Monday, October 19, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds Bulk of Gun Restrictions Against Second Amendment Challenges

In its extensive opinion in the consolidated cases of  New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass'n v. Cuomo and  The Connecticut Citizens' Defense League v. Malloy, a panel of Second Circuit substantially upheld gun restrictions passed by New York and Connecticut subsequent to the December 2012 "mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut." The court largely affirmed the district judge's opinion finding the bulk of New York's SAFE Act constitutional.

The central challenge was a Second Amendment one and the court applied the two-step inquiry that is becoming accepted throughout the circuits.

The first question is whether the government restriction burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment: the Second Amendment protects only “the sorts of weapons” that are (1) “in common use” and (2) “typically possessed by law‐abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

If so, the court then moves to the second inquiry, determining initially the "level of scrutiny" to be applied by considering two factors: (1) “how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right” and (2) “the severity of the law’s burden on the right.”  After determining the level of scrutiny - - - here, intermediate scrutiny - - - the court then applies the standard asking "whether the statutes at issue are 'substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest.'"
 
Affirming the respective district judges, the Second Circuit upheld the constitutionality of state prohibitions on semiautomatic assault weapons and large‐capacity magazines.  The Second Circuit held that Connecticut's specific prohibition on the non‐ semiautomatic Remington 7615 and New York's "seven‐round load limit" violated the Second Amendment.
Édouard_Manet_-_Pertuiset,_le_chasseur_de_lions
Manet, Mister Pertuiset, The Lion Hunter, 1881 via
 
The court also considered several due process vagueness challenges to specific provisions in the laws, reversing the conclusion of the New York federal district judge that certain provisions - - - pertaining to “versions” and “muzzle breaks”- - - were unconstitutionally vague.
 
The Second Circuit's opinion is closely reasoned and well within what is becoming the standard within all the circuits.  Although the opinion several times mentions the absence of clear United States Supreme Court precedent - - - reminding that neither District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) nor McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) "delineated the precise scope of the Second Amendment or the standards by which lower courts should assess the constitutionality of firearms restrictions" - - - this should not be a case that the Second Circuit would be moved to reconsider or that the Supreme Court would find worthy of review - - - unless a ban on the possession of automatic assault weapons should be subject to strict scrutiny under the Second Amendment.
 

October 19, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Court Grants Review of Bias of Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice in Death Penalty Case

The Court has granted certiorari in Williams v. Pennsylvania on issues of due process and the Eighth Amendment revolving around former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille (pictured). 

RCastillePA

Castille, who retired from the court when he reached the state mandatory retirement age, was elected in 1993, and retained in elections in 2003 and 2013.  Importantly, before his election to the bench, Castille worked in the district attorney's office for over 20 years, including being twice elected to the District Attorney position; he reportedly claimed to have "sent 45 people to death row."

One of those people on death row is Terrence Williams, the petitioner in Williams v. Pennyslvania.  Williams claims that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams' petition for post conviction relief.  Williams contends that Castille, as a prosecutor, was personally involved in the case and the decision to seek the death penalty.  Williams' claim, moreover, is based on prosecutorial misconduct. 

Williams relies on Caperton v. Massey (2009) regarding judicial bias. Unlike the situation of Justice Benjamin in Caperton, Castille did not cast a "deciding vote" on the court.  [Nevertheless, Castille's concurring opinion is worth reading for its defensiveness].  Recognizing this distinction, Williams also relies on Atena Life Insurance v. Lavoie (1986), and notes there is a circuit split regarding bias when the biased decided is only one member of a multi-member tribunal.

October 1, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds New York's Credit Card Surcharge Prohibition

Reversing United States District Judge Jed Rakoff who had declared unconstitutional New York General Business Law § 518 prohibiting sellers from imposing a surcharge on customers who use credit cards, the Second Circuit's opinion in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman held that the law does not violate either the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause. [UPDATE: The Second Circuit issued an  AMENDED OPINION on December 11, 2015].

The expressive element in the challenge to pricing regulation is not immediately obvious.  But as Judge Debra Ann Livingston's opinion for the unanimous panel explains:

Section 518 does not prohibit all differentials  between the price ultimately charged to cash customers and the price ultimately charged to credit‐card customers; it forbids charging credit‐card customers an additional amount above the regular price that is not also charged to cash customers, but it permits offering cash customers a discount below the regular price that is not also offered to credit‐card customers. (That is, it allows what we have termed “cash discounts.”) To illustrate, if a seller’s regular price is $100, it may not charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100, but if the seller’s regular price is $103, it may charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100.

Plaintiffs’ submissions reveal that they are claiming First Amendment protection for two distinct kinds of pricing schemes. First, Plaintiffs aver that they would like to post only a single price for their goods and services and charge more than that price to credit‐card customers, but are prohibited from doing so by Section 518.  (Five Points Academy: “It is not our intention to display two separate prices for each good and service that we offer, but rather to display—with roughly equal prominence—a single set of prices and the credit card surcharge amount.”); (Expressions Hair Design: “We would like to . . . characterize the price difference as  a 3% credit‐card surcharge on top of the listed cash price.”). In other words, Plaintiffs are seeking First Amendment protection for the kind of straightforward single‐sticker‐price scheme that Section 518 clearly prohibits. Second, Expressions Hair Design (the only Plaintiff to do so) currently posts two different prices for its services—one for credit‐card customers and one for cash customers—and fears being prosecuted for characterizing this price differential as a “surcharge,” or for telling its customers that credit costs “more.”

The court is clear that prices are not expressive.  It also rejects the argument that the statute actually bans an expressive label it disfavors ("credit-card discount") while permitting one a label it approves ("cash discount").  As the court explains,

Plaintiffs’ chief error—or, perhaps more accurately, the central flaw in their argument—is their bewildering persistence in equating the actual imposition of a credit‐card surcharge (i.e., a seller’s choice to charge an additional amount above the sticker price to its credit‐card customers) with the words that speakers of English have chosen to describe that pricing scheme (i.e., the term “credit‐card surcharge”).

Yet this was also the error of the district judge who applied the test from Central Hudson and concluded the NY law failed it.

The court also rejected the arguments that the NY statute is unconstitutional as applied to Expressions Hair Design's "dual price" scheme and an overbreadth challenge to other "hypothetical" pricing schemes.  The court found that the New York courts had not ruled on such questions and that Section 518 was "readily susceptible" to a narrowing construction that would eliminate the constitutional issues.  The court declined to certify the question to the New York Court of Appeals.

Finally, the court very succinctly resolved the due process vagueness challenge by finding that the statute had a "core meaning that can reasonably be understood."

Thus, sellers doing business in New York are again constitutionally prohibited from imposing credit card surcharges.  Cash discounts, however, remain permissible.

Prices

September 29, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Second Circuit Grants Standing to Challenge NY's Criminalization of "Gravity Knives"

A gravity knife is “any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device,” according to New York Penal Law §265.00 (5).  It is clear that having one is criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison.  It is less clear, at least according to the plaintiffs in Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance, exactly what a gravity knife is: what if a person possesses a "common folding knife" that he is unable to open with a "wrist flick," but that someone else (presumably more talented) can open with a "wrist flick."? 

The Second Circuit's opinion in Knife Rights, Inc. v. Vance, however, is concerned not with the due process challenge to the New York law, but the Article III standing of the plaintiffs seeking to challenge it. 

1280px-Floris_Claesz._van_Dyck_001
circa 1613 via

Almost two years after the district judge's opinion dismissing all plaintiffs, the Second Circuit has affirmed the lack of standing of the organizational plaintiffs, Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation, but reversed as to the individual plaintiffs, Copeland and Perez, as well as Native Leather, a retail knife store.

In applying the well-established test for Article III standing - - -(1)  ‘injury in fact,’ (2) a sufficient ‘causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,’ and (3) a ‘likelihood that the injury ‘will be redressed by a favorable decision.’ - - - the Second Circuit disagreed with the district judge that the plaintiffs had not established an injury in fact. 

Indeed, the three individual plaintiffs had been prosecuted under the statute.  Copeland and Perez, an artist and an art dealer, both carry knives for their work.  Perez was stopped by law enforcement in 2010 in Manhattan for a

metal clip protruding from his pocket. Inquiry revealed the clip to be part of a Gerber brand common folding knife that Perez had purchased approximately two years earlier at Tent & Trail, an outdoor supply store in Manhattan. Plaintiffs assert that the charging officers were unable themselves to flick open Perez’s knife, but based on the possibility that someone could do so, they issued Perez a desk appearance ticket charging him with unlawful possession of a gravity knife.

Copeland was similarly stopped in 2010, but although he had previously shown his knife to NYC police officers to inquire about the legality of its possession and those officers were "unable to flick open the knife and so returned it to Copeland, advising that its possession was legal," when he was stopped, the officers were "able to open the knife by “grasping the knife’s handle and forcefully ‘flicking’ the knife body downwards” and, thus, issued Copeland a desk appearance ticket for violating the statute.

As to the store, Native Leather, it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with District Attorney Vance, which included the payment of fines and a "compliance program" to stop selling "gravity knives."

The Second Circuit easily found that the plaintiffs' alleged an imminent threat of prosecution.  The court rightly distinguished the controversial case of City of Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983) involving the police practice of choke-holds, by noting that the plaintiffs here seek to engage in the very conduct that is being subjected to criminalization.  The court denied the organization's standing by concluding that its monetary injury incurred by supporting persons prosecuted under the statute would not be adequately redressed by the injunctive relief sought in the complaint.  (The district court had denied leave to amend, which the Second Circuit affirmed).

The plaintiffs ability to move forward with the merits of their challenge to the New York statute criminalizing specific - - - or as alleged, not sufficiently specific - - - knives seems long overdue. 

September 22, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sixth Circuit Finds Standing in "Juggalo" Constitutional Challenge to Gang Designation

In its opinion in Parsons v. Department of Justice today, a panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed the district judge's dismissal of a complaint for lack of standing by individuals who identify as "Juggalos"  a group the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) has identified as a "hybrid gang."  The individuals alleged that "they subsequently suffered violations of their First and Fifth Amendment constitutional rights at the hands of state and local law enforcement officers who were motivated to commit the injuries in question due to the identification of Juggalos as a criminal gang."

800px-Twiztid_in_Chesterfield,_MI_on_April_27th,_2013
                                                                                                                 image via

As the court explained, Juggalos are fans of Insane Clown Posse, a musical group, and its record label, Psychopathic Records, who often wear or display Insane Clown Posse tattoos or insignia, as well as paint their faces. The complaint alleged various actions by law enforcement, including detentions and inference with performances, as a result of the gang designation.

The court found that while their allegations of chilled expression were insufficient to rise to the requisite "injury in fact" required under standing doctrine,

The Juggalos’ allegations that their First Amendment rights are being chilled are accompanied by allegations of concrete reputational injuries resulting in allegedly improper stops, detentions, interrogations, searches, denial of employment, and interference with contractual relations. Stigmatization also constitutes an injury in fact for standing purposes.  As required, these reputational injuries are cognizable claims under First Amendment and due process causes of action.

[citations omitted].  Thus, the court held that the injury in fact requirement was satisfied as to the First Amendment and due process claims.

As to causation, the court held that the Juggalos’ allegations "link" the gang report to their injuries "by stating that the law enforcement officials themselves acknowledged that the DOJ gang designation had caused them to take the actions in question."   Thus, at this initial stage of the case, the Juggalos’ allegations sufficed.

On the question of redressibility, the remedy sought included a finding that the gang report is invalid.  The court rejected the government's argument that such information about the Juggalos was available from other sources by stating that the test is not that the "harm be entirely redressed." "While we cannot be certain whether and how the declaration sought by the Juggalos will affect third-party law enforcement officers, it is reasonable to assume a likelihood that the injury would be partially redressed where, as here, the Juggalos have alleged that the law enforcement officers violated their rights because of" the government report.  The court seemingly found it pertinent that the DOJ's report gave the gang designation an impressive "imprimatur" of government authority.

As the Sixth Circuit made clear, the complaint remains subject to the motion to dismiss on other grounds, but this is an important victory for the Juggalo quest to remove its gang-identification.

September 17, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ninth Circuit Rejects Equal Protection and Due Process Challenges to California Sexual Predator Statute

In its opinion in Taylor v. San Diego County today, a panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected constitutional challenges to indefinite detention as a "sexually violent predator" raised in a habeas petition governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).

Bloomingdale_Insane_Asylum,_Manhattan
"Lunatic Asylum" circa 1831 via

The court's equal protection analysis was essentially that "sexually violent predators" are "not similarly situated" to other civilly committed offenders.  "California’s expressed legislative policy is to protect the public from the increased danger posed by sexually violent predators," and thus indefinite detention, rather than one year renewable periods of detention do not offend equal protection. 

Additionally, the court found that there was no due process problem with the California statute's requirement that the person (not the state) bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he no longer meets the definition of a sexually violent predator. 

The opinion is another example of the federal courts giving wide latitude to state civil commitment of sexual offenders.

September 10, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Seventh Circuit Finds No Valid Constitutional Claims in School Bullying Lawsuit

Affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the schools, the Seventh Circuit's brief opinion today in D.S. v. East Porter County Schools Corporation is an illustration of the difficulty of succeeding with constitutional claims based on bullying, even when claims of school officials participation are included.

541px-Dealing_with_bullies_lineart
"Dealing with Bullies" artwork by Karbo via

In considering the Due Process claim, the unanimous Seventh Circuit panel began with the principle that the Due Process Clause "generally does not impose upon the state a duty to protect individuals from harm by private actors," predictably citing DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs.(1989).  The court noted that there are two exceptions: special relationship and state-created danger.  The plaintiff argued that the school officials created the risk - - - or increased the risk - - - that she would be bullied, but the court found that the record did not support a finding that the school officials' conduct met the "requisite level of egregiousness" to satisfy the claim.

In considering the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court stated that the plaintiff must show that the schools "acted with a nefarious discriminatory purpose and discriminated against her based on her membership in a definable class."  Unlike the landmark Seventh Circuit case of  Nabozny v. Podlesny (7th Cir. 1996), which the court cites here, the plaintiff does not rely on sexual orientation or any other "protected class," but proceeded on a "class-of-one" theory.  The court found the plaintiff "failed to identify any similarly situated individuals who were treated differently." 

Without a valid Due Process Clause or Equal Protection Clause claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, the court found there was no underlying constitutional violation on which the plaintiff could proceed.

August 24, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eighth Circuit Finds North Dakota's "Heartbeat" Abortion Prohibition Unconstitutional

A unanimous panel of the Eighth Circuit, affirming the district judge, found that North Dakota's abortion regulation based on a "detectable heartbeat" is unconstitutional in its opinion in MKB Management Corp. v. Stenehjem. 

North Dakota's 2013 House Bill 1456, codified at N.D. Cent. Code § 14-02.1, mandates physicians determine whether the "unborn child" has a "detectable heartbeat," and if so, makes it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion.  The medical evidence submitted was that a "detectable heartbeat" occurs when a woman is about six weeks pregnant.

LogoThe court held that a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability is binding United States Supreme Court precedent, quoting language from Gonzales v. Carhart (2007): "Before viability, a State 'may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy.'” 

However, the Eighth Circuit opinion noted that while it could not depart from the current state of protection of the right to abortion, the United States Supreme Court should reconsider the issue.  Essentially, the Eighth Circuit opinion argues that "developments in the unborn" should shift the balance to the ability of the states - - - and not the courts - - - to protect the unborn and assert the interest in "potential life."  The court's opinion also discussed the controversial findings that women who have had abortions suffer from emotional ills including regret, as well as repeating evidence that "some studies support a connection between abortion and breast cancer."  The court thus concludes, "the continued application of the Supreme Court’s viability standard discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children."

Nevertheless, the opinion clearly finds the North Dakota law unconstitutional.

July 22, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

DC Circuit Upholds Federal Employment Application Limited to DC Area

As most law students learn, a state or locality cannot limit applicants for employment to its own residents because of a "right to travel."  But can the federal government limit applicants to those currently residing in the District of Columbia area?  In its opinion in Pollack v. Duff, the DC Court of Appeals has stated that the federal government can do so.

The case began with a 2009 job posting from the Administrative Office (AO) of the United States Courts for an attorney-advisor for a job in DC.  The posting provided that the AO would consider applications from any employee of the federal judiciary and from any other person who lived within the "Washington Metropolitan Area." 

Map_DC_metro_lgMalla Pollack, who represented herself in this litigation, is a former DC Court of Appeals clerk and accomplished legal scholar.  She applied for the position when she no longer worked for the judiciary and was living in Kentucky.  The  AO rejected her application because of her residency.  She protested based on residency, but was referred to the Fair Employment Practices System; she was then told that such complaints were limited to allegations of discrimination based on race, and other categories that did not include residency.  The DC Court of Appeals opinion notes that the AO's actions of referral and then dismissal essentially "played upon" Pollack.  The court might also have characterized the AO's argument of judicial review preclusion - - - because the Fair Employment Practices System is the exclusive means for deciding a claim of discrimination - - - as attempting to "play upon" the court.  Instead, the court merely gives the argument the brief discussion it merited.  

The court also notes that this is the second time the litigation reached the DC Court of Appeals.  In late 2012, the court reversed the dismissal of the complaint based on sovereign immunity, concluding that sovereign immunity does not bar a suit seeking specific relief for officers acting outside the bounds of constitutional authority.

On the merits of the right to travel argument, the court's opinion - - - authored by Senior Judge Douglas Ginsburg - - - untangles the various strands of the constitutional right to travel as might be applied to actions by the federal government.  The court first looks at Article IV §2, the privileges and immunities clause, but finds it protects state citizens against actions by other states, not by the federal government.  The court engages with the erudite originalist argument centered on James Iredell but nevertheless rejects it, noting that although the historical record is not "pellucid," reasoning in part that the

location of the Privileges and Immunities Clause in § 2 of Article IV supports the conclusion that it is directed at the states and not at the national government. Article IV is the “so-called States’ Relations Article.”  Section 2 of Article IV, in addition to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, included the Interstate Rendition Clause and the Fugitive Slave Clause, both of which were concerned with comity among the states.

The court's rejection of the equal protection claim does not rest on its inapplicability to the federal government, which "indisputably" applies to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment, including in its right to travel aspects.  Instead, the court essentially finds Pollack's claimed right too speculative:

If the AO had reviewed her application, then it might have offered her a job, which might have prompted her to move to the Washington area. Thus, Pollack might have been marginally more likely to travel to the Washington area but for the geographical limitation she is challenging. This effect upon Pollack’s willingness to travel, i.e., to exercise her right to travel, is “negligible” and does not warrant scrutiny under the Constitution.

Additionally, and more remarkably, the court rejects the argument that the AO created a classification that serves to penalize the right to travel by reasoning that the AO classification actually incentivizes the right to travel.  Distinguishing the AO classification from the durational residency requirement at issue in the landmark right to travel case of  Shapiro v. Thompson (1969), the court reasoned:

The AO’s geographical limitation is quite different, however, because it would not penalize Pollack if she decided to travel from Kentucky to the Washington area. To the contrary, the geographical limitation gives Pollack an incentive to travel to Washington in order to apply for a job with the AO that is open only to residents of the area. In other words, the geographical limitation burdens only Pollack’s decision not to travel interstate.

[emphasis in original].  The court thus did not consider what level of scrutiny should apply or whether any level would be satisfied, but simply held that the classification did not actually implicate the right to travel.  On the court's read, Pollack's only viable claim would be if she had been in DC and discouraged from leaving because she wanted to apply for the AO position; a claim the court notes that she did not make and would not have standing to raise on behalf of another person.

After a brief consideration of structural arguments, the court concludes by questioning the wisdom of the AO policy:

We agree with Pollack that it is difficult to comprehend why the AO refused to consider applicants who did not live in the Washington area but were willing to move there if they received an offer of employment. The AO points out that it receives applications from many qualified attorneys and it must limit the total number of applicants for certain positions so that it may focus upon those it is most interested in hiring. It is unclear, however, why the agency would use a geographical limitation to control the size of its applicant pool rather than criteria that are likely to be more closely correlated with job performance.

But the court decides that the AO did not violate Pollack's constitutional rights.  And given this decision - - - and the AO's protracted litigation on the issue - - - one can only assume that the AO will limit applicants by geography in future job postings.

July 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ninth Circuit Finds Constitutional Problems with Arizona's Anti-Ethnic Studies Law

In its opinion in Arce v. Douglas, a panel of the Ninth Circuit has found that Arizona's so-called anti-ethnic studies statute suffers from constitutional infirmities.

Recall that Arizona's HB 2281, which we noted when it was passed in 2010, codified as Arizona Revised Statute §15-112, provides:

A.  A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

 In 2013, Judge Wallace  Tashima, who was sitting by designation as district judge, ruled on the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to the statute, substantially upholding the statute but finding subsection (3) was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but severable from the remainder of the statute.

800px-Gerardo_Murillo_(Dr._Atl)_-_Paisaje_con_el_Iztaccíhuatl_,_1932
image: Paisaje con el Iztaccíhuatl — obra de Gerardo Murillo, 1932, via

Today's Ninth Circuit opinion - - - authored by New York District Judge Jed Rakoff sitting by designation, and joined in full by Judge Noonan, with a partial concurrence and dissent by Judge Richard Clifton - - - affirmed the district court’s rulings that § 15- 112(A)(3) is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment but severable from the rest of the statute; that §§ 15-112(A)(2) and (A)(4) are not overbroad in violation of the First Amendment; and that §§ 15-112(A)(2) and (A)(4) are not vague in violation of the Due Process Clause.  However, the appellate panel found fault with the sua sponte grants of summary judgment - - - both on the equal protection claim and on a First Amendment viewpoint discrimination claim.

As to the equal protection claim, the Ninth Circuit concluded that subsections (3) and (4), while not facially discriminatory, raised constitutional issues because of evidence of their discriminatory purpose in enactment or enforcement.  The Ninth Circuit remanded the issue to be considered by the district court in light of the Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) factors:

  • (1) the impact of the official action and whether it bears more heavily on one race than another;
  • (2) the historical background of the decision;
  • (3) the specific sequence of events leading to the challenged action;
  • (4) the defendant’s departures from normal procedures or substantive conclusions; and
  • (5) the relevant legislative or administrative history.

The majority discussed the factors and the evidence, finding that there was sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact.  Judge Clifton dissented on the procedural posture of the remand, arguing that the district court should be able to fully consider summary judgment.

On the other remanded issue - - - the First Amendment viewpoint discrimination claim - - - the Ninth Circuit did not preclude summary judgment, noting that the district judge "did not even review the evidence" on this issue.

As to the unconstitutionality of subsection (3) as violative of the First Amendment,  the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court.  Interestingly, the Ninth Circuit stated:

The very danger we perceive was corroborated, at oral argument, when we asked counsel for defendants whether the statute could be found to prohibit a public school course in San Francisco on the topic of Chinese history that was open to all students but was designed in consideration of the substantial Chinese and Chinese American student population there that might benefit from a greater understanding of its history. Defendants asserted that the course could be found in violation. As indicated by this example, subsection (A)(3) threatens to chill the teaching of ethnic studies courses that may offer great value to students— yet it does so without furthering the legitimate pedagogical purpose of reducing racism.

However, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that the other sections of the statute survived the First Amendment challenges rooted in curricular decisions.

Thus, on remand, the state will need to show that its so-called anti-ethnic studies statute was not actually anti-people of certain ethnic identities.

July 7, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Daily Read: Corey Robin on Dignity (and Whitney Houston)

Over at his eponymous blog, CUNY-Brooklyn Political Science professor Corey Robin has an interesting take on the controversial passage from Justice Thomas's dissent in Obergefell criticizing the "dignity" rationale of Kennedy's opinion for the Court by stating in part that slaves" did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. " 

Robins's post, "From Whitney Houston to Obergefell: Clarence Thomas on Human Dignity," is worth a read, and even worth a listen if you are so inclined.

 

220px-Whitney_Houston_Welcome_Home_Heroes_1_cropped

 

June 30, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fundamental Rights, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Thirteenth Amendment, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Court Decides Fourteenth Amendment Requires States to License Same-Sex Marriage

In a closely-divided opinion, with the majority written by Justice Kennedy, the Court has decided that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages in Obergefell v. Hodges.   The opinion rests on both due process and equal protection grounds.  The majority opinion joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan - - - there are no concurring opinions - - - is less than 30 pages, plus 2 appendices including the citations of same-sex marriage opinions.  Each of the four dissenting Justices - - - Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito - - - wrote a separate dissenting opinion, with some joinders by other Justices. 

The decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages renders the second certified question regarding recognition irrelevant, as the discussion during oral arguments made clear.

Recall that the consolidated cases of Obergefell v. Hodges on certiorari from the Sixth Circuit opinion which had created a split in the circuits on the issue of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.   There have been a record number of amicus briefs filed in the cases highlighting the interest in the case.

 

15440160626_e29b6551f9_z

[image Donkey Hotey]

On the due process issue, Kennedy's opinion for the Court concludes that the right to marry is fundamental because:

  • the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, relying on Loving and Lawrence;
  • it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals, relying on Grsiwold, Rurner v. Safely, and Lawrence;
  • to safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education, relying on Pierce v. Society of Sisters and Windsor;
  • Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order, relying on Maynard v. Hill (1888).
Regarding equal protection, The Court does not articulate a standard for sexual orientation, but discusses the interlocking nature of the constitutional safeguards, relying on Loving, Zablocki v. Redhail, as well as the Lawrence.
 
The Court's opinion does address the "religious liberty" conflict of rights argument:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same- sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.

In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts - - - who some thought might join the majority and in a rare performance read from his dissent on the bench - - - emphasized that limited nature of judicial review and the power of the Court, concluding that the majority's opinion is an "extraordinary step" and predicting that because it is a decision of "five lawyers" this will make the "dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."
 
The majority bases its conclusion that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right on "four principles and traditions": (1) right to person choice in marriage is "inherent in the concept of individual autonomy"; (2) "two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals"; (3) marriage safeguards children and families; (4) marriage is a keystone to our social order. - See more at: http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_of_opinions__June_26_2015#sthash.OLg4SIRd.dpuf

June 26, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Second Circuit Gives Detainee Case Against Ashcroft, Mueller the Go-Ahead

The Second Circuit ruled today that a civil rights case by former alien detainees against former AG John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Zigler, and officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center can move forward.

The ruling is not a decision on the merits, but instead says that the bulk of the plaintiffs' case against the officials is not dismissed and can proceed to discovery.

Still, the ruling is significant, to say the least. It means that officials at the highest level of the DOJ will have to answer in court for their actions that led directly to the wrongful detention and mistreatment of aliens who were mistakenly swept up in the 9/11 investigation, even though, as the court said, "they were unquestionably never involved in terrorist activity."

The case, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, over thirteen years old, challenges the defendants' moves that resulted in the detention and mistreatment of aliens in the post-9/11 investigation, even though they had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or terrorist activities. In particular, the plaintiffs claimed that they were detained between three and eight months, without individualized suspicion and because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, and subjected to various forms of mistreatment.

The plaintiffs alleged that the DOJ defendants took certain actions that resulted in their detention and unlawful treatment, with knowledge that the plaintiffs were wrongfully detained and mistreated. They also alleged that the MDC defendants took official actions that led to their abuse and knew about certain "unofficial abuse."

The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, on qualified immunity grounds, and, for some claims, that Bivens did not extend a cause of action. The district court dismissed all claims against the DOJ defendants and some claims against the MDC defendants.

The Second Circuit (mostly) reversed and allowed the case to move forward. The court said that the plaintiffs adequately pleaded their constitutional claims (and met the Iqbal pleading standard) that the DOJ and MDC defendants acted directly to violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Key to the ruling was the plaintiffs' carefully pleaded complaint, which incorporated most of two reports of the DOJ's Office of Inspector General, helping plaintiffs to meet the plausibility test. Also key was the plaintiffs' allegations that the DOJ defendants received regular information on the post-9/11 investigation, including detainees, and that they ordered and implemented certain policies and took certain actions that resulted directly in the plaintiffs' wrongful detention.

Along the way, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had Bivens claims (except for their free exercise claim), even though the DOJ defendants didn't argue Bivens on appeal. The court also ruled that the defendants weren't entitled to qualified immunity, because the law on pretrial detention and mistreatment was clear at the time.

The court concluded:

The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy.

Holding individuals in solitary confinement twenty-three hours a day with regular strip searches because their perceived faith or race placed them in the group targeted for recruitment by al Qaeda violated the detainees' constitutional rights. To use such a broad and general basis for such severe confinement without any further particularization of a reason to suspect an individual's connection to terrorist activities requires certain assumptions about the "targeted group" not offered by Defendants nor supported in the record. It assumes that members of the group were already allied with or would be easily converted to the terrorist cause, until proven otherwise. Why else would no further particularization of a connection to terrorism be required? Perceived membership in the "targeted group" was seemingly enough to justify extended confinement in the most restrictive conditions available.

Judge Reena Raggi dissented.

June 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Does Immigration Marriage Case Foreshadow Same-Sex Marriage Case?

In United States Supreme Court's fragmented and closely divided decision in Kerry v. Din, the majority rejected the procedural due process argument of a naturalized American citizen to an explanation of the reasons supporting a denial of a visa to her noncitizen husband.  Justice Scalia, writing for the plurality and joined by Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts, concluded that she had no cognizable liberty interest attributable to her marriage.  Justice Kennedy, joined by Alito, would not reach the liberty interest issue because the process here was all that was due.  Justice Breyer, dissenting, and joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, would affirm the Ninth Circuit and find that she had a cognizable liberty interest and that more process was due in the form of a more precise and factual explanation.

So what might this mean for Obergefell?  Most obviously, the dissenting opinion by Breyer, and joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, articulates an expansive liberty interest in marriage under the Due Process Clause that could be easily imported into Obergefell.  On Justice Kennedy's concurrence, joined by Alito, the clear signal is that Justice Scalia's refusal to recognize a liberty interest in marriage is not one to which they are subscribing - - - in this case.  Given that Justice Kennedy, as author of the Court's opinions Windsor, Lawrence, and Romer v. Evans, is being closely watched as potential author of an opinion in favor of Obergefell, there is nothing in Din that would mitigate that judgment. As for the plurality, Justice Scalia's derogation of substantive due process has a familiar ring that might be echoed in his opinion in Obergefell, with an emphasis on history.  While Justice Thomas is widely expected to agree with Scalia's position, does the Chief Justice's joining of Scalia's opinion in Kerry v. Din signal a disapproval of recognizing any liberty interest in marriage?  Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  Consider this:

Unlike the States in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1 (1967), Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374 (1978), and Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78 (1987), the Federal Govern­ment here has not attempted to forbid a marriage. Although Din and the dissent borrow language from those cases invoking a fundamental right to marriage, they both implicitly concede that no such right has been infringed in this case. Din relies on the “associational interests in marriage that necessarily are protected by the right to marry,” and that are “presuppose[d]” by later cases estab­lishing a right to marital privacy.

Indeed, under this view, as the Court made clear in Zablocki, there must be a "direct and substantial" interference with marriage in order for there to be a liberty interest.  The Court in Zablocki distinguished Califano v. Jobst, 434 U.S. 47 (1977) - - - which the Court in Din does not cite - - - which found no constitutional infirmity with altering social security benefits upon marriage.  In short, the marriage was not "forbidden," it was simply subject to certain regulations in another the complex social security scheme, not unlike the complex immigration scheme.

So for those who might attempt to predict the various positions of the Justices in Obergefell based on Kerry v. Din, there is certainly much "play."

418px-Henri_Rousseau,_dit_le_Douanier_-_The_Wedding_Party_-_Google_Art_Project
Henri Rousseau, "The Wedding Party," circa 1905, via

June 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Gender, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Supreme Court on Marriage, Procedural Due Process, Terrorism, and Immigration: Kerry v. Din

The Court today issued its closely divided opinion in Kerry v. DinOn this 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, both the plurality opinion by Justice Scalia and the dissenting opinion by Justice Breyer referenced the great charter's protection of what the Constitution's Fifth Amendment termed "due process of law." In Din, the due process rights of a citizen who obtained preferred immigration status for her spouse are at stake. Certainly the case is important in the immigration context, but how important might it be as a harbinger of the Court's impending decision in the consolidated same-sex marriage cases, Obergefell v. Hodges, argued in late April?  What Kerry v. Din might say about Obergefell is discussed here.

596px-Charles_W._Hawthorne_-_Young_man_and_woman
Charles Hawthorne, "Young man and woman in a dark, moody landscape," 1915, via 

In Kerry v. Din, a naturalized citizen, petitioned to have her husband, Berashk, classified as an “immediate relative” entitled to priority immigration status, and although this was approved, Berashk’s visa application was denied under §1182(a)(3)(B), which excludes aliens who have engaged in “[t]errorist activities,” but the consular officer provided no further information. Unable to obtain a more detailed explanation for Berashk’s visa denial, Din filed a complaint in federal court which was dismissed.  The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Din had a protected liberty interest in her marriage that entitled her to review of the denial of Berashk’s visa. It further held that the Government deprived her of that liberty interest without due process when it denied Berashk’s visa application without providing a more detailed explanation of its reasons.

In the plurality opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, Justice Scalia has harsh words for Din's claim of any right of "life, liberty, or property" to which due process would attach.  It is "absurd" and nothing in the caselaw "establishes a free-floating and categorical liberty interest in marriage (or any other formulation Din offers) sufficient to trigger constitutional protection."  He characterizes her right as one to live in the United States with one's spouse, and concludes that such a right fails the Washington v. Glucksberg test requiring that any implicit right be "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition."  Indeed, he argues that the history is exactly the opposite and discusses laws that mandated women "take the nationality of her husband on marriage."  While noting that modern " equal-protection doctrine casts substantial doubt on the permissibility of such asymmetric treatment of women citizens in the immigration context, and modern moral judgment rejects the premises of such a legal order," nevertheless, he concludes that "this all-too-recent practice repudiates any contention that Din’s asserted liberty interest is 'deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'"

Justice Kennedy, joined by Justice Alito, firmly rejects Justice Scalia's conclusion: "Today’s disposition should not be interpreted as deciding whether a citizen has a protected liberty interest in the visa application of her alien spouse." Instead, Kennedy concludes that the "Court need not decide that issue," for "even assuming she has such an interest, the Government satisfied due process when it notified Din’s husband that his visa was denied under the immigration statute's terrorism bar."  For Kennedy and Alito, the citation of the statute seemingly satisfies all the process that is due.

Dissenting, Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, argues that there is a liberty interest flowing from the Due Process Clause itself and from the statutory scheme establishing immigration preferences.  In his critique of the plurality opinion, Breyer reminds readers that it "is not controlling."  He discusses a number of cases in which the Court has recognized liberty interests, perhaps most compellingly Goss v. Lopez (1975), involving students' interest in attending school and not being suspended, and which the plurality opinion seeks to distinguish. Regarding the "process due," Breyer notes that a statement of the reasons for a government action is an essential part of due process and one that a recitation of the statute in this case cannot satisfy given that it contains "dozens" of reasons.  Moreover, the government offered no factual basis. He argues:

The generality of the statutory provision cited and the lack of factual support mean that here, the reason given is analogous to telling a criminal defendant only that he is accused of “breaking the law”; telling a property owner only that he cannot build because environmental rules forbid it; or telling a driver only that police pulled him over because he violated traffic laws. As such, the reason given cannot serve its procedural purpose. It does not permit Ms. Din to assess the correctness of the State Department’s conclusion; it does not permit her to determine what kinds of facts she might provide in response; and it does not permit her to learn whether, or what kind of, defenses might be available. In short, any “reason” that Ms. Din received is not constitutionally adequate.

Thus, the dissenters would recognize both the liberty interest of a spouse in her partner's visa denial and that procedural due process requires something more than the recital of a statute; Kennedy and Alito find that the statutory referral is sufficient process; and the plurality finds that there is no liberty interest of a spouse in her partner's visa denial.  It's a fragmented set of conclusions and its predictive value for the same-sex marriage cases raises some interesting possibilities.

June 15, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Supreme Court (US), Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fifth Circuit on Texas's Abortion Law HB 2 Redux

The Fifth Circuit has issued its opinion in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, as the latest in the continuing saga regarding the constitutionality of HB 2.

Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.

This opinion dissolves the district judge's opinion except as to one clinic in McAllen, Texas, holding that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements did not impose an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions as a facial matter (and relying in part on Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott  as a basis for res judicata).  As applied, the court distinguished McAllen from El Paso, which has another abortion clinic nearby, albeit across the Texas state border in New Mexico.

It is unlikely this latest opinion will be an end to the litigation regarding HB2.

 

June 10, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Gender, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Clean Air Act Survives Federalism Challenges

The D.C. Circuit this week upheld a key authority of the EPA for enforcing the Clean Air Act against federalism and congressional authority challenges. The per curiam ruling rejected other challenges to EPA action, as well, and means that the case is dismissed. The ruling leaves intact the EPA's authority to designate geographic areas as noncompliant with the Clean Air Act and to take certain enforcement actions.

The federalism challenge in the case, Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality v. EPA, sought to exploit the plurality's ruling in NFIB, where the Court held that Obamacare's Medicaid expansion couldn't condition a state's entire Medicaid grant on the ACA's Medicaid expansion. But the court rejected that argument, easily distinguishing Medicaid expansion and the EPA's actions here, as described below.

The case tested EPA's authority to designate certain geographic areas as noncompliant with the Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standards. A variety of plaintiffs lodged complaints, but only two, Wise County, Texas, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, raised constitutional claims. They argued that the EPA's designation of Wise County as a nonattainment area violated the Tenth Amendment and due process, and exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.

The court rejected these arguments. The court ruled that the Clean Air Act "authorizes the EPA to promulgate and administer a federal implementation plan of its own if the State fails to submit an adequate state implementation plan." The court said that's not commandeering, because the federal government isn't requiring the state or state officers to implement the federal plan.

The court also ruled that the Clean Air Act's sanctions for noncompliance--re-direction of a portion of federal highway funds to federal programs that would improve air quality--were not unduly coercive under NFIB. That's because they don't come close to the size of a state's federal Medicaid grant, and because it wasn't a new program that came as a surprise to the states. Indeed, the condition has been on the books (and states have taken advantage of it) for decades.

The court said that the Clean Air Act's delegation of authority to the EPA to designate areas as noncompliant is well within Congress's Commerce Clause authority. The court said that dirty air blows across state lines, causing a substantial effect on interstate commerce, and that the activities in Wise County that led to the dirty air themselves have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

Finally, the court rejected a due process claim that the EPA administrator for Region 6 was biased. The court said that the administrator's past professional activities and statements did not rise to the level of an "unalterably closed mind" or an inability or unwillingness "to rationally consider arguments."

As mentioned, the court rejected other arguments against the EPA's authority, too, mostly under the APA.

June 5, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, News, Spending Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Should the Supreme Court Grant Certiorari to Federal Courts Declaring State Laws Unconstitutional?

Dissenting in a denial of certiorari today in County of Maricopa, Arizona v. Lopez-Valenzuela, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, argued that the Supreme Court should review decisions by lower federal courts invalidating state "constitutional provisions."  At issue in Lopez-Valenzuela is Arizona's "Proposition 100" a ballot measure passed by Arizona voters that amended the state constitution to preclude bail for certain serious felony offenses if the person charged has entered or remained in the United States illegally and if the proof is evident or the presumption great as to the charge. 

Magician_Raphael_1825
"A magician raising a ghost" circa 1825 via

The Ninth Circuit en banc held the measure unconstitutional as violative of due process, over dissents by Judges Tallman and O'Scannlain.

Justice Thomas notes that

Congress historically required this Court to review any decision of a federal court of appeals holding that a state statute violated the Federal Constitution. 28 U. S. C. §1254(2) (1982 ed.). It was not until 1988 that Congress eliminated that mandatory jurisdiction and gave this Court discretion to review such cases by writ of certiorari. See Pub. Law 100-352, §2, 102 Stat. 662.

More provocatively, Justice Thomas implicitly evokes the "Ghost of Lochner" by pointing out that the Ninth Circuit's decision rested on substantive due process grounds and quoting from West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U. S. 379, 391 (1937) and Nebbia v. New York, 291 U. S. 502, 537–538 (1934), which specifically disapproved Lochner v. New York (1905). 

For Justice Thomas, the Court's refusal to grant certiorari is "disheartening," : "there are not four Members of this Court who would even review the decision below."  (Note that Justice Alito also dissented, although he did not join Justice Thomas's opinion, for a total of three Justices who would have granted certiorari). 

For Justice Thomas, the Court's "indifference to cases such as this one will only embolden the lower courts to reject state laws on questionable constitutional grounds."

June 1, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds DMV Ban of "Choose Life" License Plate Against First Amendment Challenge

In its divided opinion in Children First Foundation v. Fiala, the Second Circuit held that the Commissioner of Motor Vehicle's rejection of "Choose Life" license plates for the state's specialty plate program is constitutional.  Judge Pooler, joined by Judge Hall, reversed the district judge's conclusion that the rejection violated the First Amendment. 

The Second Circuit's divided opinion enters the fray of what might be called the developing doctrine of license plates, be they state-mandated, vanity, or as here, "specialty" plates issued by the state as a means of raising revenue. As we've discussed, the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld.  

The progenitor of this doctrine is the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard (1977) involving compelled speech.  This Term the Court heard oral arguments in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans; a divided Fifth Circuit had held that the rejection of the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate (featuring the Confederate flag) was a violation of the First Amendment as impermissible content and viewpoint discrimination.  The Second Circuit stayed the mandate of its decision pending the outcome of Walker. 

The specialty license plate litigation involves the intersection of a number of First Amendment doctrines.  As Judge Pooler's opinion in Children First Foundation expressed its holding:

We conclude that the content of New York’s custom license plates constitutes private speech [rather than government speech] and that the plates themselves are a nonpublic forum. CFF’s facial challenge fails because New York’s custom plate program did not impermissibly vest the DMV Commissioner with unbridled discretion in approving custom plate designs. Furthermore, that program, as applied in this case, was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires of restrictions on expression in a nonpublic forum.

License
Judge Pooler's well-structured opinion supports this conclusion.  First, the court considers whether the license plate is government speech or private speech.  If the speech is government speech, then the First Amendment has little application. (Recall that this was the position of the dissenting judge in the Fifth Circuit's decision in Sons of Confederate Veterans).  Agreeing with other circuits, the court reasons that an application of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum (2009) and Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n (2005) leads to " little difficulty concluding that such an observer would know that motorists affirmatively request specialty plates and choose to display those plates on their vehicles, which constitute private property."

Next, Judge Pooler's opinion considers the type of forum and concludes it is a "nonpublic forum," rejecting a comparison to a designated public forum formed when the government accepts advertising on buses.   Nevertheless, the opinion notes that the prohibition of "unbridled discretion" as a type of prior restraint is prohibited even in nonpublic forums. 
 
However, the court finds that the DMV does not exercise unbridled discretion that renders the DMV specialty license plate program facially unconstitutionally.  The court does note that the statute and regulation afford the DMV "broad discretion" and - - - standing alone - - - their ability "to provide an adequate safeguard against the Commissioner’s exercise of unbridled authority is dubious."  This argument is the centerpiece of Judge Livingston's extensive dissent.  For the majority, the agency policies and practices, written and unwritten, are highly pertinent.  The court specifically considers whether there was a uniform application.  It approvingly notes that the DMV denied a vanity plate for "RU486," with its reference to the so-called "morning-after pill."  And the court distinguishes specialty plates like "Cop Shot" and "Union Yes":

bringing to justice individuals who have attacked police officers cannot reasonably compare—either by its very nature or by the level of contentiousness that surrounds it—to the issue of abortion. With respect to the decision to issue a “Union Yes” plate, while the myriad issues pertaining to organized labor in the United States are social and political in nature, there is no basis to conclude that the Department failed to apply the policy against creating plates that touch upon contentious political issues as opposed to having applied the policy and merely reaching a different result than it did with the “Choose Life” plate.

Finally, regarding the as-applied challenge, which in some respects overlaps with the facial challenge, the court noted that while the distinction between viewpoint and content discrimination can be "hazy," a rejection of all abortion-related speech in a nonpublic forum is the type of content related policy that is subject only to a reasonableness requirement.  The court recognized the state's legitimate interests of avoiding road rage and avoiding the appearance of the government endorsing one side in a contentious political debate.  Interestingly, regarding "road rage," the court rejected CFF’s contention that because the “Choose Life” plates have been "available for purchase in other states for twelve years with no definitive proof of ill effects," this  and concluded that this did not render unreasonable New York’s decision, especially given the timing of the application and ejection when "the DMV was aware of violent protests and bombings at abortion clinics." 
 
Additionally, the court rejected CFF's due process and equal protection claims.
 
The Second Circuit's opinion is sure to be reevaluated when the United States Supreme Court renders its decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, as the court recognized when it stayed its mandate.  The court's delivery of its decision before Walker could be subjected to much speculation.

 

May 27, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds Admissibility of Rap Video and Tattoos Against First Amendment Challenge

In its opinion in United States v. Pierce,  the Second Circuit considered the arguments of co-defendant/appellant Melvin Colon regarding the admissibility of a rap video and images of tattoos in the criminal trial. The unanimous opinion, authored by Judge Denny Chin, affirmed the convictions of Colon and his co-defendants for conspiracy, racketeering, murder, narcotics trafficking, and firearms offenses largely related to their activities as members of a "violent street gang, dubbed the Courtlandt Avenue Crew (ʺCACʺ) by the government,"  as well as a gang known as Godʹs Favorite Children, or ʺGFC.ʺ

750px-Mozart_graffiti
Mozart Graffiti via

Colon contended that his First Amendment rights were violated when the district court permitted the government to present as evidence a rap video and images of his tattoos, some of which he had posted to his Facebook page.  The "rap video" portrayed Colon as rapping: ʺYG to OG / Somebody make somebody nose bleed/ Iʹm OG shoot the Ruger / Iʹm a shooter.ʺ A witness, also seen in the video, testified for the prosecution that the Young Gunnaz crew, or YG, was feuding with the OG (formerly the GFC). The images of the tattoos introduced at trial were explained by the Second Circuit as including:

a close‐up of Colonʹs hand, showing his ʺY.G.K.ʺ tattoo, which stands for ʺYoung Gunnaz Killer.ʺ In some of the photographs Colon is pointing a gun at his Y.G.K. tattoo, indicating, according to the government, his desire to harm members of the Young Gunnaz. Other tattoos depicted in the photographs introduced at trial included one on his right arm that read ʺCourtlandtʺ; tattoos on his left arm that referenced [co-defendant] Meregildoʹs nicknames (ʺYoungʺ and ʺKillaʺ); and one stating ʺM.I.P. [Mac In Peace] T‐Money,ʺ referring to Harrison, the former leader of CAC.

The Second Circuit panel rejected the First Amendment challenges to the introduction of the evidence. First, the court noted that the conviction did not rest on the expression: "here, the speech is not 'itself the proscribed conduct,'" interestingly citing United States v. Caronia, the 2012 Second Circuit case reversing a conviction for promoting the off-label use of prescription drugs. Additionally, the Second Circuit considered Colon's argument that the rap lyrics were merely "fictional artistic expressions," and discussed the New Jersey Supreme Court decision last year in State v. Skinner, noting that the court there observed that ʺ[o]ne would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well‐known song ʹI Shot the Sheriff,ʹ actually shot a sheriff.ʺ  However, the Second Circuit distinguished Skinner in which the court reversed the conviction (although not explicitly on the basis of the First Amendment), by concluding that here the rap lyrics and tattoos were properly admitted, because they were relevant and their probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.  Specifically - - - if cursorily - - - the Second Circuit reasoned:

The government proffered the rap video to show Colonʹs animosity toward the Young Gunnaz, as well as his association with CAC. The government similarly offered the tattoo evidence to help establish his motive for violence against the Young Gunnaz, and to show his loyalty to Harrison and Meregildo ‐‐ indeed other members of CAC had similar tattoos. Hence, the rap video and tattoos were relevant, their probative value was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, and Colonʹs First Amendment rights were not implicated when the district court admitted the evidence from his social media account.

As in other cases raising First Amendment challenges to the introduction of expressive evidence, the First Amendment issues are subsumed into the evidentiary one.

Colon also challenged a portion of the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. § 2703(c)(1), regarding the subpoenaing of Facebook for page content.  Appellant Colon, however, is not challenging the Government's acquisition of his own Facebook content, however, but argued that SCA's prohibition of his subpoena of Facebook content from a witness, denied him his Fifth Amendment due process right to present evidence and his Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses.  Colon managed to obtain some of the Facebook postings through the work of a private investigator and his attorney used it in cross-examination and introduced portions of it.  The Second Circuit declined to reach the constitutional question, given that "Colon possessed the very contents he claims the SCA prevented him from obtaining, and his suggestion that there could have been additional relevant exculpatory material in the Parsons Account is purely speculative."

The court's opinion resolves the issues before it (including a sentencing issue which earned a remand), but does little to elucidate the important First Amendment concerns that remain regarding the admissibility of rap lyrics and tattoos in criminal trials.

May 11, 2015 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Music, Opinion Analysis, Race, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)