Thursday, January 8, 2015
Judge Irene Berger of the Southern District of West Virginia issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order clarifying and amending but essentially reaffirming her extensive "gag" order in United States v. Blankenship, the criminal prosecution (which some say is unprecedented) of CEO Don Blankenship (pictured below) of Massey Energy for his alleged responsibility for the the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Recall Blankenship as the outsized contributor to the campaign of Brent Benjamin for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; as a Justice Benjamin ruled in a case involving Massey Coal. The 2009 sharply divided Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal held that the failure of Benjamin to recuse himself violated due process. The case is the subject of the book The Price of Justice.
To say that Blankenship is controversial - - - given the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and Caperton with its underlying facts - - - is probably an understatement. And Judge Berger has a difficult task attempting to protect Blankenship's rights to an impartial jury and fair trial. But do Judge Berger's orders go too far?
The objections to Berger's original orders were filed as a motion to intervene by the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Charleston Gazette, National Public Radio, Inc., and the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Inc.. Judge Berger allowed the intervention for the limited purpose of challenging the previous orders and found that the press organizations had constitutional standing.
Judge Berger's analysis centered on the classic First Amendment/Sixth Amendment conflict cases of Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966) and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976). From these cases, Judge Berger noted she has
the discretion and, more importantly, the duty to take specific, reasonable steps to guard against prejudice at the outset where it has knowledge, given prior publicity, that continued publicity, regarding the facts underlying the indictment, is likely to taint prospective jurors. Courts do not exist or operate in a vacuum. In the Southern District of West Virginia, we live in coal country. Many of our families depend on coal mining for their livelihood. Many families and communities within the Southern District of this state were impacted by the deaths of the miners in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion referenced in the indictment. Interest in this case is, understandably, heightened by that loss of life. In short, the environment matters.
Judge Berger stressed that the court's order "is not directed toward the press." Instead, it limits the "parties" from communicating with press (and "only limits the subject matter") and keeps documents filed in the court case sealed.
Yet three questions remain about the orders.
First, the breadth of the "gag" order was challenged. In addition to the parties, attorneys, and court personnel it includes
potential witnesses, including actual and alleged victims, investigators, family members of actual and alleged victims as well as of the Defendant.
In a footnote, Judge Berger explained the inclusion of "family members":
the order applies only to those who may appear during some stage of the proceedings as parties or as witnesses. Even if not direct witnesses to the alleged offenses, victims and their family members may be witnesses at sentencing or potential beneficiaries of restitution, should the case reach that posture. As such, they are “trial participants.”
Later, she states that allowing " a potential trial participant to speak through his or her family member would eviscerate the protective measures, and is further evidence of the need for the inclusive order."
Yet "family" here could potentially be quite broad, especially in the context of rural West Virginia.
Second, Judge Berger relied on the fact that the docket was available, although not the underlying documents being referenced. Nevertheless, the new (Amended) Order released many documents, based on a principle that
any documents that do not contain information or argument related to the facts and substance of the underlying case do not fall within the purview of the [original] order, and should be publicly accessible.
Yet the standard does seem murky, and of course the press will have a difficult time objecting to the non-release of pleadings or other documents.
Third and last, Judge Berger's rejection of change of venue (as well as voir dire) as lesser restrictions of the First Amendment rights of the press (and public) as "not feasible options at this time" is interesting. Berger outlines the preference for an accused to be tried in the district in which the crime is alleged to have been committed. She writes that transfer of venue "takes place after pretrial publicity has tainted the jury pool such that a jury cannot be seated within the district." Thus, she essentially elevates the "right" to be tried in the alleged-crime's district over both the First and Sixth Amendment rights.
Judge Berger has crafted a delicate balance which will most likely need continuing calibration. Her task to prevent a "Roman holiday" for the media (as the Court said in Sheppard) is not only operative during the pre-trial publicity stage but will undoubtedly be pronounced during the trial itself.
January 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
In a relatively brief per curiam opinion in Phillips v. City of New York the Second Circuit has upheld New York's vaccination requirement to attend public school, N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2164(7)(a), against constitutional challenges.
The court rejected arguments that the statutory vaccination requirement and its enforcement by exclusion of students from school violates substantive due process, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Ninth Amendment, as well as state and municipal law. Important to the court's rationale, and which the opinion took care to mention even in its description of the statute, the law includes medical and religious exemptions.
The religious exemption is most interesting in the context of this litigation. For one plaintiff, the court affirmed the rejection of the religious basis for her sought-for exemption, agreeing with previous determinations that "her views on vaccination were primarily health‐related and did not constitute a genuine and sincere religious belief." For another plaintiff, who had a religious exemption, the court found that the exclusion of her children from school during a vaccine-preventable outbreak of chicken pox was constitutional: "The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.” quoting and citing Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166‐67 (1944).
The centerpiece of the court's analysis was predictably and correctly the Supreme Court's 1905 decision in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, rejecting a constitutional challenge to a state vaccination mandate.
The issue of vaccinations and constitutional challenges has received renewed attention in light of outbreaks of childhood illnesses thought to be essentially eradicated. For example, as the LA Times reported yesterday, a recent outbreak of measles in California could be connected to vaccine-resistance:
"The current pertussis and measles outbreaks in the state are perfect examples of the consequences and costs to individuals and communities when parents choose not to vaccinate their children," [Gil] Chavez [epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health] said.
Ther have also been widespread reports of illness outbreaks in Michigan, arguably attributable to its liberal opt-out allowance for school children.
January 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Medical Decisions, News, Religion, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, December 12, 2014
The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, this week affirmed a lower court's $300,000 puntive damage verdict in a Title VII sexual harassment case in which the court awarded no compensatory damages and just $1 in nominal damages.
The ruling distinguishes BMW v. Gore, the 1996 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that excessive punitives could violate due process. Gore involved a common law tort claim with no statutory cap on punitive damages. This case, State of Arizona v. ASARCO LLC, in contrast, involved a Title VII claim with a statutory cap on both compensatories and punitives. That difference, the statutory cap, drove the result.
The case arose out of a sexual harassment complaint by an employee at ASARCO's Mission Mine complex in Sahuarita, Arizona. The plaintiff alleged that during her time at ASARCO she was subjected to sexual harassment, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and was constructively discharged.
The jury awarded no compensatory damages, but awarded $1 in nominal damages and $868,750 in punitives. The trial court later reduced the punitives to $300,000, the statutory max for a Title VII claim. (The court also awarded attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $350,902.75.) ASARCO appealed, arguing that the punitive damage award violated Gore.
The Ninth Circuit rejected that argument. The court said that because Title VII caps both compensatories and punitives, a punitive damage award within the statutory cap satisfies the underlying constitutional considerations that animated Gore (even if the punitives amounted to 300,000 times the damages). In particular, the statutory cap gave the defendant fair notice of the severity of a penalty for a Title VII violation (where the defendant in Gore, a tort case, had no such fair warning), the cap sets out a clear amount, and it states the degree of culpability a defendant must have had, thus reducing the chance of random or arbitrary awards. Moreover, "Gore's ratio analysis has little applicability in the Title VII context," because the statutory cap doesn't lend itself to a ratio analysis the way a common law damage award does. (Under Title VII's caps, the punitive damages can't increase proportionally to the harm, because they're capped.)
With the publication of the more than 500 page "Executive Summary" of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program (searchable document here), the subject of torture is dominating many public discussions.
A few items worth a look (or second look):
In French, Justice Scalia's interview with Le Journal du matin de la RTS (videos and report) published today. One need only be marginally fluent in French to understand the headline: "La torture pas anticonstitutionnelle", dit le doyen de la Cour suprême US. (h/t Prof Darren Rosenblum).
The French report will not surprise anyone familiar with Justice Scalia's discussion of torture from the 2008 "60 Minutes" interview discussed and excerpted here.
And while Justice Scalia contended that defining torture is going to be a "nice trick," LawProf David Luban's 2014 book Torture, Power, and Law offers very explicit definitions, even as it argues that these definitions can erode as torture becomes "normalized," seemingly giving credence to Scalia's point.
December 12, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Foreign Affairs, International, Interpretation, News, Scholarship, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday rejected claims by a group of plaintiffs that the state courts' use of private probation companies violated due process. At the same time, however, the court ruled that Georgia law and contract principles could limit the way those companies operate.
The plaintiffs in the case, a group of probationers, argued that the use of private probation companies violated due process, and that the company imposed excessive fees on them for unauthorized monitoring, testing, and tolling of their probation. The case illustrates the dangers and abuses that can come with hiring out a private company to conduct functions like probation.
The plaintiffs alleged first that Georgia's statute authorizing state courts to use private probation companies was facially invalid, because it them of liberty without due process of law. That's because the statute did not restrict the courts from arranging payment based on the length of a misdemeanant's probation and other probation-related services that the company provided (like monitoring and testing), creating a conflict of interest for the company. Moreover, plaintiffs claimed that courts relied on recommendations by private probation officers who had a pecuniary interest in the outcome.
The court rejected these claims:
While the supervision of probation is a function historically performed by state probation officers, the mere act of privatizing these services does not violate due process. Nothing on the face of the statute allows Sentinel or any other private probation company to deprivate an individual of his or her property or liberty without due process of law nor is there anything which authorizes the creation of a private probation system that is so fundamentally unfair that it fails to comport with our notions of due process. . . . As found by the trial court, most of the injuries alleged by the plaintiffs in these cases occurred not because of Sentinel's compliance with the restrictions placed upon it by the private probation statutory framework, but becasue of Sentinel's failure or the failure of its employees to abide by the limited statutory authority granted.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the statute allowed their imprisonment for debt, in violation of the Georgia Constitution, and that a court couldn't order, and a private company couldn't use, electronic monitoring devices.
But the court ruled as a matter of statutory interpretation that Georgia law did not allow for the tolling of misdemeanor probationers' sentences. That's because misdemeanor sentences are set by statute at one year, at which point jurisdiction over the defendant ceases, and there's no statutory authority to deviate from that rule.
Finally, the court ruled, based on Sentinel's contracts, that some of the plaintiffs could recover fees paid to Sentinel for probation services during their original probation, and that others could recover fees paid after the expiration of the term of their original sentences or for electronic monitoring.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
In a 26 page opinion today in Condon v. Haley, Judge Richard Mark Gergel held that South Carolina's same-sex marriage bans (by statute and state constitutional amendment) is unconstitutional.
Here is the gravamen of Judge Gergel's opinion:
This Court has carefully reviewed the language of South Carolina's constitutional and statutory ban on same sex marriage and now finds that there is no meaningful distinction between the existing South Carolina provisions and those of Virginia declared unconstitutional in Bostic.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer held that Virginia's same-sex marriage laws should be evaluated by strict scrutiny because marriage is a fundamental right; not surprisingly, the bans did not survive the standard. Recall also that the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Moreover, Judge Gergel rejected the argument that "same-sex couples should not look to the courts to protect their individual rights but to the 'usually reliable state democratic processes' for relief" as the Sixth Circuit's very recent opinion upholding state prohibitions of same-sex marriage declared, by noting that the Fourth Circuit rejected this same argument.
Judge Gergel did, however, dismiss Governor Nikki Haley as a defendant. Judge Gergel noted that "simply being the state's chief executive sworn to uphold the laws is not sufficient" and there is "little evidence to support an argument that Defendant Haley has taken enforcement action or engaged in other affirmative acts to obstruct Plaintiffs' asserted fundamental right to marry. " Judge Gergel specifically distinguished Bowling v. Pence, in which a federal judge reversed a prior order dismissing the Governor of Indiana as a defendant after he took "affirmative action to enforce the statute."
Judge Gergel issued a temporary stay of the injunction until November 20, 2014.
Monday, November 10, 2014
As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues.
As is usual, there is no reasoning supporting the Supreme Court stay. Here's the text of Justice Sotomayor's opinion:
UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,
IT IS ORDERED that the preliminary injunction entered by the United State District Court for the District of Kansas on November 4, 2014, is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Tuesday, November 11, 2014, by 5 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.
Perhaps we can expect another Order from Justice Sotomayor late on Tuesday?
Friday, November 7, 2014
A day after the Sixth Circuit's divided decision upholding same-sex marriage bans in several states, and thus creating a circuit split (with the Supreme Court having denied certiorari to the Seventh, Tenth, and Fourth Circuit opinions holding to the contrary), United States District Judge Ortrie D. Smith of Missouri (and in the Eighth Circuit) has rendered an opinion in Lawson v. Kelly, finding Missouri's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
Judge Smith's 18 page opinion agrees with the Sixth Circuit majority in one respect: The Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor v. United States holding DOMA unconstitutional is not dispositive. However, Judge Smith also states that the Court's 1972 dismissal in Baker v. Nelson is not dispositive.
Judge Smith holds that under Eighth Circuit precedent, sexual orientation "is not a suspect class and that classifications based on sexual orientation are not subject to heightened review of any kind." On that basis, he grants judgments on the pleadings to the defendants.
However, Judge Smith holds that the same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. First, Judge Smith concludes that marriage is a fundamental right under the Due Process Clause, even as he notes that not all regulations of marriage are subject to strict scrutiny. Following Zablocki v. Redhail, however, he applies the "interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry" standard and concludes that the "prohibition must be examined with strict scrutiny, and viewed in that light the restriction fails to satisfy the Due Process Clause’s dictates."
Additionally, Judge Smith analyzes the same-sex marriage ban under the Equal Protection Clause as a classification based on gender:
The restriction on same-sex marriage is a classification based on gender. The State’s “permission to marry” depends on the gender of the would-be participants. The State would permit Jack and Jill to be married but not Jack and John. Why? Because in the latter example, the person Jack wishes to marry is male. The State’s permission to marry depends on the genders of the participants, so the restriction is a gender-based classification.
As Judge Smith avers, "Restrictions based on gender are subject to intermediate scrutiny." He finds the standard is not satisfied:
The State has not carried its burden. Its sole justification for the restriction is the need to create rules that are predictable, consistent, and can be uniformly applied. Assuming this is a valid justification for a restriction, there is no suggestion as to why the gender-based classification is substantially related to that objective. A rule that ignores gender would be just as related to that objective and be just as easy to apply (and arguably would impose less of a burden on the Recorders of Deeds because they would not have to conduct any gender-based inquiry whatsoever). Regardless, administrative convenience is not a valid reason to differentiate between men and women.
Judge Smith therefore concluded that "section 451.022 of the Revised Missouri Statutes and Article I, section 33 of the Missouri Constitution, and any other provision of state law that precludes people from marrying solely because they are of the same gender violates the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment" and enjoined state officials from declining to issue same-sex marriage licenses although the Judge stayed the "effects of the judgment" until the judgment is final.
November 7, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 6, 2014
The Sixth Circuit's opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder upheld the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage bans in several states, reversing the district court decisions in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton and joined by Judge Deborah Cook begins by invoking judicial restraint and democratic processes: "This is a case about change—and how best to handle it under the United States Constitution." Such an opening may not be surprising given Judge Sutton's published views such as this from a Harvard Law Review piece favoring "a return to a world in which the state courts and state legislatures are on the front lines when it comes to rights innovation."
Dissenting, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, begins with a scathing assessment of Judge Sutton's opinion:
The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state’s constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
For the majority, the operative precedent is Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." The opinion distinguishes Windsor v. United States as limited to the federal government. The opinion also rejects the relevance of the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari from circuit decisions finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional: "The Court’s certiorari denials tell us nothing about the democracy-versus-litigation path to same-sex marriage, and they tell us nothing about the validity of any of these theories."
The majority also rejects the persuasive value of the opinions from the other circuits, again returning to the judicial restraint perspective:
There are many ways, as these lower court decisions confirm, to look at this question: originalism; rational basis review; animus; fundamental rights; suspect classifications; evolving meaning. The parties in one way or another have invoked them all. Not one of the plaintiffs’ theories, however, makes the case for constitutionalizing the definition of marriage and for removing the issue from the place it has been since the founding: in the hands of state voters.
In considering rational basis review (under either equal protection or due process), the majority finds that states can rationally incentivize marriage for heterosexual couples who "run the risk of unintended offspring" and that states might rationally chose to "wait and see" before changing the definition of marriage.
In considering animus (which might heighten the rational basis review to rational basis "plus"), the majority distinguishes both City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center and Romer v. Evans, stating that the state-wide initiatives banning same-sex marriage merely "codified a long-existing, widely held social norm already reflected in state law," rather than being novel acts of animus. Indeed, the majority states
What the Court recently said about another statewide initiative that people care passionately about applies with equal vigor here: “Deliberative debate on sensitive issues such as racial preferences all too often may shade into rancor. But that does not justify removing certain court-determined issues from the voters’ reach. Democracy does not presume that some subjects are either too divisive or too profound for public debate.” Schuette v. Coal. to Defend Affirmative Action[BAMN].
Moreover, in another portion of the opinion the majority addresses the possibility of heightened review under the Equal protection Clause based on level of scrutiny to be applied to sexual minorities and invokes Carolene Products. For the majority, the issue of political power is the key rationale for denying heightened scrutiny:
The Fourteenth Amendment does not insulate influential, indeed eminently successful, interest groups from a defining attribute of all democratic initiatives—some succeed, some fail—particularly when succeeding more and failing less are in the offing.
And in considering fundamental right to marriage under the Due Process Clause, the majority concluded marriage is not a fundamental right, distinguishing Loving v. Virginia as a case that "addressed, and rightly corrected, an unconstitutional eligibility requirement for marriage; it did not create a new definition of marriage." Moreover, if marriage were a fundamental right, this would call into question laws regarding divorce, polygamy, and age requirements.
The majority also rejects the "right to travel" argument as a rationale for recognizing valid out of state marriages.
Additionally, the majority articulates its constitutional interpretative strategies. In section B, entitled "Original meaning" and in Section G, entitled "Evolving meaning," the majority is very clear that one theory is more consistent with its view of judicial restraint.
The Sixth Circuit - - - as many predicted - - - has now created a split in the circuits on the question of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans. The plaintiffs, who prevailed in the district court cases below, are sure to petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, perhaps bypassing seeking en banc review by the Sixth Circuit.
November 6, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
In a 38 page opinion in Marie v. Moser, Judge Daniel Crabtree held that Kansas' state constitutional provisions and statutes prohibiting same-sex marriages violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
This is not surprising given the Tenth Circuit's opinions in Bishop v. Smith (finding Oklahoma's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional) and Kitchen v. Herbert (finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional and the United States Supreme Court's denial of certiorari in these cases a month ago. As Judge Crabtree states: "When the Supreme Court or the Tenth Circuit has established a clear rule of law, our Court must follow it."
First, why is the opinion 38 pages? Shouldn't this opinion be more like last month's four page opinion by the Arizona federal judge stating that it is bound by the Circuit opinion? And indeed, Judge Crabtree's analysis of the Circuit precedent is relatively brief. However, Judge Crabtree's opinion also contains not only a brief discussion of the parties and the challenged laws, but a careful consideration of a variety of other matters including those related to justicability and jurisdiction:
- Standing (generally focusing on redressability, but including a claim that because the plaintiffs are a same-sex female couple, they cannot argue the constitutionality of the Kansas laws as applied to same-sex male couples);
- Eleventh Amendment
- Domestic Relations Exception to federal court jurisdiction
- Absention (including Pullman, Younger, Colorado River, Burford, Rooker-Feldman)
Additionally, Judge Crabtree considered an argument that the correct precedent was not the Tenth Circuit opinion, but a Kansas state court opinion (to which the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari).
Judge Crabtree rejected all of these arguments, but in a careful and considered manner.
Second, why did Judge Crabtree grant a stay to the defendants? Judge Crabtree's answer is related to the length of the opinion. He states that although
the Tenth Circuit has settled the substance of the constitutional challenge plaintiffs’ motion presents. And under the Circuit’s decisions, Kansas law is encroaching on plaintiffs constitutional rights. But defendants’ arguments have required the Court to make several jurisdictional and justiciability determinations, and human fallibility is what it is; the Circuit may come to a different conclusion about one of these threshold determinations. On balance, the Court concludes that a short-term stay is the safer and wiser course.
Thus Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction until November 11, unless the defendants inform the court they will not appeal. Perhaps the state officials in Kansas will conclude that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money as did the state officials in Arizona. Or perhaps not.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
In his opinion in Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla, United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez dismissed the constitutional challenge to Puerto Rico's law defining marriage as "man and woman" and refusing recognition to marriages "between persons of the same sex or transexuals."
In large part, Judge Perez-Gimenez relied upon Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." For Judge Perez-Gimenez, this dismissal remains binding precedent for several reasons. Judge Perez-Gimenez finds that Baker remains good law despite the "nebulous 'doctrinal developments" since 1972. He rejects the precedential value of Windsor v. United States in this regard: "Windsor does not - - - and cannot - - - change things." He acknowledges and cites authority to the contrary, but finds it unpersuasive. He specifically rejects the relevance of the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari from circuit decisions finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional in light of the more solid precedent of Baker v. Nelson.
Judge Perez-Gimenez also grounds his adherence to Baker v. Nelson on the First Circuit's opinion in Massachusetts v. HHS, finding DOMA unconstitutional. The First Circuit's discussion of Baker v. Nelson is somewhat unclear, but Judge Perez-Gimenez rejects the argument that they are dicta and further reasons even if the statements are dicta, "they would remain persuasive authority, and as such, further support the Court's independent conclusions about, and the impact of subsequent decisions on, Baker."
Judge Perez-Gimenez articulates a perspective of judicial restraint, articulating deference to the democtratic institutions of Puerto Rico and adherence to stare decisis. But in the opinion's conclusion, he makes his own views clear:
Recent affirmances of same-gender marriage seem to suffer from a peculiar inability to recall the principles embodied in existing marriage law. Traditional marriage is “exclusively [an] opposite-sex institution . . . inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship,” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2718 (Alito, J., dissenting). Traditional marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order. And ultimately the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.
Those are the well-tested, well-proven principles on which we have relied for centuries. The question now is whether judicial “wisdom” may contrive methods by which those solid principles can be circumvented or even discarded.
A clear majority of courts have struck down statutes that affirm opposite-gender marriage only. In their ingenuity and imagination they have constructed a seemingly comprehensive legal structure for this new form of marriage. And yet what is lacking and unaccounted for remains: are laws barring polygamy, or, say the marriage of fathers and daughters, now of doubtful validity? Is “minimal marriage”, where “individuals can have legal marital relationships with more than one person, reciprocally or asymmetrically, themselves determining the sex and number of parties” the blueprint for their design? *** It would seem so, if we follow the plaintiffs’ logic, that the fundamental right to marriage is based on “the constitutional liberty to select the partner of one’s choice.”
Undoubtedly, this issue is on its way to the First Circuit. The states in the First Circuit - - - Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine - - - all have same-sex marriage without federal court decisions, so this decision from the District of Puerto Rico will provide the First Circuit the opportunity to reconsider Baker v. Nelson and the applicability of its DOMA decision, Massachusetts v. Gill.
Although perhaps the challengers to the same-sex and "transsexual" marriages might seek to have the issue decided by the Puerto Rican Supreme Court.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Judge John Sedwick's opinion in Connolly v. Jeanes is a mere four pages, noting that the requirement of a "lengthy and detailed opinion" is now obviated because as the district court is bound by the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Latta v. Otter. As to a stay, an "appeal to the Ninth Circuit would be futile" and given the Supreme Court's denial of petitions for writs of certiorari, it is "also clear" that the "High Court will turn a deaf ear on any request for relief from the Ninth Circuit's decision."
Despite the recent activity by Justice Kennedy including the stay and modified stay and vacated stay of the Ninth Circuit's decision, the Attorney General Tom Horne (pictured) agreed in a statement (video here) and cited his ethical duties under Rule 11 and not to "waste the taxpayers' money." He issued a letter to the clerks "effective immediately."
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The controversial Texas law limiting abortion access known as HB 2, which began law despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, is now effectively enjoined - - - in part - - -by the United States Supreme Court in its Order in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.
Here's the entire text:
The application to vacate stay of final judgment pending appeal presented to Justice Scalia and by him referred to the court is granted in part and denied in part. The Court of Appeals’ stay order with reference to the district court’s order enjoining the admitting-privileges requirement as applied to the McAllen and El Paso clinics is vacated. The Court of Appeals’ stay order with reference to the district court’s order enjoining the ambulatory surgical center requirement is vacated. The application is denied in all other respects.
Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito would deny the application in its entirety.
To recap: the United States Supreme Court is vacating 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.Recall also that this is an as-applied challenge. A panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
With the release of "Citizen Four," the film by Laura Poitras on Friday, two videos are worth a watch.
First, here is a Q&A session with Laura Poitras at the 52nd New York Film Festival on October 10 after a premier of the film.
Second, here is a "virtual interview" with Edward Snowden from the New Yorker Festival - - - including in the first minute or so the official trailer of the film (also here) and an extended discussion with Snowden:
October 14, 2014 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, Film, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, International, News, Speech, Theory, War Powers, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
On Sunday afternoon before a Monday federal holiday, federal district judge Timothy Burgess of the District of Alaska issued an opinion in Hamby v. Parnell and immediately enjoined officials of the state of Alaska from enforcing either the statute or state constitutional provision barring same-sex marriages.
Judge Burgess' 25 page opinion predictably relied upon the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter concluding that the same-sex marriage bans of Idaho and Nevada violated the Equal Protection Clause and using the Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard for sexual orientation. Judge Burgess also found that the Alaska laws violated the Due Process Clause because they infringe on the "fundamental right to choose whom to marry."
In the Due Process discussion, Judge Burgess has an interesting invocation of originalism:
In Lawrence [v. Texas], the critical mistake identified by the Supreme Court in its earlier reasoning [in Bowers v. Hardwick] is the same error made by Defendants in this case: in the desire to narrowly define the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, they “fail to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake.”
Our forefathers wrote the Bill of Rights hundreds of years ago and could not have predicted “the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities” as we see today. As the Supreme Court articulately explained, “those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clause...knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once necessary and proper in fact only serve to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” The Plaintiffs in this case do not ask the Court to recognize an entirely new fundamental right to same-sex marriage; rather, Plaintiffs wish to participate in the existing liberty granted to other couples to make a deeply personal choice about a private family matter.
Alaska has filed an Emergency Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, arguing in part that there is a "reasonable likelihood the Ninth Circuit will rehear Latta en banc and thus vacate the panel's decision." This is largely based on the Ninth Circuit's application of heightened scrutiny in the panel opinion.
But recall that this heightened scrutiny is based on SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, decided 10 months ago and which was denied a rehearing en banc.
And recall also that while Justice Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court granted a stay of Latta, he later clarified that the stay was only as to Idaho and not Nevada (although the Ninth Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard was applied to the laws of both states), and the stay vacated on Friday.
Additionally, Alaska argues that "conditions compelling Supreme Court review of this issue could easily develop very soon." Recall that the Supreme Court denied certiorari of the decisions from three circuits finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. As Alaska argues:
The Sixth Circuit heard argument in early August regarding cases14 from four states (Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio) and could issue a decision at any time, and the Fifth Circuit has expedited argument of Louisiana and Texas cases and could issue a decision by end of this year. Accordingly, circumstances are likely to develop in which the Supreme Court is virtually obligated to review the issue.
Yet given the lack of endurance of previous stays, there is little reason to believe Alaska would be considered a different case.
October 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, October 6, 2014
In its Order today, the Court denied certiorari to a raft of cases, including the cases seeking review of opinions in which appellate courts found bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
These cases are from three circuits:
From the Seventh Circuit: Bogan v. Baskin and Walker v. Wolf, decided in September, regarding the same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin;
From the Fourth Circuit's Bostic v. Rainey, regarding Virginia's prohibition there were three petitions, McQuigg v. Bostic, Schaefer v. Bostic, and Rainey v. Bostic. The Fourth Circuit has already issued a Mandate, lifting the stay.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
In Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey, the Fifth Circuit today issued a stay of the majority of the district judge's injunction against portions of Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis. A panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
This newest round of opinions consider the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement.
In the stay opinion, authored by Judge Jennifer Elrod (pictured below) the majority states that there is some confusion concerning whether the district judge's opinion is actually limited to the as-applied challenge or whether it goes further.
The majority interjects some confusion of its own with its statement that the district judge was wrong to conclude that "the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them" because
In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes.
The Fifth Circuit's majority opinion states that
the district court’s approach ratchets up rational basis review into a pseudo-strict-scrutiny approach by examining whether the law advances the State’s asserted purpose. Under our precedent, we have no authority by which to turn rational basis into strict scrutiny under the guise of the undue burden inquiry.
It is this point on which Judge Stephen Higginson, concurring in part and dissenting in part, disagrees. He states that he does not read the earlier HB 2 case, Abbott, "to preclude consideration of the relationship between the severity of the obstacle imposed and the weight of the State’s interest in determining if the burden is 'undue.'" And that consistent with the correct analysis, "the district court considered the weight of the State’s interest in its undue-burden review."
With one small exception - - -the district court’s injunction of the physical plant requirements of the ambulatory surgical provision remaining in force for El Paso - - - the Fifth Circuit stayed the district judge's injunction. While the court states that the merits panel is not bound by its determination, it will certainly be persuasive when the Fifth Circuit considers the next round in the saga of the constitutionality of HB2.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Breaking the spate of federal decisions that have invalidated state same-sex marriage prohibitions, federal district judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana today upheld the constitutionality of that state's ban in his 32 page opinion in Robicheaux v. Caldwell.
Judge Feldman rejects the equal protection claim (the "most hefty constitutional issue") and the due process claim, as well as rejecting any heightened scrutiny within those claims and any extension of Windsor to state same-sex marriage bans. In applying rational basis, the judge found that the "central state interest of linking children to an intact family formed by their biological parents" and of "even more consequence," the "legitimate state interest in safeguarding that fundamental social change, in this instance, is better cultivated through democratic consensus," was sufficient.
The theoretical underpinnings of the judge's rationale are a preference for states' rights, democratically enacted provisions, tradition, and a judicial practice of being "circumspect."
Judge Feldman's opinion credits notions of formal equality and the slippery slope. For example, in rejecting the analogy to Loving v. Virginia, Judge Feldman writes: "no analogy can defeat the plain reality that Louisiana's laws apply evenhandedly to both genders--whether between two men or two women." This evenhandedness was precisely the argument Virginia unsuccessfully advanced in Loving when it argued that under its miscengenation statute, both whites and blacks would be prosecuted. At another point, Judge Feldman states:
Perhaps in a new established point of view, marriage will be reduced to contract law, and, by contract, anyone will be able to claim marriage. Perhaps that is the next frontier, the next phase of some "evolving understanding of equality," where what is marriage will be explored. And as plaintiffs vigorously remind, there have been embattled times when the federal judiciary properly inserted itself to correct a wrong in our society. But that is an incomplete answer to today's social issue. When a federal court is obliged to confront a constitutional struggle over what is marriage, a singularly pivotal issue, the consequence of outcomes, intended or otherwise, seems an equally compelling part of the equation. It seems unjust to ignore. And so, inconvenient questions persist. For example, must the states permit or recognize a marriage between an aunt and niece? Aunt and nephew? Brother/brother? Father and child? May minors marry? Must marriage be limited to only two people? What about a transgender spouse? Is such a union same-gender or male-female? All such unions would undeniably be equally committed to love and caring for one another, just like the plaintiffs.
Judge Feldman acknowledged that his decision departed from the recent trend, but quoted from the dissenting opinion in the Fourth Circuit's decision in Bostic v. Schaefer.
As Judge Feldman also stated:
Clearly, many other courts will have an opportunity to take up the issue of same-sex marriage; courts of appeals and, at some point, the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision of this Court is but one studied decision among many. Our Fifth Circuit has not yet spoken.
Whether or not the case is appealed to the Fifth Circuit, the issue seems sure to be heard by the United States Supreme Court.
September 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, September 1, 2014
The latest installment in the continuing saga of HB 2, Texas' restrictive abortion law, occurred late Friday with Judge Lee Yeakel enjoining the admitting privileges requirement and the ambultory-surgical-center requirement in his 21 page opinion in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.
Recall that a panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision of controversial Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional.
This new opinion considers the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement.
In considering the testimony and evidence in the bench trial, Judge Yeakel found that the "experts’ testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposing conclusions," noting that this is "the nature of expert testimony." But the judge did use some of that testimony, as well as carefully considering the parties' stipulations.
The court concludes that the act’s ambulatory-surgical—center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles erected for these women are more significant than the “incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.” [citing Casey]. The court concludes that the overall lack of practical access to abortion services resulting from clinic closures throughout Texas as a result of House Bill 2 is compelling evidence of a substantial obstacle erected by the act.
The judge also concluded "that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them." And, perhaps most interestingly, the judge explicitly considered the legislative intent of HB2:
An abortion regulation is also violative of a woman’s right to an abortion if it was adopted with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle to a woman’s ability to choose a previability abortion. [citing Gonzales v Carhart]. Because the act’s two requirements have the effect of creating an undue burden, an additional ﬁnding that the act was passed with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle is not required in order to declare the act unconstitutional. However, the court concludes, after examining the act and the context in which it operates, that the ambulatory-surgical- center requirement was intended to close existing licensed abortion clinics. The requirement’s implementing rules speciﬁcally deny grandfathering or the granting of waivers to previously licensed abortion providers. This is in contrast to the “frequent” granting of some sort of variance from the standards which occur in the licensing of nearly three-quarters of all licensed ambulatory surgical centers in Texas. Such disparate and arbitrary treatment, at a minimum, suggests that it was the intent of the State to reduce the number of providers licensed to perform abortions, thus creating a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking to access an abortion. This is particularly apparent in light of the dearth of credible evidence supporting the proposition that abortions performed in ambulatory surgical centers have better patient health outcomes compared to clinics licensed under the previous regime.
Thus, the judge enjoined the enforcement of HB2.
The Attorney General of Texas is sure to appeal.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
In a brief Memorandum and Judgment in Brown v Herbert federal district judge Clark Waddoups has finalized his conclusion - - - and made appealable - - - his previous decision that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional.
Recall that the Utah provision at issue criminalized bigamy as defined as including when a married person "purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."
The challengers to the statute, the Browns, are famous from the reality program Sister Wives and the accompanying book. The show includes "commitment ceremonies" between Cody brown and subsequent wives. They are represented by ConLawProf Jonathan Turley who blogs about this judgment, including the possibilities of appeal, here.
It does seem that given the breadth of the statutory proscription on "bigamy" that includes cohabitation, an appeal might be ill-advised. A strict enforcement of the statute would mean that anyone whose divorce was not final and who cohabited with another person might be guilty of bigamy.