutiny. In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation. The plaintiff originally argued that the congressional map drawn by the NC Assembly in 2011 violated the Equal Protection Clause in two districts by making race a predominant factor and by not narrowly tailoring the districts to any compelling interest. North Carolina argues that the conclusion of racial predominance is incorrect and that it need not show that racial considerations were “actually necessary” as opposed to “having good reasons” under the Voting Rights Act. The North Carolina districts have been long controversial; a good timeline is here.
In another Equal Protection Clause case, the classification is sex rather than race. In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment. The United States argues that because the context is citizenship, only rational basis scrutiny is appropriate. This issue has been before the Court before. The last time was 2011 in Flores-Villar v. United States when the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" upheld the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the differential residency requirement satisfied equal protection. In Flores-Villar, Kagan was recused. The Court hearing Morales-Santana, scheduled for oral argument November 9, will also seemingly be only eight Justices, but this time including Kagan.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. It is concededly more expansive/restrictive than the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment as the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision. Trinity Lutheran argues that the Blaine Amendment violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, with the Eighth Circuit siding with the state of Missouri.
There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution. Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror. Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?
Finally - - - at least for now - - - the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute. Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.
We will be updating this post as the Court adds more cases to its docket.
UPDATE September 29, 2016: The Court granted certiorari to two important First Amendment cases.
September 26, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Religion, Sixth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, September 17, 2016
It's Constitution Day - - - week - - - yet again. And as we do every year, we commemorate it with a few notes.
First, there is the issue of the constitutionality of constitution day:
The right to be free of government-compelled speech - even speech that is worthwhile and beneficial - has been a "fixed star in our constitutional constellation" for over sixty years. That quote comes from Justice Robert Jackson, writing for the Supreme Court striking down a law expelling students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Even though the country was in the middle of World War II at the time, the Court recognized that patriotism must be voluntary to be meaningful. Jackson did not mince words: "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters."
The same is true now. Though we are at war, if we have to mandate patriotism or respect for the constitution, then we have already lost.
In part, this is because Constitution Day is a "mandate":
Federal law mandates that:
Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.
Department of Education regulations provide that the law:
requires that Constitution Day be held on September 17 of each year, commemorating the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution. However, when September 17 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, Constitution Day shall be held during the preceding or following week.
And then there is the issue of whether we should be honoring the Constitution's inception or its reconstruction:
On that date in 1870, our nation ratified the last of the Civil War Amendments. That date symbolizes our commitment to reconstruct the Founders’ immoral compromise and place under national protection the inalienable rights of all the nation’s people.
This year, President Obama's Presidential Proclamation stressed immigration - - - and included a mention of refugees - - - and also articulated a "living constitutionalism" theory:
America is more than a piece of land -- it is an idea, a place where we can contribute our talents, fulfill our ambitions, and be part of something bigger than ourselves. Each year on Citizenship Day, we celebrate our newest citizens who raise their hands and swear a sacred oath to join our American family. The journey they have taken reminds us that immigration is our origin story. For centuries, immigrants have brought diverse beliefs, cultures, languages, and traditions to our country, and they have pledged to uphold the ideals expressed in our founding documents. They come from all around the world, mustering faith that in America, they can build a better life and give their children something more. That is why I was proud to create the White House Task Force on New Americans, which is helping to build welcoming communities around our country and enhance civic, economic, and linguistic integration for immigrants and refugees. Through the Task Force, Federal agencies and local communities are working together to raise awareness about the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of citizenship -- and to give immigrants and refugees the tools they need to succeed.
As a Nation of immigrants, our legacy is rooted in their success. Their contributions help us live up to our founding principles. With pride in our diverse heritage and in our common creed, we affirm our dedication to the values enshrined in our Constitution. We, the people, must forever breathe life into the words of this precious document, and together ensure that its principles endure for generations to come.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
The Court today issued a stay in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board, the case from the Fourth Circuit concluding that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity. As we discussed,while the constitutional issues are not "front and center," the case implicates both the constitutional power of Executive branch agencies, federalism, and Equal Protection.
The stay opinion divides the Court, with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissenting without opinion.
Justice Breyer - - - the crucial vote for the majority - - - writes separately to concur stating that he votes to grant the stay "as a courtesy" joining the four other Justices to "preserve the status quo (as of the time the Court of Appeals made its decision)," meaning presumably, before the Fourth Circuit rendered its decision.
[Caricature image of Justice Breyer by Donkey Hotey via]
Friday, July 29, 2016
In its extensive opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory, the Fourth Circuit has permanently enjoined the implementation of North Carolina SL 2013-381’s photo ID requirement and changes to early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration. The Voter Information Verification Act, the Fourth Circuit concluded, made a racial classification although it seemed neutral, reasoning that
on the day after the Supreme Court issued Shelby County v. Holder (2013), eliminating preclearance obligations, a leader of the party that newly dominated the legislature (and the party that rarely enjoyed African American support) announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an “omnibus” election law. Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.
In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.
The Fourth Circuit concluded that the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act violated both the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and §2 of the Voting Rights Act. For both, the hurdle was finding the legislature acted with racially discriminatory intent. Most of the opinion is devoted to this discussion. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district judge on this basis, writing that the judge seemed "to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," and ignoring "critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina."
In the Equal Protection analysis, the Fourth Circuit applied the well-established requirement of racial intent (as well as effects) from Washington v. Davis. In considering whether the seemingly-neutral voting requirements were enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” their discriminatory effect, citing Pers. Adm’r of Mass. v. Feeney (1979), the Fourth Circuit discussed the factors of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (1977):
In Arlington Heights, the Court set forth a nonexhaustive list of factors to consider in making this sensitive inquiry. These include: “[t]he historical background of the [challenged] decision”; “[t]he specific sequence of events leading up to the challenged decision”; “[d]epartures from normal procedural sequence”; the legislative history of the decision; and of course, the disproportionate “impact of the official action -- whether it bears more heavily on one race than another.”
The Fourth Circuit then discussed these factors individually. Importantly, on the sequence of events, the opinion stated that
the General Assembly’s eagerness to, at the historic moment of Shelby County’s issuance, rush through the legislative process the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow -- bespeaks a certain purpose. Although this factor, as with the other Arlington Heights factors, is not dispositive on its own, it provides another compelling piece of the puzzle of the General Assembly’s motivation.
But, as the Fourth Circuit noted - - - and for which it faulted the district court - - - the factors should not be considered in isolation. Instead, Arlington Heights requires a totality of circumstances analysis.
The Fourth Circuit having found that race was a factor in the enactment of the Voter Information Verification Act (emphasis in original), the burden shifted to the state to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without this factor, by assessing "whether a law would have been enacted without a racially discriminatory motive by considering the substantiality of the state’s proffered non-racial interest and how well the law furthers that interest." The Fourth Circuit faulted the district judge for conducting this analysis through a "rational-basis-like lens," when such deference is "wholly inappropriate."
The Fourth Circuit discussed each challenged provision of the Voter Information Verification Act. On the voter identification requirement specifically, the Fourth Circuit found Crawford largely inapplicable given that Crawford did not involve even an allegation of intentional race discrimination. It found that while preventing voter fraud is a valid government interest, the means chosen are both too narrow and too broad. Similarly, the Fourth Circuit found that the other provisions could not satisfy the standard:
In sum, the array of electoral “reforms” the General Assembly pursued in SL 2013-381 were not tailored to achieve its purported justifications, a number of which were in all events insubstantial. In many ways, the challenged provisions in SL 2013-381 constitute solutions in search of a problem. The only clear factor linking these various “reforms” is their impact on African American voters. The record thus makes obvious that the “problem” the majority in the General Assembly sought to remedy was emerging support for the minority party. Identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote was an easy and effective way to do so.
The Fourth Circuit panel was unanimous to this point, but divided as to the relief. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, wrote the panel's opinion except to Part V.B., from which she dissented. Her dissent is from a permanent injunction as to the photo identification requirement given that the North Carolina legislature passed a "reasonable impediment exception" from that requirement. She would"only temporarily enjoin the photo ID requirement and remand the case to the district court to determine if, in practice, the exception fully remedies the discriminatory requirement or if a permanent injunction is necessary."
The dissenting point is a small one. The Fourth Circuit panel unanimously held that the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act violates both the Equal Protection Clause and §2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
While the constitutional issues are not front and center in the controversies and litigation over gender identity and school bathroom access, the disputes certainly implicate constitutional issues of equal protection, federalism, unconstitutional conditions, and executive/agency as well as judicial powers.
A Virginia school board has filed a stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari to the Fourth Circuit's opinion in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board. In G.G., a divided panel, reversing the senior district judge, concluded that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity. (The senior district judge had not reached the Equal Protection claim, so it was not before the Fourth Circuit.) In construing Title IX, the Fourth Circuit relied upon a January 7, 2015 opinion letter from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, with a similar conclusion. The Fourth Circuit accorded deference to the agency interpretation of Title IX under Auer v. Robbins (1997), because the relevant regulation was ambiguous - - - perhaps not in the plain meaning, but in its application:
Although the regulation may refer unambiguously to males and females, it is silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms. We conclude that the regulation is susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading— determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia—and the Department’s interpretation—determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity. [citation omitted]. It is not clear to us how the regulation would apply in a number of situations—even under the Board’s own “biological gender” formulation. For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.
The Fourth Circuit panel rejected G.G.'s request to have the case reassigned to another district judge, but did reverse, vacate, and remand the district court's order dismissing the complaint. The Fourth Circuit panel, in an unpublished opinion on July 12, denied the school board's motion for a stay pending appeal, again with one dissent.
The stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari argues that the Fourth Circuit's opinion in an "extreme example" of judicial deference to an administrative agency and is the "perfect vehicle" for the Court's reconsideration of Auer v. Robbins (1997). The motion notes that several Justices have signaled such a reconsideration might be warranted, notably the late Justice Scalia, as well as Alito and Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts. The application also argues that the DOE and DOJ have "seized momentum" and issued further instructions (citing a May 13 DOE "Dear Colleagues" Letter) which would further solidify Auer deference, making action by the Court necessary.
Meanwhile, thirteen states have filed a complaint and application for preliminary injunction in Texas, based on the same letter:
The central challenge is failure to conform with the Administrative Procedure Act, including notice and comment for rule-making. However, the complaint also alleges that the federal government defendants "violated the Spending Clause" by engaging in "unconstitutional coercion" by "economic dragooning." The complaint relies on that portion of the "Obamacare" case, NFIB v. Sebelius, in which a plurality found constitutional issues with the medicaid expansion program.
On May 13, 2016, following years of incremental preambles (“guidances,” “interpretations,” and the like), Defendants informed the nation’s schools that they must immediately allow students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers of the student’s choosing, or risk losing Title IX-linked funding. And employers that refuse to permit employees to utilize the intimate areas of their choice face legal liability under Title VII. These new mandates, putting the federal government in the unprecedented position of policing public school property and facilities, inter alia, run roughshod over clear lines of authority, local policies, and unambiguous federal law.
July 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 11, 2016
In a just-published article, Black Lives Matter and Respectability Politics in Local News Accounts of Officer-Involved Civilian Deaths: An Early Empirical Assessment, 2016 Wisconsin Law Review 541, ConLawProf Osagie K. Obasogie (pictured below) and UC Hastings law student Zachary Newman present a compelling discussion of how news media - - - and by extension the general public - - - engage in the politics of respectability with regard to allegations of police misconduct, focusing on the conduct or character of the victim.
The authors argue that although " sustained media attention to Black Lives Matter may lead some to conclude that journalists have become more sensitive to how respectability politics can lead to inaccurate reporting and encourage more balanced descriptions of these events, our qualitative assessment of the selected data suggests that journalists’ reporting of these incidents continues to reflect a troubling respectability politics that minimizes the lives lost and overstates the legitimacy of police use of deadly force."
In looking at news reports from 2013 until July 2015, the authors conclude that
overall, as a qualitative matter, there is a notable discursive consistency across pre– and post–Black Lives Matter reporting on officer-involved killings, suggesting that the movement’s concerns over race and respectability are not reflected in journalists’ accounts. This overall finding is empirically supported by three persistent themes throughout the data: (1) a strong commitment to colorblindness in discussing the race of the parties involved, (2) the dominance of the police perspective in reporting these incidents, and (3) continued use of criminalizing language unrelated to the incident itself to characterize the victim’s respectability.
The authors insights could be extended to more recent events, including those of this past week, which will be sure to still be on the minds of law students in our classes and this article could be a great introductory reading for 1L students.
Additionally, more must-read discussions of respectability politics including the events of the last week is over at Race and the Law Prof Blog, including Atiba Ellis's, On Respectability, the Dallas Shootings, #BlackLivesMatter, and Reasoned Discourse which links to that blog's online symposium on Respectability Politics.
July 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)
Friday, July 1, 2016
Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi Law Seeking to Protect LGBT Discrimination
In a 60 page opinion in Barber v. Bryant, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves (pictured below) found Mississippi HB 1523, set to become effective July 1, constitutionally problematical under both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and thus preliminary enjoined its enforcement.
The bill, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," sought to insulate the specific "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" that:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
Judge Reeves characterized HB 1523 as a predictable overreaction to the Court's same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges a year ago. In discussing the debates around the HB 152 and its texts, Judge Reeves also noted that the challenges to HB 1523 were also predictable, providing his rationale for consolidating the four cases.
Judge Reeves then considered standing of the various plaintiffs as well as Eleventh Amendment immunity, followed by the established preliminary injunction standards which have at their heart the "substantial likelihood of success on the merits."
On the Equal Protection claim, Judge Reeves relied on Romer v. Evans, and found that the legislative history established animus in intent:
The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status.
Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect. Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest." But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523." Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."
On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:
The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.
Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.
Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.
July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 20, 2016
On behalf of Citizens for Trump, the ACLU has filed a complaint against the City of Cleveland for its Event Zone Permit Regulations, arguing that the regulations and the delayed permit processing, violate the First Amendment, as well as the Ohio Constitution and the Due Process Clause.
Central to the First Amendment claim is the contention that the "event zone" is far too large and
apply far beyond the part of the city where the Convention activities will take place, and instead encompass a 3.3-square mile expanse that includes business districts and neighborhoods where people live, sleep and conduct their daily activities.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that the permitting regulations are unduly restrictive, limited in number, space, and time. ("The City will not issue any permits for any kind of public gathering or parade in the Event Zone throughout the Convention period, except for one designated parade route that lies along the southern border of the Zone. The City will only allow permit holders to use that route for 50 minutes each, and only 18 of these 50-minute parade slots are available during the entire four-day Convention."
The Cleveland regulations ban a host of dangerous items within the zone. This includes firearms, and interestingly guns are banned in the convention arena itself, a stance that has attracted some controversy given the Second Amendment interpretations by the RNC. However, the ban in the zone extends beyond explosives, drones, fireworks, and rockets, to other less predictable items such as aerosol cans, locks, ladders, canned goods, and tennis balls. There is an exemption for persons who live or work in the event zone, or are on law enforcement or medical duty.
Nevertheless, the ACLU challenge may be a difficult one. The district judge considering this challenge will undoubtedly be aware that the RNC 2016 convention is predicted to be volatile - - - inside and out. The doctrine on free speech zones and protest zones has been increasingly accepted by the courts with deference to the government. Recall Wood v. Moss in which the United States Supreme Court unanimously if implicitly validated free speech zones used in a Presidential appearance. While it was a Bivens action including a claim of qualified immunity, the Court importantly also rejected the claim of viewpoint discrimination - - - that the Secret Service’s manner of “zoning” the protestors discriminating against anti-Bush demonstrators and in favor of pro-Bush demonstrators. The 2004 RNC convention in New York City also had its share of First Amendment litigation, with the Second Circuit upholding the constitutionality of various arrests, again against a claim for damages.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
In Clay, the Court reversed Ali's conviction for "willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces."
The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali's claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the "religious" requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970). The Department of Justice had stated:
‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant's claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’
However, the Department of Justice abandoned that argument before the United States Supreme Court:
In this Court the Government has now fully conceded that the petitioner's beliefs are based upon ‘religious training and belief,’ as defined in United States v. Seeger, ‘There is no dispute that petitioner's professed beliefs were founded on basic tenets of the Muslim religion, as he understood them, and derived in substantial part from his devotion to Allah as the Supreme Being. Thus, under this Court's decision in United States v. Seeger, his claim unquestionably was within the ‘religious training and belief’ clause of the exemption provision.' [quoting the DOJ Brief]. This concession is clearly correct. For the record shows that the petitioner's beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them. They are surely no less religiously based than those of the three registrants before this Court in Seeger. See also Welsh v. United States.
[citations and footnote omitted]
A unanimous Supreme Court thus reversed the conviction in a per curiam opinion. (Thurgood Marshall, who had been Solicitor General, recused himself).
Justice William Douglas, in his inimitable style, concurred separately with a discourse on the Koran and the meaning of “jihad.” Douglas concluded:"What Clay's testimony adds up to is that he believes only in war as sanctioned by the Koran, that is to say, a religious war against nonbelievers. All other wars are unjust."
Friday, June 3, 2016
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has made news by charging that United States District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation about Trump University because Curiel is of Mexican heritage and Trump proclaims he is "building a wall" between the United States and Mexico: "It’s an inherent conflict of interest.” Trump's comments are reported in The Wall Street Journal here and The Washington Post (with video) here.
Recall the motions and eventual ruling regarding the federal district judge who heard the same-sex marriage trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger; there was an argument he should be disqualified when he revealed he was gay. As the court stated, "The fact that a federal judge shares a fundamental characteristic with a litigant, or shares membership in a large association such as a religion, has been categorically rejected by federal courts as a sole basis for requiring a judge to recuse her or himself." Moreover, these allegations of bias usually seem to be leveled against persons who have not traditionally been members of the judiciary.
This is distinct from situations such as Caperton v. Massey Coal Co., a divided opinion in which the Court's majority held that the financial campaign contributions to an elected judge on the state's highest court mandated the judge's recusal as a matter of due process when the contributor was a litigant.
And it is distinct from the decision due this Term from the Court, Williams v. Pennsylvania, argued in February, in which the bias involves a justice on the state's highest court reviewing a habeas petition that includes allegations of prosecutorial misconduct when that justice happened to be the District Attorney.
The notion of an independent - - - and impartial - - - judiciary, whether state or federal, is fundamental, but where and how the lines should be drawn can be difficult. Chief Justice Roberts's dissenting opinion in Caperton illustrated the difficulties of line-drawing with 40 numbered issues (often containing multiple questions).
No one, however, seems to have argued that a litigant's beliefs, for example about Mexico, that have nothing to do with the actual matter of litigation, for example about alleged fraudulent practices at Trump University, could lead to a credible claim that of judicial bias because the judge happens to have Mexican heritage. If this were to be the rule, then some litigants with unsavory ideas would be able to claim bias against every judge.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
In its opinion in Vergara v. California today, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District of California reversed the conclusion of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education. California's so-called teacher tenure statutes challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including the permanent employment statute (§44929.21(b)); dismissal statutes (§§ 44934; 44938(b)(l) and (2) and 44944); and a seniority statute, "Last In First Out" or "LIFO" statute (§44955).
In a nutshell, the appellate court found:
Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.
The appellate court implied that the trial judge had misconstrued his constitutional task:
With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.
The appellate court's 36 page opinion contains a careful rehearsal of the evidence before the trial judge as well as a discussion of his opinion. In its own analysis, the appellate court considered the plaintiffs' original contentions that:
the challenged statutes create an oversupply of grossly ineffective teachers because (i) the tenure statute’s probationary period is too short, preventing the identification of grossly ineffective teachers before the mandated deadline for reelection; (ii) when grossly ineffective tenured teachers are identified, it is functionally impossible to terminate them under the overly burdensome and complicated dismissal statutes; and (iii) when reductions-in-force are required, the statute requires the termination of junior, competent teachers while more senior, grossly ineffective teachers keep their jobs only because they have seniority. Plaintiffs argued, and the trial court agreed, that two distinct classes of students—Group 1 (an “unlucky subset” of students within the population of students at large) and Group 2 (poor and minority students)—were denied equal protection because the challenged statutes led members of these groups to be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.
The unanimous panel found that there was no "identifiable class" for equal protection purposes: the group of "unlucky students" who are allegedly harmed by being assigned to grossly ineffective teachers have only one defining characteristic - - - they are assigned to grossly ineffective teachers. As for the second group - - - identified as poor and minority students - - - the appellate court found that there was insufficient causation for a facial constitutional violation: "the statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth." While it is possible, the appellate court noted, that the plaintiffs could have shown that the implementation of the statutes inevitably resulted in "consequential assignment of disproportionately high numbers of grossly inefficient teachers to schools predominantly serving low-income and minority students," the plaintiffs here did not make such a showing.
While the appellate court recognized there were "deplorable staffing decisions made by some local administrators," this was not sufficient to support a facial challenge to teacher tenure statutes.
The appellate decision is much better reasoned than the trial judge's opinion, which derided the "uber due process" provided by the statutes and did not elaborate on the facts and evidence. It is likely to stand.