Friday, July 1, 2016
Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi Law Seeking to Protect LGBT Discrimination
In a 60 page opinion in Barber v. Bryant, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves (pictured below) found Mississippi HB 1523, set to become effective July 1, constitutionally problematical under both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and thus preliminary enjoined its enforcement.
The bill, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," sought to insulate the specific "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" that:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
Judge Reeves characterized HB 1523 as a predictable overreaction to the Court's same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges a year ago. In discussing the debates around the HB 152 and its texts, Judge Reeves also noted that the challenges to HB 1523 were also predictable, providing his rationale for consolidating the four cases.
Judge Reeves then considered standing of the various plaintiffs as well as Eleventh Amendment immunity, followed by the established preliminary injunction standards which have at their heart the "substantial likelihood of success on the merits."
On the Equal Protection claim, Judge Reeves relied on Romer v. Evans, and found that the legislative history established animus in intent:
The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status.
Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect. Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest." But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523." Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."
On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:
The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.
Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.
Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.
July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 23, 2016
On Fisher's second trip to the Court, the United States Supreme Court has found that the affirmative action plan of the University of Texas did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. In a relatively brief opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor - - - recall Kagan was recused - - - affirmed the Fifth Circuit's conclusion rebuffing Fisher's equal protection claim (and some believed rebuffing the Supreme Court's remand).
Recall that Fisher I was a 7-1 opinion. (Only Justice Ginsburg dissented in Fisher I; Justice Kagan was recused, and Justice Sotomayor's joining of the majority has been subject to much speculation after her impassioned dissent in Schuette v. BAMN) remanding the case to the Fifth Circuit. On remand in 2014, the Fifth Circuit somewhat surprisingly essentially reiterated its earlier position, holding that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
During oral argument, the possibility that there could ever be a constitutional mention of race in an admissions program was at issue, with Breyer actually "spelling it out" (After Breyer asked for an example of using race and Fisher's attorney replied "you could give more emphasis to socio-economic factors," Breyer stated: "That's not to use race. I'm saying r-a-c-e, race. I want to know which are the things they could do that, in your view, would be okay. Because I'm really trying to find out. Not fatal in fact, we've said. Okay? Not fatal in fact. Fine.")
Essentially, the Court today found that there were no workable race-neutral means to accomplish UT's compelling interest in diversity:
In short, none of petitioner’s suggested alternatives— nor other proposals considered or discussed in the course of this litigation—have been shown to be “available” and “workable” means through which the University could have met its educational goals, as it understood and defined them in 2008. Fisher I, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 11). The University has thus met its burden of showing that the admissions policy it used at the time it rejected petitioner’s application was narrowly tailored.
Kennedy's opinion ends with a paean to diversity and a warning, including to UT:
A university is in large part defined by those intangible “qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness.” Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U. S. 629, 634 (1950). Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission. But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.
In striking this sensitive balance, public universities, like the States themselves, can serve as “laboratories for experimentation.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 581 (1995) (KENNEDY, J., concurring); see also New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U. S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). The University of Texas at Austin has a special opportunity to learn and to teach. The University now has at its disposal valuable data about the manner in which different approaches to admissions may foster diversity or instead dilute it. The University must continue to use this data to scrutinize the fairness of its admissions program; to assess whether changing demographics have undermined the need for a race-conscious policy; and to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary.
The Court’s affirmance of the University’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the University may rely on that same policy without refinement. It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.
Justice Alito disagreed strongly and read portions of his dissent from the bench. His dissent was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas (who also wrote briefly separately). Alito's 50 page dissent argues that the means chosen is not satisfied, but also questions diversity as a compelling governmental interest:
The University has still not identified with any degree of specificity the interests that its use of race and ethnicity is supposed to serve. Its primary argument is that merely invoking “the educational benefits of diversity” is sufficient and that it need not identify any metric that would allow a court to determine whether its plan is needed to serve, or is actually serving, those interests.
Interestingly, Alito ends by suggesting that perhaps Amanda Fisher has no standing after all, and implying that his colleagues' (or one particular colleague?) integrity has eroded: "The majority cannot side with UT simply because it is tired of this case."
Monday, May 23, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in Wittman v. Personhubalah that three members of Congress from Virginia lacked standing to appeal a federal court's rejection of the state's districting plan. The ruling means that the district court's decision stays in place, and that districting plan designed by a court-appointed special master and approved by the court now sets the lines for Virginia's congressional districts.
In this up-and-down, politically charged case, the Court not only avoided a thorny underlying question of race-based districting (and all the politics that go with it), but it also avoided the hardest standing issues in favor of resolving the case unanimously on narrower standing grounds.
The case involves the state's 2012 redistricting plan, which packed black voters into a certain congressional district. Sponsors of the measure said that they did this in order to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle and to comply with nonretrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. A district court struck the plan (twice) as a racial gerrymander, and the state declined to appeal. But Republican members of Congress, who intervened on the side of the state, tried to take the case to the Supreme Court. (In the meantime, a court-appointed special master drew a new district map, and the court approved it.)
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal for lack of standing. The Court said that one member of Congress, who challenged the district court's ruling because it would have made it harder for him to get elected in his current district, lacked standing because he was already running, and would continue to run (irrespective of the Court's ruling), in another district. In other words, that member failed to show that a Court ruling would redress his harm. The Court said that two other members of Congress, who challenged the district court's ruling for the same reason, "have not identified record evidence establishing their alleged harm."
The Court dodged the harder standing issue--whether a representative has been sufficiently harmed based on district lines that would make it less likely that he or she could get elected.
The Court also dodged the underlying issue, whether a race impermissibly dominated when a state's redistricting plan packed black voters into a district for the stated reasons to comply with one-person-one-vote and non-retrogression. The last time the Court took up a similar question, almost exactly a year ago, in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, the Court also avoided ruling squarely on the merits. Instead, the Court outlined some guiding principles and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Justice Breyer wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court.
In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts in Foster v. Chatman, the Court reversed the finding on the Georgia courts that death row inmate Timothy Foster did not demonstrate the type of purposeful discrimination in jury selection to substantiate an Equal Protection Clause violation as required under Batson v. Kentucky (1986).
Recall that in 1987 an all-white jury convicted Timothy Tyrone Foster, a "poor, black, intellectually compromised eighteen year old" of the murder of an elderly white woman. At trial, one black potential juror was removed for cause, and the prosecutors removed all four of the remaining black prospective jurors by peremptory strike, and proffered race-neutral reasons when defense counsel raised a challenge under the then-recent case of Batson. The judge rejected defense counsel's argument that the race-neutral reasons were pretexual and denied the Batson challenge. The Georgia courts affirmed.
Almost twenty years later, pursuant to a request under the state open records act, Foster gained access to the prosecution team's jury selection notes, which included highlighting the black potential jurors (image at right), circling the word "black" as an answer to the race question on the juror questionnaire, identifying the black potential jurors as B#1, B#2, and B#3 in the notes, and a draft affidavit by the prosecution investigator stating "“if we had to pick a black juror then I recommend that [Marilyn] Garrett be one of the jurors; with a big doubt still remaining.” (The affidavit was originally submitted to the court with all mentions of race excised).
In today's relatively brief opinion - - - 25 pages - - - Chief Justice Roberts carefully recited the facts and then focused on the materials in the "prosecution file." The Court concluded:
The contents of the prosecution’s file, however, plainly belie the State’s claim that it exercised its strikes in a “color-blind” manner. The sheer number of references to race in that file is arresting. The State, however, claims that things are not quite as bad as they seem. The focus on black prospective jurors, it contends, does not indicate any attempt to exclude them from the jury. It instead reflects an effort to ensure that the State was “thoughtful and non-discriminatory in [its] consideration of black prospective jurors [and] to develop and maintain detailed information on those prospective jurors in order to properly defend against any suggestion that decisions regarding [its] selections were pretextual.” Batson after all, had come down only months before Foster’s trial. The prosecutors, according to the State, were uncertain what sort of showing might be demanded of them and wanted to be prepared.
This argument falls flat. To begin, it “reeks of afterthought,” [citation omitted] having never before been made in the nearly 30-year history of this litigation: not in the trial court, not in the state habeas court, and not even in the State’s brief in opposition to Foster’s petition for certiorari. In addition, the focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury. The State argues that it “was actively seeking a black juror.” But this claim is not credible. An “N” appeared next to each of the black prospective jurors’ names on the jury venire list. An “N” was also noted next to the name of each black prospective juror on the list of the 42 qualified prospective jurors; each of those names also appeared on the “definite NO’s” list. And a draft affidavit from the prosecution’s investigator stated his view that “[i]f it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors, [Marilyn] Garrett, might be okay.” Such references are inconsistent with attempts to “actively see[k]” a black juror.
The State’s new argument today does not dissuade us from the conclusion that its prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race when they struck [potential jurors] Garrett and Hood from the jury 30 years ago. Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.
[citations to record omitted].
Only Justices Alito and Thomas did not join Roberts's opinion for the Court; Alito to write a separate concurring opinion and Thomas to write a dissenting opinion. Alito's concurring opinion states its purpose as to "explain my understanding of the role of state law in the proceedings that must be held on remand." For Alito, while the Georgia Supreme Court is "bound to accept" the Court's evaluation of the federal constitutional question that there was an Equal Protection Clause violation under Batson, "whether that conclusion justifies relief under state res judicata law is a matter for that court to decide." Alito notes that the Court is "evidencing a predilection" for granting review of state-court decisions denying postconviction relief, a "trend" he argues is inconsistent with the States' "legitimate interest in structuring their systems of postconviction review in a way that militates against repetitive litigation and endless delay." Alito's opinion only vaguely alludes to the claim that the Batson evidence was not made available to Foster. As for Thomas, his dissenting opinion stresses that the trial court observed the jury selection "firsthand" and "its evaluation of the prosecution's credibility" is "certainly far better than this Court's 30 years later." Thomas's opinion also argues that the "new evidence" has "limited probative value" and is "no excuse" for the Court's reversal of the state court's "credibility determinations."
Nevertheless, the Court's clear majority (of six) conclude that the prosecution violated the Equal Protection Clause when it engineered an all white jury to convict and sentence Timothy Foster.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
The continuing saga of the controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Roy S. Moore, has taken another turn with a complaint against him filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, in the special Court of the Judiciary. [While the entire complaint is almost 300 pages, more than 250 pages are devoted to the 17 appendixes of supporting documents including opinions and letters].
As the complaint notes, this is not the first time that Justice Roy Moore has been before the Court of the Judiciary: the court removed him from office in 2003 for violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for failure to obey an injunction from a federal district court. (He was re-elected in 2013.) While that earlier controversy revolved around the placement of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, the present one concerns Justice Moore's actions on same-sex marriage. As the complaint summarizes it, Chief Justice Moore's pertinent conduct "involves the interplay of four cases":
- Searcy v. Strange, before the federal district court, finding Alabama's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in January 2015;
- Strawser v. Strange, before the federal district court, reiterating the previous finding and making a direct order in February 2015, after the United States Supreme Court had refused to grant a stay of the earlier Order.
- Obergefell v. Hodges, decided by the United States Supreme Court and requiring states to grant same-sex marriages;
- Ex parte State ex rel Alabama Policy Institute (API) (March 2015), and the certificate of judgment and dismissal of petitions on March 4, 2016.
The complaint gives a good chronology of the various events which have been contentious. As we previously noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a judicial ethics complaint after Chief Justice Moore penned a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order on same-sex marriage.
One of the more interesting aspects of the ethics charges is this:
On January 6, 2016—despite the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, despite the United States District Court's injunction against all Alabama probate judges that specifically enjoined them from obeying any contrary order of the Alabama Supreme Court, and despite the Eleventh Circuit's October 20, 2015 order recognizing the abrogation of API by Obergefell—Chief Justice Moore, under the guise of his administrative authority as Chief Justice, unilaterally issued an Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty under API to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples. His Administrative Order states in part:
IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT: Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.
[paragraph 38]. In paragraph 3, the complaint stated "Significant to the context of this matter is that the vast majority of probate judges in this state are not licensed to practice law." However, the probate judges would be bound by the Canons of Judicial Ethics; the complaint alleges that Moore "flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority as chief administrative officer of Alabama's judicial branch by "ordering or appearing to order" the probate judges not to obey the federal district court's injunction and thus ordering the probate judges to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics "knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office."
Thus, it is not only Moore's own refusal to abide by federal interpretations of the United States Constitution, but his ordering of subordinates to do so that are included in the six specific charges against him, all of which involve alleged violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which, broadly stated are:
- Canon 1. A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
- Canon 2. A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities.
- Canon 3. A judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently.
Chief Justice Moore has reportedly been suspended, pending the decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which is composed of judges, lawyers, and lay persons, and has the power to remove the Justice. Interestingly, appeal from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary is to Supreme Court of Alabama.
May 7, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent a letter to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (pictured below) advising him that both he and the state of North Carolina are in violation of Title VII because of the controversial HB2 statute. The letter focuses on Title VII, but also informs the Govern that the DOJ has also sent a letter to the North Carolina Department of Safety and the University of North Carolina similarly notifying them that they have engaged in violations of Title VII, as well as Title IX and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.
Recall that the law, entitled "An Act to provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities in schools and public agencies and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations," was challenged in late March, a week after it was enacted, on various grounds, including the Equal Protection Clause.
The DOJ letter gives Governor McCrory until the close of business on May 9 to respond.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Divided Second Circuit Upholds New York's "Maintain an Office" Requirement for Nonresident Attorneys
In the divided panel opinion in Schoenefeld v. Schneiderman, a Second Circuit panel majority upheld the constitutionality of a requirement that attorneys who practice law in New York but do not reside within the state be required to maintain an office in New York.
The statute, N.Y. Judiciary Law §470, provides:
A person, regularly admitted to practice as an attorney and counsellor, in the courts of record of this state, whose office for the transaction of law business is within the state, may practice as such attorney or counsellor, although he resides in an adjoining state.
Schoenefeld, admitted to practice in New York but who lived in New Jersey and maintained her main office in New Jersey, wished to practice law in New York without having the expense of a separate office in New York. She challenged §470 on several constitutional grounds. The district judge found that the statute violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause, Art. IV, §2, cl.1. The lack of clarity in the statute caused the Second Circuit on appeal to certify the question of the "minimum requirements" to satisfy §470 to New York's highest court. The New York Court of Appeals answered the certified question: §470 "requires nonresident attorneys to maintain a physical office in New York."
Writing for the Second Circuit panel majority, Judge Reena Raggi, who was joined by Judge Susan Carney, concluded that §470 had no discriminatory or protectionist purpose. Instead, §470 - - - with "its origins in an 1862 predecessor law" - - - was actually enacted to reverse a court ruling that had barred a nonresident attorney from practicing law at all given the difficulties of service of process. Despite changes and recodifications, the majority concluded that there was no showing that the current §470 was "being maintained for a protectionist purpose." Again, the majority found that §470 was enacted for "the nonprotectionist purpose of affording such attorneys a means to establish a physical presence in the state akin to that of resident attorneys, thereby eliminating a court‐identified service‐of‐process concern."
The majority relied in large part on the Supreme Court's unanimous 2013 decision in McBurney v. Young holding that a state can restrict its own freedom of information law, FOIA, to its own citizens without violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
In his vigorous dissenting opinion, Judge Peter Hall argued that the real import of §470 is that resident attorneys need not maintain an office while nonresident attorneys must maintain an office, thus discriminating. The next step in the analysis, Judge Hall contended, should be to consider the state's justification for such discrimination. Judge Hall distinguished McBurney based on the "simple reason that the Virginia FOIA is not an economic regulation, nor does it directly regulate the right to pursue a common calling." Hall's dissent criticized the majority for imposing a requirement of discriminatory intent as part of a prima facie case that would be appropriate under the Equal Protection Clause but is not under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Moreover, Judge Hall concluded that New York's "proffered justifications for the in‐state office requirement— effectuating service of legal papers, facilitating regulatory oversight of nonresident attorneys’ fiduciary obligations, and making attorneys more accessible to New York’s courts—are plainly not sufficient."
Thus, New York can constitutionally compel attorneys who do not reside in New York to maintain a physical office in New York.
April 22, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 14, 2016
In its opinion in Vergara v. California today, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District of California reversed the conclusion of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education. California's so-called teacher tenure statutes challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including the permanent employment statute (§44929.21(b)); dismissal statutes (§§ 44934; 44938(b)(l) and (2) and 44944); and a seniority statute, "Last In First Out" or "LIFO" statute (§44955).
In a nutshell, the appellate court found:
Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.
The appellate court implied that the trial judge had misconstrued his constitutional task:
With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.
The appellate court's 36 page opinion contains a careful rehearsal of the evidence before the trial judge as well as a discussion of his opinion. In its own analysis, the appellate court considered the plaintiffs' original contentions that:
the challenged statutes create an oversupply of grossly ineffective teachers because (i) the tenure statute’s probationary period is too short, preventing the identification of grossly ineffective teachers before the mandated deadline for reelection; (ii) when grossly ineffective tenured teachers are identified, it is functionally impossible to terminate them under the overly burdensome and complicated dismissal statutes; and (iii) when reductions-in-force are required, the statute requires the termination of junior, competent teachers while more senior, grossly ineffective teachers keep their jobs only because they have seniority. Plaintiffs argued, and the trial court agreed, that two distinct classes of students—Group 1 (an “unlucky subset” of students within the population of students at large) and Group 2 (poor and minority students)—were denied equal protection because the challenged statutes led members of these groups to be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.
The unanimous panel found that there was no "identifiable class" for equal protection purposes: the group of "unlucky students" who are allegedly harmed by being assigned to grossly ineffective teachers have only one defining characteristic - - - they are assigned to grossly ineffective teachers. As for the second group - - - identified as poor and minority students - - - the appellate court found that there was insufficient causation for a facial constitutional violation: "the statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth." While it is possible, the appellate court noted, that the plaintiffs could have shown that the implementation of the statutes inevitably resulted in "consequential assignment of disproportionately high numbers of grossly inefficient teachers to schools predominantly serving low-income and minority students," the plaintiffs here did not make such a showing.
While the appellate court recognized there were "deplorable staffing decisions made by some local administrators," this was not sufficient to support a facial challenge to teacher tenure statutes.
The appellate decision is much better reasoned than the trial judge's opinion, which derided the "uber due process" provided by the statutes and did not elaborate on the facts and evidence. It is likely to stand.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The Tenth Circuit has ruled that the Browns - - - of Sister Wives reality television fame - - - cannot challenge Utah's ban on polygamous cohabitation and marriage under Article III judicial power constraints. In its opinion in Brown v. Buhman, the unanimous three judge panel found that the matter was moot.
Recall that federal district judge Clark Waddoups finalized his conclusion from his previous opinion that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional. The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:
- (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
- (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
- (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.
[emphasis added]. Judge Waddoups concluded that the "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis." This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:
Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit panel held that the district judge should not have addressed the constitutional claims because the case was moot. Even assuming the Browns had standing when the complaint was filed, any credible threat of prosecution was made moot by a Utah County Attorney's Office (UCAO) 2012 policy which stated that "the UCAO will prosecute only those who (1) induce a partner to marry through misrepresentation or (2) are suspected of committing a collateral crime such as fraud or abuse." The opinion stated that nothing "in the record" suggested that Browns fit into this category and additionally, there was an affirmation from the defendant that "the UCAO had 'determined that no other prosecutable crimes related to the bigamy allegation have been or are being committed by the Browns in Utah County as of the date of this declaration. ' ”
The opinion found that the "voluntary cessation" exception to mootness was not applicable because that was intended to prevent gamesmanship: a government actor could simply reenact the challenged policy after the litigation is dismissed.
Yet the problem, of course, is that the statute remains "on the books" and the policy is simply not to enforce it except in limited cases. The court rejected all of the Browns' arguments that the UCAO statement did not moot the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute including a precedential one; the possibility that a new Utah County Attorney could enforce the statute; the failure of defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, to renounce the statute's constitutionality; and the tactical motives of the defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, in adopting the policy. The court stated:
The first point misreads the case law, the second is speculative, the third is minimally relevant, and the fourth may actually assure compliance with the UCAO Policy because any steps to reconsider would almost certainly provoke a new lawsuit against him. Such steps also would damage Mr. Buhman’s credibility as a public official and might even expose him to prosecution for perjury and contempt of federal court for violating his declaration. Assessing the veracity of the UCAO Policy must account for all relevant factors, which together show no credible threat of prosecution of the Browns.
Thus, like other criminal statutes that are said to have fallen into "desuetude," the statute seems immune from constitutional challenge.
In a very brief section, the court does note that the plaintiffs no longer live in Utah, but have moved to Nevada, another rationale supporting mootness. The Nevada move is discussed in the video below featuring some of the children involved.
April 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexuality, Standing, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, April 8, 2016
In a brief per curiam opinion, a panel of the First Circuit essentially reversed the ruling of Senior United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez that denied the joint motion for summary judgment in Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla regarding a challenge to Puerto Rico's same-sex marriage ban.
The panel stated:
The district court's ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin. The constitutional rights at issue here are the rights to due process and equal protection, as protected by both the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Obergefell v. Hodges; United States v. Windsor. Those rights have already been incorporated as to Puerto Rico. Examining Bd. Of Eng'rs, Architects & Surveyors v. Flores de Otero (1976). And even if they had not, then the district court would have been able to decide whether they should be. See Flores de Otero.
In any event, for present purposes we need not gild the lily. Our prior mandate was clear . . .
[citations and footnote omitted].
After quoting its previous opinion, the panel then addressed the procedural posture of the case, noting that the district court "compounded its error (and signaled a lack of confidence in its actions), by failing to enter a final judgment to enable an appeal in ordinary course." Both parties therefore sought a writ of mandamus, which the court granted and additionally "remitted" the case to the district court "to be assigned randomly by the clerk to a different judge to enter judgment in favor of the Petitioners promptly, and to conduct any further proceedings necessary in this action."
The First Circuit did not explicitly discuss the district judge's conclusions regarding Puerto Rico's status and his argument that under The Insular Cases (1901), territorial incorporation of specific rights is questionable. But the First Circuit did cite contrary authority and made clear its disagreement. The intensity of the disagreement is also made evident by the First Circuit's somewhat unusual instruction that Senior United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez be removed from the case.
April 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 7, 2016
In its opinion in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer, the Ninth Circuit has found unconstitutional an Executive Order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that prohibits recipients of the federal program called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) from obtaining driver’s licenses by using Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States.
Recall that the Ninth Circuit had earlier reversed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on their equal protection claim. The United States Supreme denied Arizona's application for a stay. On remand, the district judge had found that the plaintiffs prevailed on their equal protection claim, applying a rational basis standard of review, and entered a permanent injunction.
In this appeal by the Arizona state defendants, the same Ninth Circuit panel of judges - - - Harry Pregerson, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen - - - in the opinion again authored by Judge Pregerson, not surprisingly found equal protection "problems" but decided to resolve the case on the "nonconstitutional grounds" of preemption, explaining (in footnote 5),
Though preemption principles are rooted in the Supremacy Clause, this court has previously applied the principle that preemption does not implicate a constitutional question for purposes of constitutional avoidance.
Yet the panel's opinion spends more than half of its analysis on the equal protection question. The court's opinion states that the judges "remain of the view" that "Arizona's policy may well fail even rational basis review" and rejected all of Arizona's asserted government interests. Moreover, the opinion stated that it "bears noting, once again" that "the record does suggest" that Arizona's policy was motivated by "a dogged animus against DACA recipients," and as the Supreme Court has "made very clear that such animus cannot constitute a legitimate state interest, and has cautioned against sowing the seeds of prejudice," citing cases including United States v. Windsor.
The opinion continued
Given the formidable Equal Protection concerns Arizona’s policy raises, we turn to a preemption analysis as an alternative to resting our decision on the Equal Protection Clause. Doing so, we conclude that Arizona’s policy encroaches on the exclusive federal authority to create immigration classifications and so is displaced by the INA.
While the court's final opinion is of questionable precedential value concerning the equal protection conclusion, the previous opinion's equal protection conclusion remains of high precedential value, and certainly the ultimate conclusion - - - here based on the Supremacy Clause preemption - - - is definitive.
Monday, April 4, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in Evenwel v. Abbott that states can use total population--and need not use voter-eligible population--to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle in drawing legislative districts.
The ruling is a setback for a group of conservative Texas voters that argued that states must use voter-eligible population in drawing legislative districts. Using voter-eligible population (as compared to total population) would benefit rural, and conservative, areas in a state like Texas, because urban areas contain a higher proportion of non-voter-eligible persons (who would count in measuring total population, but not voter-eligible population).
The case arose when a group of Texas voters argued that their votes were diluted as compared to the votes of eligible voters in other state senate districts, thus violating the one-person-one-vote principle. The state drew its state senate map based on total population, but the voters claimed that this resulted in inequalities. In particular, the voters claimed that their senate district contained a far greater eligible-voter population than other districts of equal total population. (The state senate map had a deviation between districts of 8.04 percent when measured by total population--the population that the state used in drawing the maps. This deviation is within the 10 percent deviation range that is presumptively permissible under the one-person-one-vote principle. But when measured by voter-eligible population, the map had a deviation of 40 percent--well outside that presumptively permissible point.) The voters argued that the state must use voter-eligible population in drawing districts.
The unanimous Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the Court, said that constitutional history, precedent, and practice show that a state may use total population in drawing legislative districts. In short: we've always done it this way, and we've said it's OK, so it's OK.
The Court declined to say whether a state may use voter-eligible population.
Friday, April 1, 2016
In his opinion in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS), United States District Judge Daniel Jordan III found that Mississippi Code §93-17-3(5) prohibiting "adoption by couples of the same gender" violates the Equal Protection Clause and ordered that the Executive Director of DHS is preliminarily enjoined from enforcing the statute.
The majority of the 28 page opinion is devoted to matters of standing and the Eleventh Amendment relevant to the multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants, including judges. However, Judge Jordan did find that the individual plaintiffs had standing and DHS was an appropriate defendant.
On his discussion of likelihood to prevail on the merits, Judge Jordan wrote in full:
Obergefell [v. Hodges] held that bans on gay marriage violate the due-process and equal-protection clauses. It is the equal-protection component of the opinion that is relevant in the present dispute over Mississippi’s ban on gay adoptions. Under traditional equal-protection analysis, a law that does not “target[ ] a suspect class” or involve a fundamental right will be upheld, “so long as it bears a rational relation to some legitimate end.” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631 (1996). Conversely, “if a classification does target a suspect class or impact a fundamental right, it will be strictly scrutinized and upheld only if it is precisely tailored to further a compelling government interest.” Sonnier v. Quarterman, 476 F.3d 349, 368 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
In this case, Defendants argue that rational-basis review applies. But Obergefell made no reference to that or any other test in its equal-protection analysis. That omission must have been consciously made given the Chief Justice’s full-throated dissent. 135 S. Ct. at 2623 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting) (“Absent from this portion of the opinion, however, is anything resembling our usual framework for deciding equal protection cases . . . .”).
While the majority’s approach could cause confusion if applied in lower courts to future cases involving marriage-related benefits, it evidences the majority’s intent for sweeping change. For example, the majority clearly holds that marriage itself is a fundamental right when addressing the due-process issue. Id. at 2602. In the equal-protection context, that would require strict scrutiny. But the opinion also addresses the benefits of marriage, noting that marriage and those varied rights associated with it are recognized as a “unified whole.” Id. at 2600. And it further states that “the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right.” Id. at 2604 (emphasis added).
Of course the Court did not state whether these other benefits are fundamental rights or whether gays are a suspect class. Had the classification not been suspect and the benefits not fundamental, then rational-basis review would have followed. It did not. Instead, it seems clear the Court applied something greater than rational-basis review. Indeed, the majority never discusses the states’ reasons for adopting their bans on gay marriage and never mentions the word “rational.”
While it may be hard to discern a precise test, the Court extended its holding to marriage- related benefits—which includes the right to adopt. And it did so despite those who urged restraint while marriage-related-benefits cases worked their way through the lower courts. According to the majority, “Were the Court to stay its hand to allow slower, case-by-case determination of the required availability of specific public benefits to same-sex couples, it still would deny gays and lesbians many rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.” Id. at 2606 (emphasis added).
The full impact of that statement was not lost on the minority. Chief Justice Roberts first took issue with the majority’s failure to “note with precision which laws petitioners have challenged.” Id. at 2623 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting). He then criticized the majority for jumping the gun on marriage-related cases that might otherwise develop:
Although [the majority] discuss[es] some of the ancillary legal benefits that accompany marriage, such as hospital visitation rights and recognition of spousal status on official documents, petitioners’ lawsuits target the laws defining marriage generally rather than those allocating benefits specifically. . . . Of course, those more selective claims will not arise now that the Court has taken the drastic step of requiring every State to license and recognize marriages between same-sex couples.
Id. at 2623–24 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting) (emphasis added).
In sum, the majority opinion foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and “rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.” Id. at 2606. It also seems highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits—expressly including the right to adopt—would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit.
Obergefell obviously reflects conflicting judicial philosophies. While an understanding of those positions is necessary for this ruling, it is not this Court’s place nor intent to criticize either approach. The majority of the United States Supreme Court dictates the law of the land, and lower courts are bound to follow it. In this case, that means that section 93-17-3(5) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
The judge's interpretation of Obergefell v. Hodges interestingly focuses on the dissent of Chief Justice Roberts to explain the doctrine of Kennedy's opinion for the Court, a phenomenon familiar from the use of Justice Scalia's dissents in the same-sex marriage litigation.
Monday, March 28, 2016
The controversial North Carolina statute passed last week, known as HB2, entitled "An Act to provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities in schools and public agencies and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations," has been challenged in a Complaint filed this morning, Carcaño v. McCrory, in the Middle District of North Carolina. The plaintiffs are three individuals as well as the organizations ACLU North Carolina and Equality North Carolina.
As the Act's title and the complaint's description note, HB2 has two distinct aspects relating to LGBT issues.
First, it mandates that school boards and state agencies, including the university and community college systems, "shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility to be designated for and only used by persons based on their biological sex."
Second, in Part III of the bill, it will "supersede and preempt" any "ordinance, regulation, resolution, or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government or other political subdivision of the State that regulates or imposes any requirement upon an employer pertaining to the regulation of discriminatory practices in employment." The bill amended the state-wide policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of "sex" to read "biological sex," thus making the intent clear. As the complaint alleges, the city of Charlotte had passed a non-discrimination ordinance on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, prompting the legislative action.
(Interestingly, Part II of the bill supersedes and preempts local ordinances relating to wage and hour provisions.)
Not surprisingly, the first count of the Complaint challenges HB2 based on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It argues that HB2 violates the equality rights of transgendered persons and sexual orientation minorities and that such classifications should be evaluated under heightened scrutiny. It also contends that the North Carolina act was based on animus. Recall that in Romer v. Evans the United States Supreme Court held that Colorado's Amendment 2, which similarly banned all local laws that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violated the Equal Protection Clause, reasoning that the animus of the law was not a legitimate government purpose. The Complaint here contains several expressions by legislators - - - for example,“You know, $42,000 is not going to cover the medical expenses when a pervert walks into a bathroom and my little girls are in there" - - - that would presumably go to animus.
The Complaint also alleges violations of substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Count II, the claim is a right to privacy for transgendered individuals. In Count III, the claim is a more novel one based on the right to refuse medical treatment:
- H.B. 2 forces transgender people to undergo medical procedures that may not be medically appropriate or available in order to access facilities consistent with their gender identity.
- Not all transgender individuals undergo gender confirmation surgery. For some, the surgery is not medically necessary, while for others it is medically impossible. For example, because medical treatment for gender dysphoria is individualized, hormone treatment may be sufficient to manage the distress associated with gender dysphoria for some individuals. Surgery may be medically necessary for others who do not have health insurance coverage for it and cannot afford to pay for the surgery out-of-pocket.
- Some states require proof of surgery before they will allow the gender marker on a birth certificate to be changed. For those born in North Carolina, state law requires proof of “sex reassignment surgery.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-11B.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court recognized a substantive due process right to refuse medical treatment in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990).
The remaining counts, four and five, are statutory ones under Title IX, based on sex discrimination in educational facilities.
Given the constitutional precedents, it does seem as if North Carolina will have a difficult time defending the statute.
Monday, March 21, 2016
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Whittman v. Personhuballah, the case testing whether a state's move to pack black voters into a congressional district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, but with the effect of diluting black voters' influence, violates equal protection.
Not surprisingly, the justices spent a good deal of time on standing, in particular, whether Representative Forbes, a congressman who had a lock on reelection in District 4, had standing to challenge the lower court's redistricting plan, because it made it tougher for him to get reelected in District 4. (Indeed, he's running in District 2, where he has a better chance of election, for this reason.) Justices Sotomayor and Kagan seemed to take strong positions that Forbes lacked standing; Justice Breyer staked out an only somewhat weaker position. The conservatives, along with Justice Kennedy, seemed to lean the other way.
On the merits, Justice Kagan put the finest point on the challengers' theory: If a legislature redistricts based malign racial intent, but the map also perfectly promotes acceptable political interests, is it subject to strict scrutiny? Michael Carvin, attorney for the challengers, said no. Justice Kagan went right to the point: "that sounds to me as though it's a harmless error rule for racial discrimination. And we've never had a harmless error rule for racial discrimination."
Chief Justice Roberts put a similar question to all the attorneys, but his hypo did not include any other evidence of racial motive: "If race and partisanship are co-extensive, then . . . which one predominates?" Opponents of the legislature's map had to concede that it'd be a tie; and under a tie, race could not predominate.
The difference between Justice Kagan's hypo and Chief Justice Roberts's hypo is the evidence of the 55-percent BVAP floor. But Chief Justice Roberts didn't seem inclined to look to that evidence to show that race predominated with the legislature. He asked: How do we determine the intent of the legislature? By 10 percent say-so? By 80 percent say-so? What if most of the legislators were only interested in protecting their own party, even though the sponsor of the legislature's redistricting plan used a 55-percent-BVAP (race-based) floor? If the direct evidence of a 55-percent-BVAP floor doesn't persuade that race predominated, then it's a tie, and then race didn't predominate--and the legislature's plan stands.
Chief Justice Roberts was also troubled that the lower court didn't require the plaintiffs to show that a map based on partisanship interests would be different.
With Justice Kennedy seeming to lean with the conservatives, the case could be headed for a 4-4 split, which would uphold the lower court's ruling that District 3 was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
The Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in Whittman v. Personhuballah, a case testing whether a state's move to pack black voters into a congressional district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but with the net effect of diluting black voters' influence, violates equal protection. This is the second time in two Terms that the Court has dealt with the issue: last Term the Court ruled in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama that the lower court applied the wrong standard and remanded the case for further proceedings. Whittman deals with a slightly different question, as described below. There's also a significant question of standing.
Here's my oral argument preview, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
Does a redrawn congressional district, which is based on maintaining a minimum fixed percentage of black voters in a district and in fact increases the percentage, violate equal protection?
Case at a Glance
The Equal Protection Clause forbids a state legislature from unjustifiably using race as the predominate factor in redrawing state legislative and congressional districts. At the same time, some states were required under the Voting Rights Act to ensure against retrogression, the diminution of a minority group’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of their choice. This means that a covered state had to consider race in redistricting. This case tests how a covered state can consider race.
The Virginia legislature adopted a redistricting plan that increased the percentage of black voters in a majority-minority congressional district. The legislature based the plan on maintaining a fixed percentage of black voters in a certain congressional district, supposedly to comply with the Voting Rights Act. A three-judge district court struck the plan as a racial gerrymander and ordered the implementation of its own map.
- Does a member of congress from an adjoining district have standing to challenge the court-ordered map, on the theory that the map may make it harder for him to win re-election?
- Did the Virginia legislature’s use of race predominate when it drew congressional district 3, and, if so, was its use of race justified in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act?
In 1991, as part of its redistricting plan after the 1990 Census, Virginia created its Third Congressional District, or “CD3.” The state created CD3 as its only majority-minority district, so that racial minorities in the district could elect a candidate of their choice. At the time, CD3 had a black voting age population, or “BVAP,” of 61.17 percent. The U.S. Department of Justice, or “DOJ,” precleared the plan and CD3 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, “VRA.”
In 1997, however, a three-judge court invalidated CD3 as a racial gerrymander. The court in Moon v. Meadows, 952 F. Supp. 1141 (E.D. Va. 1997), found the evidence “overwhelming that the creation of a safe black district predominated in the drawing of the boundaries.” As a result, the General Assembly redrew the district, and lowered its BVAP to 50.47 percent. DOJ precleared the plan, and CD3 was not challenged.
After the 2000 Census, the state redrew CD3 again, along with its other congressional districts. As part of this redistricting, the state shifted a number of black voters from CD4 into CD3 and CD5. As a result, the BVAP in CD3 increased to 53.1 percent. DOJ precleared the plan, and CD3 was not challenged. (This plan is sometimes called “the Benchmark Plan,” because it immediately preceded the challenged plan and thus sets the benchmark against which the challenged plan is measured.)
After the 2010 Census, the state once again undertook to redraw its congressional districts. This time, CD3 was underpopulated by 63,976 citizens, so it needed additional citizens in order to reach the state’s benchmark population for compliance with the one-person-one-vote principle. Delegate Bill Janis introduced a plan that added population to CD3 and increased its BVAP from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent.
Janis said that he based his plan on several criteria. These included the one-person-one-vote principle, the VRA rule against retrogression of minority voter influence, respecting the will of the Virginia electorate as reflected in the November 2010 elections, and maintaining current boundaries as much as possible. Throughout the floor debates on the plan, Janis repeatedly said that Section 5 of the VRA prohibited retrogression of minority voter influence, that compliance with Section 5 was “nonnegotiable,” and that compliance with the non-retrogression mandate was a “paramount concern” in drafting the plan.
The Virginia legislature failed to enact a plan in its 2011 special session. But Janis’s plan was reintroduced in the 2012 session (although Janis was no longer a member). At least two members of the legislature (Senators Locke and McEachin) protested that the plan packed black voters into CD3 and some surrounding districts, leaving them “essentially disenfranchised.” The House and Senate nevertheless passed the Janis plan, and the governor signed it. The plan maintained an 8-3 partisan division in favor of Republicans in the state and protected all incumbent members of congress. DOJ precleared the plan in March 2012.
In June 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612, the Court invalidated the preclearance coverage formula in Section 4 of the VRA. This meant that Virginia (along with other previously covered jurisdictions) were no longer subject to the non-retrogression requirement in Section 5.
In October 2013, Dawn Curry Page, Gloria Personhuballah, and James Farkas, three voters in CD3, filed this case, seeking to invalidate CD3 as a racial gerrymander. Republican members of congress from districts surrounding CD3, including Representative Randy Forbes, Republican from CD4, intervened in the case to defend the plan.
The plaintiffs alleged that CD3 was designed to pack black voters in the district, which would dilute black voters’ influence in CD3 and in other districts. During trial, the plaintiffs called an expert, Dr. Michael McDonald, who testified that CD3 was drawn as a majority-black district for predominantly racial reasons. (McDonald based his conclusion in part on an Alternative Plan, produced by the plaintiffs, that resulted in a 50.1 percent BVAP in CD3. The parties disagree over the meaning of the Alternative Plan and whether it supports McDonald’s conclusion.) The state called its own expert, John Morgan, who testified that CD3 was explainable by race-neutral factors of politics and incumbency protection.
Importantly, evidence suggests the General Assembly applied a 55-percent-BVAP floor in drawing CD3. In particular, some evidence shows that at least some in the legislature thought that CD3 needed a 55 percent BVAP in order to pass DOJ preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA. (Remember, the state created CD3 before the Court ruled in Shelby County.)
The district court, by a 2-1 vote, concluded that CD3 was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and enjoined the state from conducting any further congressional elections under the 2012 plan. The intervenors appealed, and the Supreme Court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case in light of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 135 S. Ct. 1257 (2015). (Alabama Legislative Black Caucus involved the same kind of challenge to a similar plan, which also packed black voters into a district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the VRA. The Court held that the lower court used an incorrect standard for judging this kind of case and gave some guidance for applying the correct standard. As discussed below, a portion of this ruling is relevant here.)
On remand, the district court again ruled 2-1 that CD3 was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The court wrote that the “legislative record here is replete with statements indicating that race was the legislature’s paramount concern in enacting the 2012 Plan,” and that the legislature had impermissibly used “a 55% BVAP floor” in redrawing CD3. (Because race predominated in redrawing CD3, the court applied strict scrutiny. The court held that compliance with Section 5 was a compelling state interest, but that the state’s use of race to increase the BVAP from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent was not narrowly tailored to avoid retrogression in CD3. That’s because Congressman Bobby Scott, “a Democrat supported by the majority of African-American voters,” had been repeatedly reelected under the prior BVAP by large margins.) The intervenors appealed to the Court.
Meanwhile, the remedial phase of the litigation proceeded in the district court. The court invited the parties and any interested non-parties to propose plans and appointed Dr. Bernard Grofman as special master. Grofman rejected the proposed plans and recommended his own. The court found that the Grofman plan cured the racial gerrymander by redrawing CD3 according to neutral districting criteria, and not race. The court also found that the plan complied with the VRA, despite the drop in CD3’s BVAP (to 45.3 percent), because the lower BVAP combined with significant white-crossover voting preserved “African-American voters’ ability to elect the representative of their choice.”
The court-ordered plan also changed CD4. The plan increased the BVAP in CD4 from 31.3 percent to 40.9 percent, creating a “realistic possibility,” according to Grofman, that black voters could elect a candidate of their choice. The plan also increased Democratic representation (as measured by the election results for the 2012 Presidential election) from 48.8 percent to 60.9 percent, turning a “safe seat for the Republican incumbent” into a “competitive” district, according to Grofman. (The current and previous maps, and alternative maps, are available at the web-site for the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, http://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov/2010/RedistrictingPlans.aspx#41,list.)
The intervenors again appealed to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in the original case (minus Dawn Curry Page, who was dismissed by stipulation) defend the court-ordered plan as appellees before the Court. The Virginia State Board of Elections also defends the plan as an appellee. The government defends the plan as amicus in support of the appellees. The Court divided oral argument to permit each of the parties and the government to participate.
The case involves two principal issues. Let’s take them one at a time.
In order to bring a case in federal court, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that he or she suffered an “injury in fact,” (2) that the challenged action caused the injury, and (3) that the lawsuit will redress the injury. The injury-in-fact requirement means that a plaintiff must show “concrete” and “particularized” harm, “actual or imminent.” The causation requirement means that the plaintiff has to show that the challenged action (here, the district court ruling and the court-ordered map) caused the injury. And the redressibility requirement means that the plaintiff must show that a successful lawsuit would redress their harm.
Standing is a threshold requirement. This means that the Court has to be satisfied that the intervenors have standing before it will rule on the merits (the discrimination claim, discussed below). Here, the parties focus particularly on intervenor Forbes. If Forbes has standing, then the Court will consider the merits. If not, the Court will dismiss the case.
The intervenors argue that they have standing, because the court-ordered plan transforms at least one of their districts (CD4, Forbes’s district) from a majority-Republican district to a majority-Democratic district. (Indeed, they say that every proposed plan would have made at least one Republican district a majority-Democratic district, so that they would have standing under any of the proposed plans.) The intervenors contend that this injures at least one of them, because it harms his or her chances for reelection, replaces his or her “base electorate” with “unfavorable” Democratic voters, and undoes his or her recommendations for the district. (The Board sides with the intervenors on standing and makes similar arguments.)
The plaintiffs argue that the intervenors lack standing. They claim that the intervenors have no responsibility for drawing or enforcing the 2012 redistricting plan (and therefore cannot complain that they were harmed by losing their redistricting power), and that they do not live in or represent CD3, the only challenged district. The plaintiffs assert that the intervenors’ only claim to standing is that the court-ordered plan might make it harder for some of them to win, if they choose to run, and if they defeat their primary challengers. The plaintiffs say that this alleged harm is too speculative and not sufficiently connected to the court-ordered plan. And in any event, they say, there are many other factors that might contribute to this harm. (The government sides with the plaintiffs on standing. The government adds that the intervenors have no right to “fence out those voters to enhance their odds of electoral success,” and therefore no harm when that happens.)
State legislatures can use a variety of factors in redrawing state legislative and congressional districts. Most of these factors are neutral—for example, preserving the compactness of a district, preserving the contiguity of a district, maintaining communities with like interests within a single district, and even advancing political interests—and do not alone raise constitutional problems. But the Equal Protection Clause prohibits a state legislature from using race as a factor, when its use of race predominates over other race-neutral factors without a sufficient justification (that is, without satisfying strict scrutiny).
States that were subject to the preclearance requirement in Section 5 of the VRA, including Virginia, had to consider race in their redistricting decisions. That’s because in order to obtain preclearance under Section 5, a covered state had to show that its new map, as compared to the immediately preceding map, would not result in retrogression, that is, diminishment of a minority group’s ability to elect its preferred candidate. (No state is subject to the preclearance requirement today. The Supreme Court in Shelby County struck the coverage formula for preclearance. This means that preclearance remains on the books, but currently there are no covered jurisdictions.)
This raises an important question: If a state legislature uses race in redistricting in order to comply with Section 5, does that use of race violate equal protection? The Supreme Court gave us some guidance to work that out last Term in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. As relevant here, the Court held that Section 5 does not require a state to maintain a particular minority percentage; instead, it requires the state to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice. This means that when a state legislature uses race as a predominate factor in redistricting in order to comply with Section 5, it cannot use a mechanical percentage—because that’s not what Section 5 requires.
That principle would seem to answer the question in this case (in favor of the plaintiffs and the Board), except that this case involves an additional wrinkle. Here, the intervenors claim even if the legislature used race as a predominate factor, CD3 would have looked the same if the legislature hadn’t used race. The intervenors rely on language from Easley v. Cromartie, 552 U.S. 234 (2001), to argue that because CD3 would have come out the same under neutral principles (without considering race), then race couldn’t have predominated, and the 2012 map satisfies equal protection.
The parties and amicus frame their equal protection arguments around these principles.
The intervenors argue first that the district court erred in finding that race predominated in drawing CD3 in the 2012 plan. The intervenors concede that race was a factor in the 2012 plan—that the legislature recognized that compliance with Section 5 of the VRA was “non-negotiable” and “paramount.” But they say that this use of race was necessary (because the state had to comply with Section 5), and that if it is considered predominant, then every use of race to comply with the VRA will automatically be deemed predominant. Moreover, they contend that the legislature’s racial goals were coextensive with neutral redistricting principles that governed all districts (like protecting incumbents by preserving the cores of existing districts) and with the legislature’s political objectives. They say that because the use of race resulted in the same district lines that would have resulted without the use of race, race cannot have predominated over neutral redistricting principles. Finally, the intervenors contend that the district court’s approach requires the legislature to treat majority-minority districts differently than majority-white districts, because under the district court’s approach the legislature could not use neutral principles to draw CD3, so long as the VRA also required the legislature to draw CD3 the same way.
Next, the intervenors argue that the district court failed to properly determine whether the legislature’s racial considerations subordinated other neutral redistricting criteria. They claim that the legislature would have drawn CD3 the same based only on neutral criteria, and so race could not have predominated. (They even say that achieving a 55 percent BVAP floor was the best way to achieve the legislature’s neutral redistricting objectives, irrespective of any racial purpose in using that floor.) The intervenors contend that the district should have determined whether there was an inconsistency between the neutral motives and the racial motives in order to determine whether racial motives predominated. But they say that the court never looked at this question.
Third, the intervenors argue that CD3 in the 2012 plan served permissible political purposes. They say that the 2012 plan treated CD3 the same as all other (majority-white) districts in the state, making only minor changes to district cores for the permissible purpose of benefitting incumbents. They claim moreover that changing CD3’s shape or reducing its BVAP would have sent a significant number of Democratic voters into the adjacent districts, all of which had Republican incumbents. Again, according to the intervenors, this means that CD3’s shape and BVAP serve the permissible purpose of benefitting incumbents. Finally, they contend that even the plaintiffs’ expert conceded that CD3 benefitted Republican incumbents and could be explained by a political purpose.
Fourth, the intervenors argue that the plaintiffs failed to show that the state could have achieved its political goals by drawing CD3 any other way. They contend that drawing CD3 with a BVAP of 56.3 percent was the only way for the state to retain all Republicans incumbents. They say that the plaintiffs’ alternative plan proves their point: this plan, which itself subordinated neutral redistricting principles to race, would have converted CD2 from a toss-up district with a Republican incumbent into a Democratic district, in order to achieve a lower BVAP.
Finally, the intervenors argue that CD3 in the 2012 plan meets the Alabama test. They claim that of all the alternatives, CD3 best advances the legislature’s political purposes and thus least subordinates those principles to race. In particular, they say that the court-ordered plan, with its reduction to a 30 percent BVAP, was not only based on race but likely would have failed DOJ preclearance. They contend that the legislature therefore had a “good reason” under Alabama to adopt the 2012 version of CD3.
The plaintiffs argue that race impermissibly predominated when the legislature redrew CD3 in 2012. They say that Janis, who originally introduced the plan, said as much, when he adopted the 55-percent-BVAP threshold based on a mistaken belief that any decrease in the BVAP would violate Section 5 of the VRA. They claim that circumstantial evidence shows this, too: the 2012 version of CD3 was the least compact district in the state, using water continuity to connect disparate black communities along the James River; it moved over 180,000 people to address underpopulation in CD3 of only 63,976; and the legislature disproportionately moved black voters into and white voters out of CD3.
The plaintiffs argue next that the intervenors are wrong to assert that the district court failed to apply Alabama—a legal error. Instead, the plaintiffs say that in truth the intervenors challenge the district court’s factual findings. But the plaintiffs contend that the intervenors cannot show that the district court’s findings were “clearly erroneous,” the standing for reversal on appeal.
The plaintiffs argue that the intervenors are also wrong to assert that the legislature’s use of race could not have predominated, because CD3 would have looked the same based on race-neutral redistricting criteria. The plaintiffs claim that if the legislature used race as a proxy for race-neutral criteria (as the intervenors seem to argue), then the legislature impermissibly used race. Moreover, the plaintiffs say that Comartie II is distinguishable: in that case, the direct evidence showed a partisan purpose, and the plaintiffs advanced a largely circumstantial case to prove otherwise; but in this case, the direct evidence (Janis’s statements) reveals a clear racial purpose behind the 2012 version of CD3.
Finally, the plaintiffs argue that Alabama supports their position. They say that the legislature made the same mistake as the legislature in Alabama, by focusing on how it could meet the arbitrary threshold of a 55 percent BVAP. But the plaintiffs argue that under Alabama the legislature should have focused on this question: “To what extent must we preserve existing minority percentages in order to maintain the minority’s present ability to elect the candidate of its choice?” Alabama, 135 S. Ct. at 1274. The plaintiffs argue that the intervenors try to escape the plain factual record, but they cannot: the record clearly reflects that race was the predominate purpose in drawing the 2012 version of CD3.
The Virginia State Board of Elections (as appellees) and the government (as amicus) make substantially similar arguments. The government clarifies a couple of points, however. First, the government says that mere statements that the legislature has to comply with the VRA does not mean that race predominated; instead, the legislature’s use of the 55-percent-BVAP threshold, along with other circumstantial evidence, means that race predominated. And the government, like the plaintiffs and the Board, argues that the court made no clear error in finding these facts. Next, the government contends, contrary to the intervenors, that a racial gerrymandering claim does not depend on a showing that race and politics conflicted. Instead, the government says that the constitutional harm comes from the predominate use of race, and that a plaintiff who can show that race predominated need not also show that the district’s actual configuration was different than an alternative configuration under race-neutral criteria. Finally, the government emphasizes that “Section 5 does not require jurisdictions to adhere to mechanical and factually unsupported racial targets, uninformed by a functional analysis of a minority group’s ability to elect.” And because that is exactly what the legislature did here, race impermissibly predominated.
This is the second time in two years that the Court will consider a case of a previously covered jurisdiction packing black voters into a district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the VRA. The Court limited this practice last Term in Alabama by ruling that (as relevant here) a state legislature cannot use mechanical percentages in order to comply with the VRA; instead, it must use the retrogression standard. That principle seems to answer the question in this case (because the Virginia legislature used a mechanical percentage), except that the intervenors claim that CD3 would have looked the same even without race—and therefore that race did not predominate in drawing CD3. Look for the Court to test this claim at oral argument.
The history of this case and the result in Alabama both suggest that the Court may lean toward the plaintiffs and the Board (and against the intervenors). First, the Court denied the intervenors’ application for a stay of the lower court’s decision pending appeal. Ordinarily, that would not (necessarily) suggest anything about the likely outcome. But in this case, Virginia has to know the shape of its districts, because it has to conduct 2016 elections. Because Virginia is set to run its elections based on the court-ordered map, the Court would throw a real wrench into Virginia politics by reversing course. (For one, it could affect Forbes himself. Forbes has announced that he will run for re-election in 2016 in CD2, not CD4, his current district. That’s because under the court-ordered map, CD4 leans much more Democratic. If the Court reversed the lower court, this could affect Forbes and the new representative in CD4, among others. It’ll be interesting to see if Forbes’s decision to run in CD2 becomes a factor for standing purposes.) Second, Alabama was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Kennedy siding with the progressives. This is a different case, to be sure, but it could turn on a similar line-up.
If the Court gets to the merits, look for it to rule narrowly. Given the Court’s approach in Alabama and given certain features of this case, this case seems an unlikely vehicle for the Court to make a grand statement about the constitutionality of the practice of packing districts for the supposed purpose of complying with the VRA, but with the effect of diluting the impact of all black voters in the state.
But that’s only if the Court rules on the merits. Indeed, we have good reason to think it might not, or at least that the Court will take the standing issue very seriously. The Court itself introduced the issue and ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs on it—twice. The first time, the Court simply asked the parties to brief whether the intervenors had standing. This apparently didn’t satisfy the Court, however, because it then asked the parties to brief whether they had standing because none of them lived in or represented CD3. These orders raise the real possibility that the Court could simply dismiss the case based on lack of standing, and not even address the merits.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance and resources yesterday for state courts on the assessment and enforcement of fines and fees--and how to avoid access barriers, the criminalization of poverty, and other constitutional problems for those who can't pay. The move addresses a disturbing trend in state courts to use fines and fees to raise revenue and line the pockets of private corporations, while at the same time barring access to justice and jailing people because they're poor.
The Civil Rights Division and Office for Access to Justice issued a "Dear Colleague" letter and Resource Guide, and announced $2.5 million in grants and support for a task force to address these issues.
The Dear Colleague letter outlines the problem:
Recent years have seen increased attention on the illegal enforcement of fines and fees in certain jurisdictions around the country--often with respect to individuals accused of misdemeanors, quasi-criminal ordinance violations, or civil infractions. Typically, courts do not sentence defendants to incarceration in these cases; monetary fines are the norm. Yet the harm caused by unlawful practices in these jurisdictions can be profound. Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape. Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.
The letter outlines seven actions that state courts must take to bring their fine- and fee-practices in line with Bearden v. Georgia, Boddie v. Connecticut, and, most recently, Turner v. Rogers, among other due process and equal protection cases protecting access and barring the criminalization of poverty.
Friday, March 4, 2016
The Supreme Court of Alabama has issued its opinions- - - totaling 170 pages typescript - - - in Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Citizens Action Program, and John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County dismissing all pending petitions and motions that seek relief from having to issue marriage licenses. And yet, the lengthy concurring opinions in the case contradict rather than support this dismissal.
Recall that in January, controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an Administrative Order forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect." Earlier, after an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Justice Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue. In a March 2015 opinion in this same case - - - Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute - - - known as API, the court, without Justice Moore and over a dissent by Justice Shaw held that the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, art. I, § 36.03, Ala. Const. 1901, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, § 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, are constitutional. Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment. A few months later, the United States Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In today's opinions, Chief Justice Moore is center-stage and plays a confusing part.
First, he provides a "statement of nonrecusal." He discusses his own participation in various aspects of this continuing litigation and concludes he is not reviewing his own Administrative Order but instead "the effect of Obergefell."
Second, in his own "specially concurring" opinion, his ultimately conclusion is that Obergefell is incorrectly decided and that the Alabama Supreme Court is under no duty to obey it. He writes quite personally:
I took my first oath to support the Constitution of the United States in 1965 at the United States Military Academy on the banks of the Hudson River at West Point, New York. On this very site General George Washington defended the northwest territory against British invasion during the Revolutionary War. I repeated that oath many times during my military service in Western Europe, Vietnam, and locations in the continental United States. Following my military service and upon graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law, I again took an oath to "uphold and support" the United States Constitution. As a private practitioner, deputy district attorney, circuit judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on two separate occasions, I took that oath and have administered it to other Judges, Justices, Governors, and State and local officials. In both civilian and military life the oath of loyalty to the Constitution is of paramount importance. **** The oath I took as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West
Point stated, in part, "that I will at all times obey the legal orders of my superior officers, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." 57 Bugle Notes, at 5 (1965) (emphasis added). Later, as a company commander in Vietnam, I knew the importance of following orders. The success or failure of a mission and the lives of others depended on strict adherence to the chain of command. The principle of obedience to superior orders is also crucial to the proper functioning of a court system. Nevertheless, the principle of obedience to superior officers is based on the premise that the order given is a lawful one.
He then discusses "Lt. William Calley, a unit commander at My Lai in Vietnam who was convicted of killing 22 innocent civilians," to support his "military analogy" that one should not simply "follow orders" when the orders are immoral.
Third, Chief Justice Moore's opinion is the major, if not majority opinion.
The opinion garnering the most Justices - - - three - - - is by Justice Stuart and is quite short, but speaks volumes. It reads in full:
Motions and petitions are dismissed without explanation by this Court for numerous reasons as a matter of routine. When a Justice issues a writing concurring in or dissenting from an order summarily dismissing a pending motion or petition the writing expresses the explanation for the vote of only the Justice who issues the writing and of any Justice who joins the writing. Attributing the reasoning and explanation in a special concurrence or a dissent to a Justice who did not issue or join the writing is erroneous and unjust.
Justice Greg Shaw also concurs specially, but his is the opinion that supports the conclusion. Justice Shaw had dissented from the March 2015 Order. He now concludes that given Obergefell, the March 2015 Order "no longer has a field of operation or any legal effect."
It is the accepted legal doctrine and the historic legal practice in the United States to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court as authoritative on the meaning of federal law and the federal Constitution. Arguments have been put forth suggesting that this doctrine and this practice are incorrect. Those arguments generally have not been accepted by the courts in this country. For example, in Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the argument by certain state officials that they were not bound by that Court's decisions.
The idea that decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States are to be followed is not something new or strange. Thus, the members of this Court who would follow the Obergefell decision would not, as either Chief Justice Moore or Justice Parker suggests, be "bow[ing their] knee[s] to the self-established judicial despots of America," "blindly follow[ing] the unsubstantiated opinion of 'five lawyers,'" "'shrink[ing] from the discharge'" of duty, "betray[ing]" their oaths, "blatantly disregard[ing] the Constitution," standing "idly by to watch our liberties destroyed and our Constitution violated," participating in the "conversion of our republican form of government into an aristocracy of nine lawyers," or be adhering to a perceived "evil." They would, quite frankly, be doing what the vast majority of past and present judges and lawyers in this country have always assumed the Constitution requires, notwithstanding the unconvincing arguments found in the requests before us and in the specially concurring opinion of Chief Justice Moore. I charitably say the arguments are "unconvincing" because virtually no one has ever agreed with their rationales.
Justice Shaw certainly seems to have the better view and the citation of Cooper v. Aaron is exactly on point. But given the result, it does not seem as if the National Guard will be marching into Montgomery any time soon.
Could this part of the saga be concluded?
March 4, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (4)
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
In her extensive opinion in Wandering Dago, Inc. v. Desito, United States District Judge for the Northern District of New York Judge Mae D'Agostino granted summary judgment for the government against the First Amendment and Equal Protection claims of "Wandering Dago" resulting from the denial of a permit to operate a food truck at the Empire State Plaza in Albany (pictured below), a facility owned by the state of New York and operated by the state Office of General Services (OGS) under Commissioner RoAnn Desito.
In the summers of 2013 and 2014, OGS administered "The Empire State Plaza Summer Outdoor Lunch Program," permitting vendors to operate food trucks for limited hours on the plaza, intended to provide "lunch options to the approximately 11,000 State employees who work at Empire State Plaza, as well as for visitors to the Capitol, State Museum, performing arts center" - - - known as The Egg - - - and various monuments and memorials in New York's capital city. As the list of applicants was being processed, the name "Wandering Dago" attracted attention of OGS employees, one who "recognized the term 'dago' as 'a highly offensive term for Italians,'" and after conducting a "computer search" to determine whether this was true, his conclusion was not only "confirmed" but it was "revealed" that the term has been "used to refer to people of Spanish and Portuguese descent, as well as Italians." OGS denied the application "on the grounds that its name contains an offensive ethnic slur and does not fit with OGS' policy of providing family-friendly policy." Wandering Dago's application the next year was similarly rejected.
The First Amendment claims were primary; the Equal Protection Clause claims having been previously dismissed and warranting little more analysis when re-plead. On the First Amendment, Judge D'Agostino identified the problem common to so much free speech litigation: this case does not fit neatly into any particular First Amendment "framework." Thus, Judge D'Agostino engaged in several strands of analysis, most prominently being "forum" analysis, but also government speech, employee (contractor) speech, and commercial speech.
As to forum doctrine, Judge D'Agostino rehearses the well-know different types of forum, ultimately deciding that the forum is a "nonpublic forum." Key to this conclusion, as is so often true, is the definition of the forum. For Judge D'Agostino, the forum is not Empire State Plaza, but the lunch program - - - "which happens to take place within the grounds that comprise the Empire State Plaza." That OGS required permits and controlled the "forum" contributes to this view.
Yet even under a nonpublic forum, the government must be "reasonable" and content/viewpoint neutral. As to the reasonableness, Judge D'Agostino discounted the fact that the policy was not written or even previously articulated. Somewhat confusingly, the judge decided that the owners of Dago did not intend to express anything particular by the name, and therefore there could be no viewpoint/content discrimination and similarly found that there was no problem with unbridled discretion. The judge rejected the applicability of In Re Simon Shiao Tam, in which the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment because it did not involve a forum, but an application of strict scrutiny. Judge D'Agostino also distinguished cases in which the proprietor was denied the entire opportunity to sell the goods rather than simply not allowed to participate in a particular program.
The particular program aspect supports the judge's conclusion that "government speech" was at issue, relying on Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans in which the Court found that Texas's program of specialty license plates was government speech.
While Judge D'Agostino's opinion is well-structured and comprehensive, the analysis regarding content/viewpoint discrimination, no matter the forum type, will most likely be fertile ground for appeal. On government speech, the case may provide the Second Circuit with an opportunity to clarify the limits of Walker.
Monday, February 22, 2016
The brief denial (without opinion) came after the state developed a new districting plan--which wouldn't have gone into effect if the Court granted a stay, but which will now go into effect for the state's primaries.
Recall that the lower court ruled that North Carolina impermissibly used race to draw the districts, by packing black voters into these two districts. The court rejected the state's claim that it used race in one of the districts to comply with preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. The court said that even assuming (without deciding) that compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest, the state failed to show that its use of race was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.