Friday, June 6, 2014

Wisconsin Federal Judge Declares Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining the federal judges who have declared unconstitutional their respective state laws banning same-sex marriage, Judge Barbara Crabb issued an 88 page opinion and order in Wolf v. Walker ruling that Art. XIII, § 13 of the Wisconsin Constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage "violates plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry and their right to equal protection of laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution" and that "any Wisconsin statutory provisions, including those in Wisconsin Statutes chapter 765, that limit marriages to a 'husband' and a 'wife,' are unconstitutional as applied to same-sex couples."

640px-EB9_WisconsinWhile Judge Crabb does not issue a stay, the opinion is not effective immediately.  Instead, the plaintiffs have until June 16 to submit a proposed injunction, the defendants have a week to respond, and the Judge will consider the stay at that time - - - adding a specific allowance of the parties to address the application for a stay in light of the United States Supreme Court's refusal to grant a stay - - - just two days ago - - - in Geiger v. Kitzhaber.

Crabb's opinion is a scholarly treatment that seriously engages with seemingly all of the arguments raised by the state, the plaintiffs, and various amici.  It echoes other judges who have reached similar results in relying upon Justice Scalia's dissenting opinions to support its conclusions.  Judge Crabb also interestingly uses work by Maggie Gallagher, one of the founders of the anti-same-sex marriage group National Organizer for Marriage as a supporting citation for the importance of marriage as "essential to the pursuit of happiness."  The range of her citations is impressive and although the opinion certainly has rhetorical flourishes, it is measured and substantive.

Her statement that marriage is a "fundamental right" is more nuanced in the conclusion to the due process analysis in opinion, which concludes:

that Wisconsin’s marriage amendment and the Wisconsin statutes defining marriage as requiring a “husband” and a “wife” significantly interfere with plaintiffs’ right to marry, so the laws must be supported by “sufficiently important state interests” that are “closely tailored to effectuate only those interests,” Zablocki [v. Redhail]  434 U.S. at 388, in order to survive constitutional scrutiny.

Regarding the level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, Judge Crabb finds that Supreme Court precedent - - - including Windsor - - - is not determinative and that Seventh Circuit precedent is similarly not determinative.  The opinion therefore engages in an analysis of the classification under four factors: history of discrimination; ability to contribute to society the same as others; immutability; and political powerlessness.  (Interestingly, Judge Crabb does not cite to Carolene Products).  She ultimately concludes that heightened scrutiny (intermediate scrutiny) is appropriate, although she does "hedge her bets" a bit, writing that

regardless whether I apply strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny or some “more searching” form of rational basis review under the equal protection clause, I conclude that the marriage amendment and related statutes cannot survive constitutional review.

The opinion then seriously considers the by-now familiar asserted interests: tradition, procreation, optimal child-rearing, protecting the institution of marriage, proceeding with caution, and the less-oft explicit interest of "slippery slope."  Not surprisingly, she finds none of them support the same-sex marriage ban.

Judge Crabb's opinion acknowledges the opinion's place in the current terrain of post-Windsor decisions.  Not only does she address the recent cases, she also considers the social climate, with reference to one of the circuit judges who might well hear the case on appeal:

In light of Windsor and the many decisions that have invalidated restrictions on same-sex marriage since Windsor, it appears that courts are moving toward a consensus that it is time to embrace full legal equality for gay and lesbian citizens. Perhaps it is no coincidence that these decisions are coming at a time when public opinion is moving quickly in the direction of support for same-sex marriage. Compare Richard A. Posner, Should There Be Homosexual Marriage? And If So, Who Should Decide? 95 Mich. L. Rev. 1578, 1585 (1997) (“Public opinion may change . . . but at present it is too firmly against same-sex marriage for the courts to act.”), with Richard A. Posner, “Homosexual Marriage—Posner,” The Becker-Posner Blog (May 13, 2012) (“[T]he only remaining basis for opposition to homosexual marriage . . . is religious. . . . But whatever the [religious objections are], the United States is not a theocracy and should hesitate to enact laws that serve religious rather than pragmatic secular aims.”).

This case is most likely going to the Seventh Circuit - - - and it or one of its sister-opinions - - - is most likely headed to the Supreme Court.

June 6, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pennsylvania District Judge Declares State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his opinion in Whitewood v. Wolf, Judge John E. Jones, III, announced that Pennsylvania would "join the twelve federal district courts across the country" that had declared their respective same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

The judge considered both a Due Process and Equal Protection challenge to Pennsylvania's statutory ban on same-sex marriage and found both had merit.

800px-1827_Finley_Map_of_Pennsylvania_-_Geographicus_-_Pennsylvania-finley-1827
1827 Finley map of Pennsylvania

Regarding due process, he concluded that

 the fundamental right to marry as protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right to marry a person of one’s own sex. . . . that this fundamental right is infringed upon by 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and thus precludes same-sex marriage. Accordingly, 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102 is unconstitutional.

Judge Jones' equal protection analysis first considered the proper level of scrutiny for sexual orientation and after extensive discussion of the factors (a modified Carolene Products analysis), he concluded that sexual orientation classifications are quasi-suspect and deserve heightened scrutiny. The application of this standard is relatively brief:

Significantly, Defendants claim only that the objectives are “legitimate,” advancing no argument that the interests are “important” state interests as required to withstand heightened scrutiny. Also, Defendants do not explain the relationship between the classification and the governmental objectives served; much less do they provide an exceedingly persuasive justification. In essence, Defendants argue within the framework of deferential review and go no further.  Indeed, it is unsurprising that Defendants muster no argument engaging the strictures of heightened scrutiny, as we, too, are unable to fathom an ingenuous defense saving the Marriage Laws from being invalidated under this more-searching standard.

Resembling many of the other opinions, including yesterday's opinion from an Oregon federal judge, Judge Jones' 39 page opinion acknowledges its part in a growing trend, cites all the other federal cases, includes a reference to Scalia's dissenting opinion in Windsor to support its rationale, and includes an acknowledgement of the divisiveness of the issue but invokes a historical perspective (represented by Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education) in its relatively brief conclusion. 

It differs from other similar opinions in explicitly resting its Equal Protection analysis in intermediate scrutiny befitting a quasi-suspect class.

But the doctrinal differences are less noteworthy than the tide of federal judges (and some state judges) striking down their state laws banning same-sex marriage.

May 20, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Arkansas Supreme Court: Judge's Same Sex Marriage Order Stayed

The Arkansas Supreme Court's Order in Smith v. Wright grants a stay of the injunction against enforcing the ban on same-sex marriages.

Recall that last Friday, Circuit Judge Charles Piazza in Wright v. Arkansas declared unconstitutional Arkansas Act 144 and Arkansas Amendment 83, both of which define marriage as limited to one man and one woman. 

Judge Piazza later issued a clarifying order and there have been numerous procedural matters to resolve.  Today's order by the Arkansas Supreme Court Justices (pictured below) grants the request for an emergency stay without opinion. 

A full appeal will presumably follow.

SCgroup-new

 

May 16, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Idaho Federal Judge Declares State Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

In a 57 page opinion today in Latta v. Otter, federal judge Candy Wagahoff Dale concluded that Idaho's statutory and state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and issued a permanent injunction.  (Judge Candy Dale is the Chief Magistrate Judge of the District of Idaho).

The judge was well aware of joining the trend of recent decisions finding state laws banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional, writing that the principle of judicial protection of "fundamental rights" regardless of majoritarian concerns

  Idaho_population_mapresonates today, as 10 federal courts across the country have in recent months reached similar conclusions on the very issues present in this case. Considering many of the same arguments and much of the same law, each of these courts concluded that state laws prohibiting or refusing to recognize same-sex marriage fail to rationally advance legitimate state interests. This judicial consensus was forged from each court’s independent analysis of Supreme Court cases extending from Loving through Romer, Lawrence, and Windsor. The logic of these precedents virtually compels the conclusion that same-sex and opposite-sex couples deserve equal dignity when they seek the benefits and responsibilities of civil marriage. Because Idaho’s Marriage Laws do not withstand any applicable form of constitutional scrutiny, the Court finds they violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The passage includes a footnote citing all the federal cases (but not the state judge in Arkansas just last week or the New Mexico Supreme Court).  Judge Dale also includes a quotation from Justice Scalia: "But ‘preserving the traditional institution of marriage’ is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples.” Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 601 (Scalia, J., dissenting)," in support of her conclusion that the constitutional amendment approved by the voters was motivated by animus. 

In one unique aspect, Judge Dale specifically considered SmithKline Beecham Corporation (GSK) v. Abbott Laboratories, a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit in January that extended the equal protection rule and analysis of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) regarding juror exclusions to those based on sexual orientation.  Judge Dale specifically found that the  "SmithKline’s examination of Windsor is authoritative and binding upon this Court" and that:

In this Court’s view, SmithKline establishes a broadly applicable equal protection principle that is not limited to the jury selection context.

On the whole, although Judge Dale repeatedly finds marriage to be a fundamental right, the opinion ultimately contends that the same-sex marriage bans fail to satisfy even the lowest rational basis review.

Judge Dale did not issue a stay, but given the effective date of the injunction as Friday, May 16, there are sure to be stay requests.

May 13, 2014 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Arkansas State Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In an opinion issued late today in Wright v. Arkansas, Circuit Judge Charles Piazza declared unconstitutional Arkansas Act 144 and Arkansas Amendment 83, both of which define marriage as limited to one man and one woman.  The decision rests on the  Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, as well as on ARK. Const., art 2 §2, with equality and liberty provisions.  

The relatively brief opinion - - - 13 pages single spaced - - - tracks familiar ground, highlighting Windsor v. United States and the post-Windsor cases, emphasizing Kitchen v. Herbert and Bishop v. United States.  Judge Piazza also points to Justice Scalia's dissenting language as other cases have done; Judge Piazza bolsters his finding that "tradition" is not a legitimate state interest by stating:

And, as Justice Scalia has noted in dissent, " 'preserving the traditional institution of marriage' is just a kinder way of describing the State's moral disapproval of same-sex couples." Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 601 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

741px-Collier's_1921_Arkansas
Judge Piazza also confronts possible charges of judicial activism with a reference to Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856), including an extensive quote from Justice Taney's opinion, before moving onto Loving v. Virginia and Griswold v. Connecticut.  He also relies on Arkansas' precedent:

The Arkansas Supreme Court has previously addressed the right to privacy as it involves same-sex couples. ln Jegley v. Picado, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the sodomy statute as unconstitutional in violating Article 2, §2 and the right to privacy. 349 Ark. 600, 638 (2002). Justice Brown, in Arkansas Dep't of Human Services v. Cole, noted "that Arkansas has a rich and compelling tradition of protecting individual privacy and that a fundamental right to privacy is implicit in the Arkansas Constitution." 2011 Ark. 145, 380 S.W. 3d. 429, 435 (2011) (citing Jegley, id. at 632). The Arkansas Supreme Court applied a heightened scrutiny and struck down as unconstitutional an initiated act that prohibited unmarried opposite-sex and same-sex couples from adopting children. Id at 442. The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage for no rational basis violates the fundamental right to privacy and equal protection as described in Jegley and Cole, supra. The difference between opposite-sex and same-sex families is within the privacy of their homes.

The judge did not stay the opinion; it may be that some attorneys for the state of Arkansas will have a very busy weekend.

{UPDATE here}

May 9, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Hampshire Supreme Court: Vanity License Plate "Not Offensive to Good Taste" Requirement Violates First Amendment

Relying on its state constitution, the New Hampshire Supreme Court's opinion today in Montenegro v. New Hampshire DMV held that the regulation prohibiting vanity license plates that are "offensive to good taste" was unconstitutional.

David Montenegro, who represented himself, appealed an order denying him a vanity registration plate reading "COPSLIE" and argued that the "offensive to good taste" exclusion in the regulation violated his speech rights under Part I, Article 22, New Hampshire Constitution as well as the First Amendment. 

New_Hampshire_License_Plate

The unanimous court considered the relationship between vagueness and overbreadth, which it contended may certainly overlap, but ultimately settled on vagueness.  The court ultimately concluding that

Because the "offensive to good taste" standard is not susceptible of objective definition, the restriction grants DMV officials the power to deny a proposed vanity registration plate because it offends particular officials’ subjective idea of what is “good taste.”

This vague standard thus violated the New Hampshire guarantee of free speech according the supreme court.

From the news report, Montenegro seems as "colorful" as his predecessor George Maynard, whose challenge to New Hampshire's "live free or die" motto on its license plates was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in Wooley v. Maynard (1977).  And this case will take its place in developing "license plate jurisprudence":  the "infidel" license plate denial; the unsucessful challenge to the Native American image on the Oklahoma license plate; and the unconstitutional "choose life" license plate offering.

May 7, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

India's Supreme Court Recognizes Transgender Constitutional Rights of Equality as "Third Gender"

In its opinion National Legal Services v. India, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the constitutional rights of transgender persons, including the right not to be denominated as either "male" or "female." 

 The opinion by K.S. Radhakrishnan begins with an invocation of the "trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo" but rather quickly also invokes the cultural roots and importance of the community: "TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts." 

436px-Constitution_of_IndiaThe judgment rests on an interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution of India, including Article 14 (equality before law); Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of various grounds, including sex); Article 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment, including sex); Article 19 (including freedom of expression); and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).  The judgment engaged in some originalist reasoning that broadly interpreted "sex" to include sex-stereotyping:

Constitution makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. Biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression ‘sex’ used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male or female.

Given this interpretation, the Court not suprisingly ruled

We, therefore, conclude that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.

The Court has some interesting discussions of dress and grooming as an aspect of gender which included references to US cases and is further discussed here. 

The Court also specifically disavowed any relationship between its present judgment in National Legal Services v. India and the controversial opinion Koushal v. NAZ Foundation decided in December in which the Court - - - or as the Court states here "A Division Bench of this Court" reversed the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court that §377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional under the India Constitution and upheld India's sodomy law as constitutional:

we express no opinion on it [Kousal] since we are in these cases concerned with an altogether different issue pertaining to the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community and their gender identity and sexual orientation.

In a separate judgment, A.K. Sikiri did not mention the sodomy decision in Koushal v. Naz Foundation, but the judgment's expansive rhetoric could be read as an implicit disagreement with that decision as well as serving as a further butressing of today's judgment.  The concurring opinion elaborated on the importance of TG persons and communities to India's culture. It referenced Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Amartya Sen as providing the "jurisprudential basis for doing justice to the Vulnerable Groups which definitely include TGs."  It explicitly stated the "dynamic" and "living character" of the Constitution and its interpretation.  It considered judicial review in the context of democracy (including, implicitly, "sexual democracy") and decidedly opined that it is the role of the judiciary to "ensure access to justice to the marginalized section of the society," and that undoubtedly "TGs belong to the unprivileged class which is a marginalized section."

The judgment not only requires the government to recognize a "third gender" and to grant "legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender," but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and "seriously address" various problems. 

April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Federal District Judge Rules Ohio's Same-Sex Marriage Recognition Ban Unconstitutional

In the widely anticipated opinion in Henry v. Himes,  Judge Timothy Black has ruled that Ohio Const. Art. XV, § 11 and  Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01(C) denying legal recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples validly entered in other jurisdictions violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

Recall that Judge Black previously issued an opinion in Obergefell v. Kasich with a similar conclusion, although that opinion was limited to the particular plaintiffs.  Judge Black's preliminary injunction ruling in Obergefell was the first post-Windsor decision on same sex marriage, and interestingly used some of Justice Scalia's dissenting language to support his reasoning

740px-OhioWhile Obergefell involved a person who was dying, the plaintiffs in Henry are same-sex couples expecting children or with children.  The four plaintiff couples, who entered into valid marriages in other jurisdictions, seek to have the names of both parents recorded on their children’s Ohio birth certificates and a declaration that Ohio’s refusal to recognize valid same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.  Judge Black relied heavily on his previous rationale in Obergefell, and again found that while marriage is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has not explicitly recognized it as such, and "the balancing approach of intermediate scrutiny is appropriate in this similar instance where Ohio is intruding into – and in fact erasing – Plaintiffs’ already- established marital and family relations."  Again, Judge Black footnotes Professor Steve Sanders work on the liberty interest in having one's marriage recognized. 

In the equal protection analysis, Judge Black does advance a distinct rationale for "heightened scrutiny" given that the children's birth certificates are involved.  He writes that the "Supreme Court has long held that disparate treatment of children based on disapproval of their parents’ status or conduct violates the Equal Protection Clause," citing Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).  But, as in Obergefell, he also explicitly found that even if rational basis were applied, the Ohio provisions failed to satisfy it.

On the last page of Judge Black's opinion is the text of a song, "Happy Adoption Day" (1992).  For some, this will seem appropriate and celebratory.  For others, this will seem indecorous and treacly. Judge Black's previous statements have displeased at least one state representative - - - who has introduced a resolution in the Ohio legislature calling for the House of Representatives of Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings. 

 

April 14, 2014 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fifth Circuit Upholds HB2, Texas Restrictive Abortion Statute

A panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld the restrictive abortion law of Texas in its opinion in Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott. 

Authored by controversial conservative Judge Edith Jones, the unanimous panel opinion upholds positions of equally controversial  Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis.  The district judge's decision  had enjoined the "admitting provisions of HB 2 as unconstitutional: 

A physician performing or inducing an abortion:
(1) must, on the date the abortion is performed or induced, have active admitting privileges at a hospital that:
(A) is located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced; and
(B) provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services

800px-Texas_Capitol_night
Texas state capitol building via

The Fifth Circuit quickly stayed the injunction.  In today's panel opinion, Judge Jones wrote that the the district judge's opinion "applied the wrong legal standards under rational basis review and erred in finding that the admitting–privileges requirement amounts to an undue burden for a 'large fraction' of the women that it affects."

As to rational basis, Judge Jones highlighted the highly deferential standard, its place in a democracy, its practicality (if the legislature doesn't think a law is working, it can change it), and its application to HB2:

Viewed from the proper perspective, the State’s articulation of rational legislative objectives, which was backed by evidence placed before the state legislature, easily supplied a connection between the admitting–privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients’ health.

As to the undue burden, Judge Jones noted that the Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey,

counsels against striking down a statute solely because women may have to travel long distances to obtain abortions. The record before us does not indicate that the admitting–privileges requirement imposes an undue burden by virtue of the potential increase in travel distance in the Rio Grande Valley.

The narrow exception of the Fifth Circuit's reversal if that the  admitting privileges requirement "may not be enforced against abortion providers who timely applied for admitting privileges under the statute but are awaiting a response from the hospital."

March 27, 2014 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Illinois Supreme Court: State's Eavesdropping Statute Unconstitutional

Can a government criminalize the recording of conversations absent consent without violating the First Amendment, or perhaps the Due Process Clause?

In its opinion in People v. Clark, and a companion opinion in People v. Melongo, the Illinois Supreme Court held the state's statutory criminalization of eavesdropping unconstitutional.

Both cases relied upon ACLU v. Alvarez, in which the Seventh Circuit enjoined the statute from being applied to a Chicago police accountability program.

In Clark, the Illinois Supreme Court held that 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1)(A), the eavesdropping statute, violated the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine "because a substantial number of its applications are unconstitutional, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep."  The court recognized the ubiquity of smartphones and other recording devices.

Smartphone_as_Child_Toy

Importantly for the court, the statute criminalized a "whole range of conduct involving the audio recording of conversations that cannot be deemed in any way private."  It gave these examples:

  1.  a loud argument on the street;
  2. a political debate in a park;
  3. the public interactions of police officers with citizens (if done by a member of the general public); and
  4. any other conversation loud enough to be overheard by others whether in a private or public setting.

Although the opinion in Clark is a brief 9 pages, it's substantial and well-reasoned.

Equally brief and well-reasoned, although somewhat more complex, is the companion opinion in Melongo.  The state argued that Melongo's First Amendment claim was not cognizable on appeal, unlike the Due Process claim, and that the constitutional claims were inconsistent with her defense at trial.  Nevertheless, the court found that the statutory provision was unconstitutional under the First Amendment for the same rationale as in Clark.  Melongo also raised a constitutional claim to the "publishing provision" of the statute, which further criminalizes the "publishing" of any recording made without consent.  The court similarly found this provision overbroad.

It will be interesting to see how the Illinois legislature responds.

 [image via]

March 24, 2014 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Michigan District Judge Declares State's Prohibition on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

Following the trend which we most recently discussed here and here, Senior United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, Bernard Friedman, declared the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in his  opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder.

At issue was Michigan's state constitutional amendment, Mich. Const. Art. I, § 25, which the court referred to as the Michigan Marriage Amendment, MMA, passed by voter referendum in November 2004.  The judge held a trial limiting the issue to whether the MMA "passed rational basis review" under the Fourteenth Amendment and held that it did not because it violated the Equal Protection Clause.  The court stated it therefore did not reach the Due Process Clause question.

The state proffered the by now familiar government interests to satisfy the required "legitimate" government interest:

  1.  providing an optimal environment for child rearing;
  2. proceeding with caution before altering the traditional definition of marriage; and
  3. upholding tradition and morality.

489px-1836_MichiganIn evaluating each of these, the judge reached the by now familiar conclusions.  Judge Friedman discussed the evidence at trial, holding that there was "no logical connection between banning same- sex marriage and providing children with an 'optimal environment' or achieving 'optimal outcomes;'" that the "wait and see" approach did not satisfy the legitimate government interest standard; and finally that upholding tradition and morality likewise did not satisfy the legitimate government interest standard, citing several of the recent cases that have held likewise. 

Additionally, Judge Friedman rejected the state's "federalism" argument that sought to distinguish United States v. Windsor, relying heavily on Loving v. Virginia.  As the judge phrased it:

Taken together, both the Windsor and Loving decisions stand for the proposition that, without some overriding legitimate interest, the state cannot use its domestic relations authority to legislate families out of existence. Having failed to establish such an interest in the context of same-sex marriage, the MMA cannot stand.

The judge also rejected the argument that the MMA's status as a constitutional amendment prompted by voter referendum was relevant, quoting the famous language from the 1943 flag-salute First Amendment case of West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette: the "very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy" and "to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts."

Judge Friedman's decision is closely and carefully reasoned, although it closes with a rhetorical paragraph that labels the opinion "a step in the right direction."

The Judge enjoined the enforcement of the same-sex marriage ban and unlike some other judges, he did not order a stay.

[image: Map of Michigan circa 1836 via]

 

March 21, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Arkansas Federal Judge Permanently Enjoins Arkansas 12 Week Gestation Abortion Ban

In an opinion in Edwards v. Beck, a federal judge permanently enjoined portions of Arkansas' Act 301, which imposed regulations on the performance of abortions in Arkansas.

Judge Wright considered the Act's three provisions: a heartbeat testing requirement; a disclosure requirement; and a ban on abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected and the fetus has reached twelve weeks’ gestation.

She found that the 12 week ban prohibits pre-viability abortions and "thus impermissibly infringes a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

Yet Judge Wright concluded that the disclosure and heartbeat testing could be severed from the unconstitutional 12 week provision, because they are

independently capable of furthering the stated purpose of Act 301, to protect unborn children, and that they are severable from the unconstitutional twelve-week ban and the requirement of license revocation for a physician who performs an abortion banned under the Act. The State, from the inception of a pregnancy, maintains its own interest in protecting the life of a fetus that may become a child, and the Supreme Court has recognized that the disclosure of truthful information about fetal development is relevant to a woman’s decision- making process and is rationally related to the State’s interest in protecting the unborn.

The judge's analysis on the severability issue is relatively slight and she could easily have reached the opposite conclusion under her articulated rationales.  But she decided that only the ban on 12 week abortions was declared unconstitutional.

 

March 15, 2014 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Massachusetts Supreme Court on Upskirting

In its unanimous opinion in Commonwealth v. Robertson, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts avoided the constitutional challenge to the state's statutory prohibition of "secretly photographing or videotaping a person 'who is nude or partially nude,'" G.L. c. 272, § 105 (b ), by interpreting the statute not to apply to taking photographs at the areas under women's skirts ("upskirting").

The defendant had argued that if § 105 (b ) "criminalizes the act of photographing a fully clothed woman under her skirt while she is in a public place, it is both unconstitutionally vague and overbroad," but because the court "concluded that § 105 (b ) does not criminalize the defendant's alleged conduct," it did not reach the constitutional questions.

Cameralucida01

Yet, as in many cases, the court's statutory interpretation does occur in the shadow of the constitutional challenge.  The court reasoned that the statute "does not penalize the secret photographing of partial nudity, but of "a person who is ... partially nude" (emphasis in original).  Courts have long struggled with definitions of "nudity" - - - recall the United States Supreme Court's recent foray into this area in FCC v. Fox with an oral argument that drew attention to the nude buttocks in the courtroom decor.

Additionally, the court reasoned that the statutory element of in "such place and circumstance [where the person] would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in not being so photographed" did not cover the alleged acts of photography in a public place, such as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) trolley.  The court rejected the Commonwealth's argument emphasizing the "so" in "so photographed" - - - that "because a female MBTA passenger has a reasonable expectation of privacy in not having the area of her body underneath her skirt photographed, which she demonstrates by wearing the skirt" by interpreting "so" as simply referential.

The court concluded that at the

core of the Commonwealth's argument . . . is the proposition that a woman, and in particular a woman riding on a public trolley, has a reasonable expectation of privacy in not having a stranger secretly take photographs up her skirt. The proposition is eminently reasonable, but § 105 (b ) in its current form does not address it.

And the court noted that in the past legislative session proposed amendments to § 105 were before the Legislature that appeared to attempt to address precisely the type of "upskirting" conduct at issue in the case.  Given the court's opinion in Robertson, this issue will most likely be again before the Massachusetts legislature.

[image via]

March 6, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Gender, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Justice Scalia's Dissents and the Post Windsor Same-Sex Marriage Cases

There have been a spate of federal judges declaring state constitutional or statutory provisions banning recognition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment: 

De Leon v. Perry, from the Western District of Texas;
Bostic v. Rainey  from the Eastern District of Virginia;
Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky; 
Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma;
Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio;
Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah;
Lee v. Orr applicable only to Chicago.

Other than Lee v. Orr, in which the judge was only ruling on an earlier start date for same-sex marriage than the Illinois legislature had declared, the judges in each of these cases relied on Justice Scalia's dissenting opinions.

In "Justice Scalia’s Petard and Same-Sex Marriage," over at CUNY Law Review's "Footnote Forum," I take a closer look at these cases and their relationship to Shakespeare's famous phrase from Hamlet.

 

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"A petard, from a seventeenth century manuscript of military designs" via

 

 

March 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Daily Read: Judith Resnik on a Different Type of Secret Court

In her op-ed in the NYT, entitled "Renting Judges for Secret Rulings," ConLawProf Judith Resnik (pictured below) asks "Should wealthy litigants be able to rent state judges and courthouses to decide cases in private and keep the results secret?," and quickly adds that the answer should be an "easy no."

But she argues that the recent Delaware legislation - - - declared unconstitutional by a divided panel of the Third Circuit as we previously discussed  - - - threatens to subvert access to the courts should Delaware be successful in its petition for certiorari. 

Resnik writes:

The Delaware legislation is a dramatic example of rich litigants using their resources to close court systems that taxpayers support and constitutions require. But the problem goes beyond Delaware. To honor constitutional commitments that “all courts shall be open,” the court should refuse the Delaware judges’ request, and Congress should restore rights to public courts for consumer and employment disputes.

Resnick_judith

Resnik's excellent work on "democratic courtrooms" makes her the perfect scholar to address the possibility of anti-democratic courtrooms.

[image of Judith Rensik via]

March 1, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds School Ban of American Flag Shirt

In its opinion in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit rejected a claim by students that their constitutional rights were violated when school officials banned their American flag clothing during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Affirming the district judge, the panel applied Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) to the First Amendment claims, distinguishing Tinker:

In contrast to Tinker, in which there was “no evidence whatever of petitioners’ interference, actual or nascent, with the schools’ work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone,” id., there was evidence of nascent and escalating violence at Live Oak. On the morning of May 5, 2010, each of the three students was confronted about their clothing by other students, one of whom approached student M.D. and asked, “Why are you wearing that? Do you not like Mexicans[?]” Before the brunch break, [Principal] Rodriguez learned of the threat of a physical altercation. During the break, Rodriguez was warned about impending violence by a second student. The warnings of violence came, as the district court noted, “in [the] context of ongoing racial tension and gang violence within the school, and after a near-violent altercation had erupted during the prior Cinco de Mayo over the display of an American flag.” Threats issued in the aftermath of the incident were so real that the parents of the students involved in this suit kept them home from school two days later.

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Moreover, the school did not "embargo all flag-related clothing," but "distinguished among the students based on the perceived threat level" and allowed "two students to return to class when it became clear that their shirts were unlikely to make them targets of violence."

The court also rejected the students' equal protection claim, which seemed to rest upon viewpoint discrimination, and indeed the court again relied upon Tinker.  The court further rejected the facial due process challenge to the school dress code, which prohibited clothing that “indicate[s] gang affiliation, create[s] a safety hazard, or disrupt[s] school activities," finding that it need not be more specific:

It would be unreasonable to require a dress code to anticipate every scenario that might pose a safety risk to students or that might substantially disrupt school activities. Dress codes are not, nor should they be, a school version of the Code of Federal Regulations. It would be equally unreasonable to hold that school officials could not, at a minimum, rely upon the language Tinker gives them.

While school dress codes and their application can raise grave constitutional concerns, the context as the court explains it here seems to warrant the tailored of school officials, American flag or not.

[image: American Flag clothing patch from "Easy Rider" via]

February 28, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Federal Judge Declares Texas Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Judge Orlando Garcia's opinion in DeLeon v. Perry  issuing a preliminary injunction against a state constitutional same-sex marriage ban because it is most likely unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment today marks the sixth time in recent weeks that a federal judge has reached such a conclusion.

Indeed, Judge Garcia's opinion relies upon these previous opinions in Bostic v. Rainey  from the Eastern District of Virginia, Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky;  Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah, as well as upon the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional.

800px-1866_Johnson_Map_of_Texas_-_Geographicus_-_Texas-johnson-1866Judge Garcia's 38 page opinion begins with an extensive discussion of the parties, the statutory and state constitutional scheme in Texas barring same sex marriage, and even a discussion of the "national debate on same sex marriage beginning with the Hawai'i Supreme Court's 1993 decision in Baehr v. Lewin.   As a preliminary matter, he not only analyzes the standing issue, but also the United States Supreme Court's summary disposition in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), which would seem to have been rendered irrelevant by Windsor.

On the merits - - - or more properly, on the "likelihood to succeed on the merits" prong of the preliminary judgment analysis - - - Judge Garcia's analysis is well-crafted and closely reasoned. 

Regarding equal protection, his analysis of the contention that sexual orientation merits heightened scrutiny is well-done, although he ultimately concludes that it is unnecessary to apply heightened scrutiny because "Texas' ban on same-sex marriage fails even under the most deferential rational basis level of review."  He concludes that the two government interests that the State proffers as supporting the same sex marriage ban as failing rational basis review.  First, the state's desire "to increase the likelihood that a mother and a father will be in charge of childrearing" is reinterpreted simply as childrearing.  As such, while the interest may be legitimate, it is not rationally served by banning same-sex marriage.  Second, the state's desire "to encourage stable family environments for responsible procreation" is similarly not served.  Third, Judge Garcia discusses "tradition," that while it was not explicitly advanced by the State, undergirds many of the State's arguments.  Here Judge Garcia finds that the interest is not legitmate.

In his analysis of due process, Judge Garcia, like Judge Allen in Bostic, finds marriage to be a fundamental right.  Judge Garcia marshalls the Supreme Court precedent thusly:

The State does not dispute that the right to marry is one of the fundamental rights protected by the United States Constitution. Oral Arg. Tr. p. 37 (arguing Texas marriage law does not violate Plaintiffs' "fundamental" right to marry). See, e.g., Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978) ("[D]ecisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."); United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 446 (1973) (concluding the Court has come to regard marriage as fundamental); Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) ( The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."); Skinner v. Okla. ex. rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942) (noting marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man fundamental to our existence and survival); Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 205, 211 (1888) (characterizing marriage as "the most important relation in life" and as "the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.").

He thus applies strict scrutiny and the same-sex marriage ban fails.

Judge Garcia also considers the failure to recognize an out of state same-sex marriage, as required by Texas law, and subjects this to rational basis, and analogizing to Windsor, finds this also easily fails.The opinion does seemingly address a popular audience, but even here Judge Garcia grounds his rhetoric in precedent:

Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution. Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation bom out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor).

Judge Garcia stayed his opinion, mindful of the stay in Herbert v. Kitchen. Thus until the Fifth Circuit hears the case - - - or another decision - - - same sex marriages will not be occurring in Texas.

[image: map of Texas circa 1866 via]

February 26, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Third Circuit on Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law: Mostly Constitutional

Largely reversing a district judge's opinion that had found various provisions of Pennyslvania's Funeral Director Law unconstitutional on various grounds, the Third Circuit opinion in Heffner v. Murphy upholds the law except for its restriction on the use of trade names as violative of the First Amendment.

One key to the panel's decision is that it surmised that the district judge's conclusions regarding the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law (FDL), enacted in 1952, "stem from a view that certain provisions of the FDL are antiquated in light of how funeral homes now operate."  But, the Third Circuit stated, that is not a "constitutional flaw."

Anna_Ancher_-_A_Funeral_-_Google_Art_Project
"A Funeral" by Anna Archer via

The challenged statutory provisions included ones that:

(1) permit warrantless inspections of funeral establishments by the Board;
(2) limit the number of establishments in which a funeral director may possess an ownership interest;
(3) restrict the capacity of unlicensed individuals and certain entities to hold ownership interests in a funeral establishment;
(4) restrict the number of funeral establishments in which a funeral director may practice his or her profession;
(5) require every funeral establishment to have a licensed full-time supervisor;
(6) require funeral establishments to have a “preparation room”;
(7) prohibit the service of food in a funeral establishment;
(8) prohibit the use of trade names by funeral homes;
(9) govern the trusting of monies advanced pursuant to pre-need contracts for merchandise; and
(10) prohibit the payment of commissions to agents or employees.

The constitutional provisions invoked - - - and found valid by the district judge - - - included the Fourth Amendment, the "dormant" commerce clause, substantive due process, the contract clause, and the First Amendment, with some provisions argued as violating more than one constitutional requirement.

In affirming the district judge's finding that the trade names prohibition violated the First Amendment, the Third Circuit applied the established four part test from Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission regarding commercial speech and found:

The restrictions on commercial speech here are so flawed that they cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny. Indeed, the District Court correctly identified the pivotal problem concerning the FDL’s proscription at Central Hudson’s third step: by allowing funeral homes to operate under predecessors’ names, the State remains exposed to many of the same threats that it purports to remedy through its ban on the use of trade names.  A funeral director operating a home that has been established in the community, and known under his or her predecessor’s name, does not rely on his or her own personal reputation to attract business; rather, the predecessor’s name and reputation is determinative. Nor does a funeral home operating under a former owner’s name provide transparency or insight into changes in staffing that the Board insists is the legitimate interest that the State’s regulation seeks to further.

 [citation omitted]

ConLawProfs looking for a good review or even a possible exam question, might well take a look at the case.  It also seems that the Pennsylvania legislature might well take a look at its statutory scheme, which though largely constitutional, does seem outdated.

February 20, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Federal District Judge Declares Virginia's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Judge Arenda Wright Allen's opinion in Bostic v. Rainey concludes that Virginia's statutory and state constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriages or their recognition violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

Judge Allen's due process analysis begins by declaring that there "can be no serious doubt that in America the right to marry is a rigorously protected fundamental right" and she therefore subjects Virginia's marriage laws to strict scrutiny.  Given this formulation, she easily concludes that the state's proferred interests of tradition, federalism, and  "responsible procreation" coupled with "optimal child rearing" are not satisfactory.  The analysis often reverts to the language of lesser scrutiny, including this explicit statement regarding the procreation/child-rearing interest:

This rationale fails under the applicable strict scrutiny test as well as a rational-basis review. Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest. However, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.

711px-1848_Greenleaf_Map_of_Virginia_-_Geographicus_-_Virginia-greenleaf-1848Judge Allen's equal protection analysis is substantially shorter and makes the articulates the application of rational basis scrutiny even more explicit:

Virginia’s Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny. . . . 

The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia’s citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state’s will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse "responsible procreation"—share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged. The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.

Judge Allen's opinion may be criticized as being longer on rhetoric than on exemplary legal analysis - - - a charge similar to that leveled against Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional, upon which Judge Allen rightly relies.  Judge Allen's numerous of invocations of Loving v. Virginia - - - including beginning the opinion with an extensive quote from Mildred Loving - - - have special resonance in Virginia.  Yet at times, lofty language veers toward inaccuracy, as when the opinion states that "Our Constitution declares that 'all men' are created equal."  (That's the wording of the Declaration of Independence not the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause).  Others may contest that there can be "no serious doubt" that marriage is a fundamental right. 

Nevertheless, Judge Allen's opinion follows on the heels of four other opinions by federal district judges reaching the same conclusion about their respective state laws and constitutional provisions:  Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky;  Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah (now stayed). 

Judge Allen stayed the injunction against enforcement of the Virginia same-sex marriage ban, pending resolution by the Fourth Circuit. 

But recall that the Virginia Attorney General has declared that he will not defend Virginia's same-sex marriage ban, a position that might mean that Judge Allen's opinion never reaches the Fourth Circuit as we analyzed here.

[image: 1848 map of Virginia via]

February 14, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Race, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gitmo Detainees May Assert Mistreatment Claims

A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled today in Aamer v. Obama that Guantanamo detainees may bring a habeas corpus claim in federal court challenging their forced-feeding by the government, but that that claim is not likely to succeed.

The ruling is notable, because it's the first time a federal appellate court ruled that Guantanamo detainees could bring a habeas claim to challenge their conditions of confinement (as opposed to the fact of their confinement).

The ruling is likely to bring  a host of new habeas claims from detainees at Guantanamo--challenging not just the fact of their detention (the kind we've already seen) but also the conditions of their confinement.  It may also bring a congressional response--to foreclose those claims.

The court also ruled that the detainees' challenge to their forced-feeding was not likely to succeed.

Some background: Congress enacted two provisions in the MCA designed to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' claims.  The first, at 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(1), purports to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' habeas claims challenging the fact of their detention:

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

The Supreme Court struck the provision in Boumediene v. Bush (2008), holding that Congress couldn't eliminate habeas jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees without complying with the requirements of the Suspension Clause (which it had not).

The second provision, at 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2), purports to strip courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' "other" claims challenging the conditions of their confinement:

Except as provided [in section 1005(e) of the DTA], 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 determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

The D.C. Circuit previously confirmed that this latter section continued in force after Boumediene (because Boumediene dealt only with the habeas-stripping Section 2241(e)(1)), and lower court judges have ruled that it bars Guantanamo detainees from bringing habeas claims challenging their conditions of confinement (because those habeas claims were "other" claims challenging the conditions of confinement).

The D.C. Circuit ruled that it does not bar detainees' habeas claims, and that detainees may bring statutory habeas claims challenging the conditions of their confinement.

In answering the question, the court said that the two different parts of Section 2241(e) meant that Congress attempted in the MCA to bar (1) habeas claims and (2) "other" claims (i.e., non-habeas claims).  It said that Section 2241(e)(2), in barring "other" claims, had no impact on habeas claims.  And it said that Boumediene struck Section 2241(e)(1). 

So, if the detainees brought a habeas claim, it would have been covered by Section 2241(e)(1), and because that provision was struck, their habeas claim survives.

The core question, then, is whether habeas (any habeas, at Guantanamo or not) extends not only to the fact of confinement (everyone agrees it does) but also to the conditions of confinement (that's where the parties disagreed).  The court said that the Supreme Court left this question open, and that there is a split among the circuits.  Still, it said that in the D.C. Circuit habeas extends both to fact-of-confinement and to treatment claims:

The availability of habeas for both types of challenges simply reflects the extension of the basic principle that "[h]abeas is at its core a remedy for unlawful executive detention."  Munaf v. Geren.  The illegality of a petitioner's custody may flow from the fact of detention . . . the duration of detention . . . the place of detention . . . or the conditions of detention.  In all such cases, the habeas petitioner's essential claim is that his custody in some way violates the law, and he may employ the writ to remedy such illegality.

Because the detainees' claim was a habeas claim that would have fallen under Section 2241(e)(1), and because Section 2241(e)(2) bars only with "other" (non-habeas) claims and therefore doesn't affect the detainees' habeas claim at all, and because the Supreme Court struck Section 2241(e)(1), the detainees' habeas claim can go forward.

The court noted that Congress has been entirely silent on this--and has not acted to strip courts of jurisdiction over this kind of claim.

Judge Williams dissented, arguing that the detainees' claim does not sound in habeas and therefore is barred under Section 2241(e)(2).

The court also ruled that the detainees failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their force-feeding claims.  The court said that there were valid penological interests in force-feeding hunger-striking detainees that outweighed the detainees' liberty interest.  The court also said that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not extend to Guantanamo detainees, who, as nonresident aliens, do not qualify as protected "person[s]" under the RFRA. 

The court affirmed the lower court's denial of a preliminary injunction, sending the case back for more on the merits.

February 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, Habeas Corpus, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)