Tuesday, July 16, 2013
More on the Aftermath of Windsor (DOMA) and Perry (Prop 8) decisions: California, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina Litigation
The Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and Perry v. Hollingsworth, holding that the "proponents" of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a federal judge's declaration of Prop 8's unconstitutionality, have not settled the matter of the unconstitutionality of same-sex marriage restrictions.
In what promises to be a continuing series, here are a few highlights:
In California, the home of Proposition 8, the litigation centers on Prop 8's constitutional status given that the Supreme Court held that the proponents did not have standing to appeal the federal district judge's holding that Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause. The original injunction was stayed, and again stayed by the Ninth Circuit even as it affirmed the district judge, but after Perry, the Ninth Circuit dissolved the stay amid questions about the effect of Perry which we discussed here.
The proponents of Prop 8 have moved (back) to the state courts, filing Hollingsworth v. O'Connell on July 12 seeking a stay from the California Supreme Court. Their basic argument is that a single federal judge should not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional for the entire state and they seek a mandate forbidding county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. On July 16, the California Supreme Court declared - - - as a docket entry and without opinion - - - "The request for an immediate stay or injunctive relief is denied." It also granted the motions for counsel to proceed pro hac vice, so the case will presumably be moving forward.
In Pennsylvania, a complaint in Whitewood v. Corbett was filed July 9, as a new constitutional challenge to the state's "little DOMA" provisions passed the same year as the federal DOMA, 1996 - - - 23 Pa. Consolidated Statute §1102 (defining marriage as between one man and one woman) and 23 Pa. Consolidated Statutes §1704 (declaring one man-one woman marriage as the strong public policy of state and refusing to recognizing same-sex out of state marriages). The Complaint interestingly quotes and cites language from Windsor several times. For example:
¶10. The exclusion from marriage undermines the plaintiff couples' ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them "a dignity and status of immense import." United States v.Windsor, No.12-307, Slip Op., at 18 (U.S. June 26, 2013). Moreover, they and their children are stigmatized and relegated to a second class status by being barred from marriage. The exclusion "tells[same-sex couples and all the world- that their relationships are unworthy" of recognition. Id. at 22-23. And it "humiliates the ...children now being raised by same-sex couples" and "makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives." Id. at 23.
The Attorney General for Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, has reportedly declared she will not defend the constitutionality of the state statutes barring same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, the named defendant and a Republican, as well as the state legislature, are presumably studying the holding regarding BLAG's standing in Windsor.
In Arkansas, the complaint in Wright v. Arkansas was filed in state court on July 2. Arkansas has both a statute and constitutional amendment DOMA (the belt and suspenders approach). The 29 page complaint does not quote or cite Windsor, but does claim that the Arkansas prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of both the state and federal constitution, as well as violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause. First reports are that the state will defend the lawsuit.
In addition to new complaints filed post-Windsor (Perry), ongoing litigation will certainly be changed. For example, the North Carolina federal court complaint in Fisher-Borne v. Smith challenging North Carolina's failure to provide so-called second-parent adoption is being amended - - - reportedly with agreement of the state - - - to include a claim challenging the state's prohibition of same-sex marriage.
While one message of Windsor and even Perry could be understood as being that marriage, same-sex or otherwise, is a matter of state law, another message of Windsor is certainly that there are constitutional problems prohibiting same-sex marriage.
With a patchwork of state laws, this is a fertile landscape for continuing litigation.
[all images Wikimedia; final image here]
July 16, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, July 8, 2013
It's summer in North America and that means scholarship-time for legal academics. No matter what the subject of your in-progress/forthcoming/almost finished article, take time to read a brief essay by Ronald Collins and Lisa Lerman, Disclosure, Scholarly Ethics, and the Future of Law Reviews: A Few Preliminary Thoughts By Ronald K.L. Collins & Lisa Lerman, 88 Wash. L. Rev. 321 (2103), available here.
They argue that your author's footnote might need a bit of expansion to disclose any direct or indirect compensation or involvement in your subject. Disclosure is not the norm in law reviews, especially when it comes to academics as opposed to practioners. The comparison is even more stark when it comes to the practices in other disciplines.
But their suggestion, if rare, is hardly new. Indeed, they quote from the AALS "Statement of Good Practices by Law Professors in the Discharge of their Ethical and Professional Responsibilities":
A law professor shall disclose the material facts relating to receipt of direct or indirect payment for, or any personal economic interest in, any covered activity that the professor undertakes in a professorial capacity . . . . Disclosure of material facts should include: (1) the conditions imposed or expected by the funding source on views expressed in any future covered activity and (2) the identity of any funding source, except where the professor has provided legal representation to a client in a matter external to legal scholarship under circumstances that require the identity to remain privileged under applicable law. If such a privilege prohibits disclosure the professor shall generally describe the interest represented.
And, perhaps less surprising perhaps, it's something Justice William O. Douglas recommended almost half of a century ago.
They provide some scintillating examples worth consideration. These might make you reflect not only on your own ethical responsbility to disclose, but perhaps also upon the missing disclosures in sources upon which you rely, as in the Second Amendment area which we discussed.
And it is certainly worth passing on to your school's law review editors.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Last Term's opinions - - - especially its opinions regarding the constitutionality of the VRA in Shelby, of DOMA and Prop 8 in Windsor and Perry, and of UT's affirmative action plan in Fisher - - - continue to spark debate and commentary. As well they should. But much of our discussions focus on individual Justices: Is Justice Kennedy the "first gay Justice?" Is Justice Alito really rude? Is Chief Justice Roberts playing a "long game?" And what about the tumblr "Notorious R.B.G.? Or @SCOTUS_Scalia, a twitter account?
In their 2010 law review article, Judicial Duty and the Supreme Court’s Cult of Celebrity, available on ssrn, Craig Lerner and Nelson Lund observed that there was a huge dissonance between the personality portrayed in confirmation hearings and the outsized personality on the bench and suggested four Congressional reforms. Their first proposal:
Congress should require that all Supreme Court opinions, including concurrences and dissents, be issued anonymously. This should lead to fewer self-indulgent separate opinions, more coherent and judicious majority opinions, and more reason for future Justices to treat the resulting precedents respectfully.
They contend, "[t]ruly unpretentious judicial servants should have no need to put their personal stamp on the law, and the practice of doing so has contributed to unnecessary and unhealthy flamboyance in the Court’s work."
Their article contains an excellent discussion of the problem of "celebrity," but little discussion of the constitutionality of a Congressional mandate for anonymity or for their other proposals. Certainly, should the anonymity proposal be enacted, there would be a constitutional separation of powers challenge. Although who would have standing? And what about recusal?
[image DonkeyHotey via]
July 2, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, June 28, 2013
In the wake of the Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and Perry v. Hollingsworth, holding that the "proponents" of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a federal judge's declaration of Prop 8's unconstitutionality, many questions remain.
The first question is the status of Proposition 8. Recall that the federal district judge held Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause. The district judge's opinion enjoined the enforcement of Proposition 8, an injunction which he then stayed. Chief Judge Roberts' majority opinion in Perry describes district judge Walker's order as being broad:
"After a 12-day bench trial, the District Court declared Proposition 8 uncon- stitutional, permanently enjoining the California officials named as defendants from enforcing the law, and “direct- ing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision” shall not enforce it. Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F.Supp. 2d 921, 1004 (ND Cal. 2010).
Received copy of Supreme Court opinion dated 06/26/2013. The judgment or mandate of this Court will not issue for at least twenty-five days pursuant to Rule 45. Should a petition for rehearing be filed timely, the judgment or mandate will be further stayed pending this Court's action on the petition for rehearing. Supreme Court No: 12-144.  [10-16696, 11-16577].
One of the best discussions of this issue is by ConLawProf Marty Lederman over at SCOTUSblog. Lederman asks "even if Judge Walker’s injunction should have been limited to the protection of the plaintiffs before him—so what? That injunction nevertheless governs the case, and it will be operative, regardless of whether it should have been more tailored." He concludes that Justice Kennedy, dissenting in Perry will be proven correct that “the Court’s opinion today means that a single district court can make a decision with far-reaching effects that cannot be reviewed.”
The second question is one that is being voiced less, but is worth considering: Why are there no opinions by Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Breyer? Justice Ginsburg, who made headlines with her "skim milk" comment during oral argument in Windsor, could have effectively written a concurring opinion that might have counter-balanced some of the arguments in Alito's separate dissenting opinion regarding the function of marriage. ConLawProf David Cohen over at FeministLawProfessors ConLawProf argues that the lack of opinions matters:
By remaining silent, not only are the liberal Justices depriving us from learning their particular views, but they are depriving future litigants the opportunity to use their strong reasoning to further their cause. After all, the logic in today’s concurring opinions often becomes the logic in tomorrow’s majority opinion.
It might be added that perhaps one of these Justices could have provided a rigorous equal protection analysis.
There are certainly more questions raised by Windsor and Perry, but these two are central.
June 28, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Recall the lawsuits filed against the IRS alleging viewpoint discrimination prohibited under the First Amendment for targeting "conservative" and "tea party" groups' application under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c) for tax exempt status?
New developments may make those allegations much more difficult to prove. The IRS "Be On the Look Out" - - - BOLO - - - lists also included groups that could be described as "Progressives" :
Common thread is the word “progressive.” Activities appear to lean toward a new political party. Activities are partisan and appear anti-Republican. You see references to “blue” as being “progressive.”
And continues that "“progressive” activities appear to show that (c)(3) may not be appropriate."
There is more from the House Ways and Means Ranking Committee Member Sander Levin in an eleven page memo.
Without the viewpoint discrimination claim, there is little to support a First Amendment challenge. There seemingly cannot be a content challenge, for after all, content is at the heart of §501(c) tax exemptions, which may be why some advocate for the provision's repeal.
[image: Carl Guttenberg's 1778 engraving "The Tea-Tax-Tempest" via]
ConLawProf Garrett Epps over at The Atlantic calls Alito's performance a "mini-tantrum," that although silent (and thus not recorded in transcript or audio) was "clear to all with eyes, and brought gasps from more than one person in the audience."
And in the Washington Post, Dana Millbanks writes that "Alito visibly mocked his colleague" and "shook his head from side to side in disagreement, rolled his eyes and looked at the ceiling."
Alito's actions were prompted by Justice Ginsburg's statements regarding her dissents in two employment cases, Vance v. Ball State University, which Alito had authored and rendered from the bench, and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar.
Both Epps and Millbank not only note Alito's disrepect for a colleague, but point out the gendered nature of his actions. Millbank goes further and notes that he had earlier witnessed Alito's demonstration of "disdain for Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the two other women on the court."
Epps compares Alito's actions to a highschooler: Alito looked like the character in the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High, signaling to the homies his contempt for Ray Walston as the bothersome history teacher, Mr. Hand." Millbank places Alito below the high school range, contended that Alito "frequently supplements words with middle-school gestures."
Perhaps the Chief Justice needs to have a conversation with Associate Justice Alito? He might be guided by the experience of many law professors who routinely teach professionalism, including not rolling one's eyes at statements by colleagues.
The Rudest Justice in Slate (June 27);
Alito's Demeanor Inspires Push to Make Court Follow Code in National Law Journal (July 1) (paywall).
Sunday, June 23, 2013
The complaint in Raza v. City of New York details over 150 paragraphs of facts and alleges that NYPD practices have infringed upon the plantiffs' equal protection and First Amendment religion clauses rights, as well as state constitutional rights. The plaintiffs are United States citizens as well as Muslim community leaders, as well as two mosques and one chartitable organization. They allege that they have been "religiously profiled" and subject to surveillance, including infiltration of their organizations.
The complaint is worth reading for its specific facts of an extensive practice of surveillance of the named plaintiffs. Interestingly, the complaint does not include a Fourth Amendment claim but does include a First Amendment Establishment Clause claim, contending that the NYPD practice "fosters an excessive government entanglement with religion by, among other things, subjecting Plaintiffs to intrusive surveillance, heightened police scrutiny, and infiltration by police informants and officers." More predictable are the equal protection and free exercise of religion claims.
With the increasing public discussion of generalized surveillance, this challenge to a specific tageted practice within a city is worth watching. Of course, it is not the first time that the NYPD has been challenged for its practices of surveillance.
[image: logo of the plaintiff organization via]
June 23, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Long controversial, Judge (and former Chief Judge) Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is now the subject of an ethics complaint filed by a constorium of persons under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act. The complaint asks that the matter be transferred out of the Fifth Circuit.
The main allegations arise from a speech by Judge Jones at a Federalist Society event at University of Pennsylvania in February on the death penalty. Jones is alleged to have made points such as these:
*The United States system of justice provides a positive service to capital-case defendants by imposing a death sentence, because the defendants are likely to make peace with God only in the moment before imminent execution;
*Certain “racial groups like African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime,” are “‘prone’ to commit acts of violence,” and get involved in more violent and “heinous” crimes than people of other ethnicities;
*Claims of racism, innocence, arbitrariness, and international standards are simply “red herrings” used by opponents of capital punishment;
*Capital defendants who raise claims of “mental retardation” abuse the system;
*The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia prohibiting execution of persons who are “mentally retarded” was ill-advised and created a “slippery slope”;
*Mexican Nationals would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico;
Friday, May 31, 2013
The IRS scandal caused by allegations that certain groups were highlighted for extra scrutiny regarding their tax-exempt status application has spawned several complaints filed in federal court alleging violations of the First Amendment and Fifth Amendment.
Paul Caron over at Tax Prof Blog has been keeping tabs on the scandal including linking to the developing news items. The scandal started with a report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration entitled "Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review."
Underlying the controversy is the application of 26 U.S.C. § 501(c), governing organizations that shall be exempt from taxation.
Subsection (c) (3) includes:
Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
Subsection (c) (4) includes:
Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.
The extent to which such tax exempt organizations may engage in political activities and whether they must be "exclusively" - - - or in contrast "primarily" - - - for the promotion of social welfare is subject to some controversy. For example, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has petitioned for clarifying rule (or change in rule) from the IRS.
Nevertheless, the allegations contend that IRS personnel subjected certain organizations to special scrutiny, seeking more documentation and causing significant delays. For example, the complaint in Norcal Tea Party Patriots v. IRS, a class action filed in the Southern District of Ohio, where the Cincinnati office is located, alleges:
In sum, because of their political viewpoints, conservative groups were subjected to harassment, intimidation, delay, discrimination, expense, intrusiveness, and embarrassment all as a part of a scheme by IRS agents and officers John Doe 1 -100 to suppress their political activity and punish their political views.
In another lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia, Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, the more expertly crafted complaint likewise alleges viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment as well as equal protection violations, in addition to statutory claims.
Given the government's own report, it will be interesting to seethe government's responses to the complaints.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The ACLU and 19 other organizations sent a letter this week to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel opposing the military's force-feeding hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay. According to the ACLU, 29 detainees are currently being force-fed. We previously posted on a ruling by New York's high court upholding the practice of force-feeing in New York prisons.
The military's standard operating procedures (SOP) on fasting and force-feeding changed just recently (published on Al Jazeera), loosening protections against force-feeding. (The earlier SOP is here.) Most notably, the recent changes to the SOP charge the military commander of the base, not a medical doctor, with determining who is a hunger striker.
Here's the ACLU's legal case against force-feeding, from this week's coalition letter to Secretary Hagel:
Force-feeding as used in Guantanamo violates Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which bar cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. It also could violate the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibits the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of prisoners "regardless of nationality or physical location." Indeed, a 2006 joint report submitted by five independent human rights experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights) found that the method of force-feeding then used in Guantanamo, and which appears to remain in effect today, amounted to torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United States ratified in 1994. The report asserted that doctors and other health professionals authorizing and participating in force-feeding prisoners were violating the right to health and other human rights, including those guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States ratified in 1992. Those concerns were reiterated this month by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and three UN Special Rapporteurs.
While the letter focuses on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, there may be other problems with force-feeding, too. For example, force-feeding may infringe on hunger-striking detainees' free speech. But First Amendment claims by hunger-strikers in regular detention in the U.S. have not been successful; Guantanamo Bay detainees would almost certainly face even steeper First Amendment challenges in the courts. There's also the right to refuse medical treatment. As Michael Dorf (DorfonLaw.org) argues at jurist.org, "five Justices in [Cruzan v. Dir. Missouri Dep''t of Health] did say that they thought that competent adults have the right to refuse forced feeding, even if death will result." But that runs up against Washington v. Harper, holding that prison officials could override a prisoner's objection to forcibly being administered medication, assuming it's in the prisoner's medical interest.
Anyway, as Dorf points out, some Guantanamo detainees might have a hard time even bringing a case. Judge Kessler (D.D.C) dismissed a detainee force-feeding case in 2009, based on the jurisdiction-stripping provision in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That provision says,
Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 1005(e) of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
The difference here is that some of the hunger-strikers now have been cleared for release--the U.S. just can't find a place to send them. Those detainees are not "determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or [are] awaiting such determination," and are not barred by 2241(e)(2) from bringing suit.
May 15, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Medical Decisions, News, Speech, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 3, 2013
The general perception that Congress has been recalcitrant regarding President Obama's nominees to the federal bench can be tested against the Congressional Research Service report, President Obama’s First-Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan, authored by Barry J. McMillion.
During the first terms of the five most recent Presidents (Reagan to Obama), the 30 confirmed Obama circuit court nominees were tied with 30 Clinton nominees as the fewest number of circuit nominees confirmed. The percentage of circuit nominees confirmed during President Obama’s first term, 71.4%, was the second-lowest, while the percentage confirmed during G.W. Bush’s first term, 67.3%, was the lowest.
For district judges, the report declares:
President Obama’s first term, compared with the first terms of Presidents Reagan to G.W. Bush, had the second-fewest number of district court nominees confirmed (143 compared with 130 for President Reagan) and the second-lowest percentage of district court nominees confirmed (82.7% compared with 76.9% for President G.H.W. Bush).
As to the timeliness of the process, the report states:
President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).
The 31 page report has many specific details and statistics. It's definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the federal judiciary.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
While the facts may not be as originally reported, the NRA t-shirt of West Virginia High School Student has been causing consternation. Was he really suspended - - - and arrested - - - for wearing a t-shirt?
Such a result is most likely inconsistent with Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. But that's not the full constitutional or perhaps factual story.
Friday, April 26, 2013
In an interesting advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the ability of same-sex couples married under state law to make political contributions similar to opposite-sex married couples is thwarted by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Recall that the United States Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor, argued last month.
The advisory opinion explained the underlying regulatory scheme:
Notwithstanding the prohibition on contributions in the name of another, a Commission regulation governing “[c]ontributions by spouses” provides that “limitations on contributions . . . shall apply separately to contributions made by each spouse even if only one spouse has income.” 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i). Thus, under Section 110.1(i), a spouse with no separate income may make a contribution in his or her own name “through the checking account of the other spouse.”
It concluded that "so long as the relevant provisions of DOMA remain in effect, the Committee may not apply 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i) to contributions from same-sex couples married under state law," although the Commission recognized that DOMA was currently under review.
In a separately issued concurring statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub (pictured) emphasized that her "vote today was in no way intended to endorse the discriminatory, irrational burden that DOMA places on political participation by individuals in same sex."
If DOMA is not declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on the basis of equal protection, the FEC's opinion might be fertile ground on which to grow a First Amendment challenge.
[image of Ellen Weintraub via]
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Today's oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which we previewed yesterday, were indeed a mix of statutory interpretation and application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and constitutional issues, with a dose of family law.
Arguing for the adoptive couple, Lisa Blatt described the biological father as equivalent to "a sperm donor," causing Justice Scalia to counter with an assertion of fatherhood ("He's the father. He's the father.") to which Blatt replied, "And so is a sperm donor under your definition. He's a biological father and nothing else in the eyes of State law." By this description, Blatt not only argued that the biological father was not a parent under ICWA, but also tended to erode any constitutional rights that the father might have. Blatt also took on the constitutional argument more directly, arguing that ICWA would "raise grave constitutional concerns" if "Congress presumptively presumed that a non-Indian parent was unfit to raise any child with any amount of Indian blood."
The "amount of Indian blood" was an issue that attracted the attention of Chief Justice Roberts, who has been attentive racial identities in the affirmative action cases, including Fisher argued earlier this Term. During Charles Rothfeld's argument on behalf of the biological father, Roberts posed a "hypothetical" about an Indian tribe that had a "zero percent blood requirement" and enrolled members who "think culturally they're a Cherokee." Justice Ginsburg objected that this was not the ICWA definition and Justice Scalia agreed that Roberts' hypothetical would be a "null set," but Roberts posed the query again. Rothfeld replied that such "wild hypotheticals" would "present political questions to be addressed by Congress or addressed by the executive branch."
Arguing between Blatt and Rothfeld, Paul Clement, on behalf of the child's law guardian - - - asserting the child's best interests as assumed by the guardian - - - also contended that ICWA was constitutionally suspect. The "Indian child" is a racial classification:
And as a result of that her whole world changes and this whole inquiry changes. It goes from an inquiry focused on her best interests and it changes to a focus on the birth father and whether or not beyond a reasonable doubt there is a clear and present danger.
Clement's characterization of ICWA's standard was somewhat hyperbolic, although the statute does require the high standard and does have a "substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger" exemption. This resonated with Blatt's rebuttal, expressing the dangers of a Court affirmance of the South Carolina Supreme Court's opinion in favor of the biological father:
And you're basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." This case is going to affect any interracial adoption of children.It is highly unlikely that the Court will address the lurking equal protection racial classification issue, however its importance was revealed in Paul Clement's colloquy with Justice Kennedy about "constitutional avoidance." Justice Breyer essentially asked Clement how to remedy the situation and Clement responded that because ICWA provides "extraordinary" protections that "it only makes sense to prove something more than bare paternity."
It is more likely that the Court's usual conservative/liberal dichotomy will not be apparent in the ultimate opinions.
Monday, April 15, 2013
The oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, on certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court will be held on April 16. The case, also known as “Baby Veronica,” is an emotional struggle over custody of a small child.On one view, the Court’s task is a relatively simple one of statutory interpretation, including the definition of “parent” in the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA. The petitioners, the adoptive couple, articulate the questions presented as:
(1) Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.
(2) Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.
The questions presented by the respondent birth father, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and by the respondent Cherokee Nation, and by the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent, all likewise focus on ICWA, albeit with a different persuasive cadence. These articulations stress the positive acts of the biological father. For example, as the biological father phrases the parenting definition question:
Whether an Indian child’s biological father who has expressly acknowledged that he is the child’s father and has established that he is the father through DNA testing is the child’s “parent” within the meaning [of ICWA].
The Brief of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent father and tribe has a similar issue statement, asking whether the state courts properly applied ICWA
to award custody of an Indian child to her biological father over an adoptive couple, where the father acknowledged and established his paternity and no remedial measures had been taken to avoid termination of his parental rights.
However, the case is not merely one of statutory interpretation, but raises important, if not always obvious, constitutional issues.
First, Congressional intervention in child welfare must rely on a particularly enumerated power of Congress, the usual one being the Spending Clause. For Native Americans, however, Congressional power is often labeled “plenary,” although it is grounded most specifically in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I §3 cl. 8. ICWA was intended to prevent the removal of Native children from their parents - - - as well as their tribes - - - a history that many of the amicus briefs discuss in depth.
Second, and relatedly, this Congressional power over Native children raises federalism issues, especially given that child custody and adoption are generally within the state’s police powers. In the case of Baby Veronica, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s application of ICWA to deny the adoption and award custody to the Native father. Yet the very existence of ICWA arguably intrudes upon state police powers.
Third, and most stealthily, the case may present issues of due process and equal protection. In the brief on behalf of Baby Veronica through her Guardian ad Litem authored by Paul Clement, the arguably “erroneous interpretation” of ICWA “raises serious constitutional issues.” In this argument, the best interests of the child standard - - - the usual touchstone in child adoption and custody - - - aspires to a constitutional right of the child. Moreover, the state court’s decision violated the baby’s equal protection and due process rights.
For example, the brief analogizes to the equal protection case of Palmore v. Sidoti:
In Palmore, this Court struck down the use of racial classifications to remove a child from an appropriate custody placement. This case is no different. Baby Girl’s Indian blood quantum was the sole reason the lower court ordered her removed from the loving, stable home she had lived in since birth and placed with a biological father whose failure to timely care for her extinguished any parental rights he might otherwise have had under state law or the Constitution.
Less successfully, the brief attempts to articulate a liberty interest of the child:
And “to the extent parents and families have fundamental liberty interests in preserving such intimate relationships, so, too, do children have these interests, and so, too, must their interests be balanced in the equation.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 88 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting).
Yet ultimately, the brief argues that there is an (unconstitutional) racial classification if ICWA is applied too broadly. Clement argues that ICWA should be interpreted to limit "its application to adoption and custody proceedings involving children who are either domiciled on a reservation or have some other tribal connection beyond biology."
These limitations are crucial to preserving the Act’s constitutionality, ensuring that the Act’s differential treatment of Indians operates only to promote tribal sovereignty and the unique interests of Indians as tribal citizens, and not as invidious racial discrimination that arbitrarily trumps Baby Girl’s liberty interests. [ICWA's] definition of parent, properly interpreted, avoids these difficulties by declining to give an unwed Indian father rights based on biology alone that no non-Indian unwed father enjoys.
Moreover, ICWA's constitutional interpretation rests upon limiting its "application to children in the pre-existing custody of an Indian parent or other circumstances in which there is a distinct connection to tribal interests."
Clement - - who so recently represented BLAG supporting the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor - - - here has quite a different view of equality and federal power.
While it is unlikely that these constitutional arguments assume center stage, they may infuse the statutory interpretation of ICWA so squarely before the Court.
[image circa 1890 via]
April 15, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, History, Interpretation, Race, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Roberts Court majority is avoiding taxes: not the income taxes revealed by the returns due today, April 15, but the constitutional scrutiny that taxes deserve.
Law Prof Linda Sugin (pictured left), in her article The Great and Mighty Tax Law: How the Roberts Court Has Reduced Constitutional Scrutiny of Taxes and Tax Expenditures, draft available on ssrn, analyzes two cases that are not typically paired.
First, she considers National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, in which, as she describes it, Justice Roberts' "newly muscular tax law saved Obamacare from near death at the hands of the Commerce Clause."
Second, she examines Arizona Christian Schools v. Winn, in which, as dhe describes it, the majority "adopted a novel judicial approach to targeted tax benefits" and denied standing in an Establishment Clause challenge.
Sugin argues that these two cases, taken together, "challenge the revenue-raising role of the tax law, and give it tremendous potential to overcome constitutional obstacles that legislatures face," including state legislatures. She contends that the cases "introduce confusion into the law of taxation by incentivizing the adoption of more non-revenue policy in the tax law, and blurring the conceptual structure of taxation." She claims that "these decisions undermine the important work on tax reform and fiscal responsibility that other branches of government are doing." Ultimately, she argues that these decisions portend that "policies administered through the tax law" will be deemed constitutional "even where those same policies would be unconstitutional if administered as either direct regulation or appropriated spending."
Worth a read and not only on "tax day."
Monday, April 8, 2013
Greenhouse has this reminder about federalism and family law:
There is much that’s questionable about this assertion of implicitly boundless state authority over family affairs. A famous pair of Supreme Court decisions from the 1920s armed parents with rights under the Due Process Clause to educate their children as they see fit, in resistance to state laws. Pierce v. Society of Sisters gave parents the right to choose private or religious schools despite an Oregon law that required public school education for all. Meyer v. Nebraska struck down a state law that barred the teaching of modern foreign language (the law’s post-World War I target was German.)
Nor is this ancient history. In 2000, the court struck down a state law in Washington that gave grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren over the parents’ objection. Justice O’Connor wrote the court’s opinion, Troxel v. Granville, which was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist.
Substitute “marriage” for “criminal procedure” and you time-travel into last week’s argument. But you will listen in vain for the voice of Justice William O. Douglas, who brushed away concerns about what he dismissively called “this federalism” to ask: “Has any member of this court come out and said in so many terms it’s the constitutional right of a state to provide a system whereby people get unfair trials?”
As usual, Linda Greenhouse is worth a read, for ConLaw Profs and ConLaw students.
April 8, 2013 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
More than a year after Federal Judge Richard Cebull of the District of Montana (pictured)reported himself to the Ninth Circuit after a "joke" he forwarded on email became public,
Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski has issued a statement announcing that Judge Cebull is retiring:
Judge Cebull's self-filed complaint and another were referred to a Special Committee which conducted a thorough and extensive investigation, interviewed numerous witnesses, considered voluminous documentation, including emails, and conducted an interview with Judge Cebull. The Special Committee's Report was submitted to the Judicial Council in December 2012. On March 15, 2013 the Judicial Council issued an Order and Memorandum. Judicial Conduct Rule 20(f). Pursuant to Judicial Conduct Rules 22 and 24(a), the Order and Memorandum remains confidential during the appeal period.
At this time, Judge Cebull has submitted his retirement letter, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 371(a), effective May 3, 2013. The Council will have no further statement on this matter until Judge Cebull's retirement is effective.
We will await the Council's statement and release of the Order and Memorandum.
[image of Judge Cebull via]
Monday, April 1, 2013
In her opinion in American Atheists v. Port of Authority of NY and NJ Judge Deborah Batts of the Southern District of New York rejected a challenge to the plan to include a seventeen foot cross (pictured) in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Judge Batts, however, did hold that the actions of the Memorial and Museum were subject to constitutional constraints. The defendants had argued that the "National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation" was not a state actor and thus the complaint against it, and the Port Authority, should be dismissed. Batts dispatched this argument with a rehearsal of the causal connections:
But for the Port Authority’s donation of the cross, but for the Port Authority granting the Foundation a property interest at the WTC Site, but for the Port Authority’s aid in constructing the Museum, and but for their continuing financial and operating relationship, the Foundation would not be able to include the artifact in the Museum.
She also found that the Foundation could be deemed a state actor because of its "pervasive entwinement" with the government.
The American Atheists were far less successful on their federal and state constitutionallaw arguments based on the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection.
In the more serious Establishment Clause challenge, Judge Batts concluded that the planned use of the cross passed the test of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). The placement of the cross in the museum's Historical Exhibition in the section, “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,” part of the September 11 historical narrative, was not an endorsement of religion. Judge Batts found it important that
there will be numerous secular artifacts around the cross, as well symbol steel with depictions of a Star of David, a Maltese cross, the Twin Towers, and the Manhattan skyline, which will reinforce to the reasonable observer that they are perceiving a historical depiction of some people’s reaction to finding the cross at Ground Zero.
She disagreed that the size of the cross was determinative. First, the plaintiffs were mistaken that it was the largest object in the museum at seventeen feet; the "Last Column," also to be included, is thirty-seven feet tall. Second, she observed that the artifact’s size was a function of its size when it was found; "Defendants did not create the cross to be such an imposing figure."
As for the Equal Protection challenge, Judge Batts found that there was not even an allegation of intentional discrimination or animus, and that the Foundation's act would easily survive rational basis review. The Museum is merely telling the history surrounding September 11 and the cross, and its meaning for some, is part of that history. The museum has the choice whether or not to include atheistic symbols.
Because the cross is situated among other artifacts and it is in a museum, any appeal from Judge Batts' grant of summary judgment for the defendants would most likely be unsuccessful. It looks as if the September 11 Museum will include the seventeen foot cross.
Friday, March 29, 2013
a law prof, hits precisely the right tones for those already acquainted with the material. Here's a bit from Milan's "truncated transcript":
SOTOMAYOR: So let me ask a real question. If marriage is a fundamental right, is the state ever allowed to limit it?
KENNEDY: Enough about gays and lesbians. Can we talk about me for a minute? Because I feel a little uncomfortable with this discussion. In fact, I’m kind of feeling like taking my swing-voting ball and going home. Who wants to dig the case?
[note: dig=acronym for Dismissed as Improvidently Granted]
OLSON: Uh. Kinda staggered here. You want to dig the case? We…we spent weeks preparing for this, the entire country is watching, millions of people could have their lives changed, and you want to dig the case?
KENNEDY: I’m just saying. Oh, Olson, you’re all out of time. Nice ending note, though.
Worth a read in its entirety.
[h/t Darren Rosenblum]