Thursday, November 20, 2014
Montana District Judge Follows Ninth Circuit: Declares State's Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
In his 18 page Order in Rolando v. Fox, US District Judge Brian Morris enjoined Montana's laws banning same-sex marriage (Article XIII, section 7 of the Montana Constitution, and Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-103 and section 40-1-401) as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The judge essentially found that the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter regarding same-sex marriage - - - inclusive of its decision to adhere to heightened scrutiny in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott - - - was binding. The court rejected the argument that the recent Sixth Circuit opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder changed Ninth Circuit precedent.
The judge, however, did discuss the state's asserted justifications, finding them with without merit and focusing on children. The judge ended by recognizing "that not everyone will celebrate this outcome," but nevertheless that the "time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit": "Today Montana becomes the thirty-fourth state to permit same-sex marriage."
The judge did not stay the injunction.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Fifth Circuit has denied en banc review by a vote of 15-5 in its Order in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
Recall that in a divided opinion in July, a Fifth Circuit panel held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall also that the United States Supreme Court had reversed the Fifth Circuit's original finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge) and remanded the case for a "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation." The opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal" of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.
Judge Emilio Garza, the Senior Judge who dissented from the panel opinion also wrote a very brief dissenting opinion from en banc review, which was joined by Judges Jones, Smith, Clement, and Owen. Judge Garza contends that while the "panel majority dutifully bows" to the United States Supreme Court's requirements in Fisher, it "then fails to conduct the strict scrutiny analysis" the opinion requires "thus returning to the deferential models" of Regents of University of California v. Bakke and Grutter v. Bollinger.
A petition for writ of certiorari is certain; the grant of that petition is less certain.
November 13, 2014 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Court has issued an Order vacating the temporary stay issued by Justice Sotomayor on Monday of the preliminary injunction of Judge Daniel Crabtree entered last week in Marie v. Moser regarding Kansas' same-sex marriage ban.
As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues.
The Order from the Court notes that "Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas would grant the application for stay," but there is no accompanying opinion.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
In a 26 page opinion today in Condon v. Haley, Judge Richard Mark Gergel held that South Carolina's same-sex marriage bans (by statute and state constitutional amendment) is unconstitutional.
Here is the gravamen of Judge Gergel's opinion:
This Court has carefully reviewed the language of South Carolina's constitutional and statutory ban on same sex marriage and now finds that there is no meaningful distinction between the existing South Carolina provisions and those of Virginia declared unconstitutional in Bostic.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer held that Virginia's same-sex marriage laws should be evaluated by strict scrutiny because marriage is a fundamental right; not surprisingly, the bans did not survive the standard. Recall also that the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Moreover, Judge Gergel rejected the argument that "same-sex couples should not look to the courts to protect their individual rights but to the 'usually reliable state democratic processes' for relief" as the Sixth Circuit's very recent opinion upholding state prohibitions of same-sex marriage declared, by noting that the Fourth Circuit rejected this same argument.
Judge Gergel did, however, dismiss Governor Nikki Haley as a defendant. Judge Gergel noted that "simply being the state's chief executive sworn to uphold the laws is not sufficient" and there is "little evidence to support an argument that Defendant Haley has taken enforcement action or engaged in other affirmative acts to obstruct Plaintiffs' asserted fundamental right to marry. " Judge Gergel specifically distinguished Bowling v. Pence, in which a federal judge reversed a prior order dismissing the Governor of Indiana as a defendant after he took "affirmative action to enforce the statute."
Judge Gergel issued a temporary stay of the injunction until November 20, 2014.
Monday, November 10, 2014
As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues.
As is usual, there is no reasoning supporting the Supreme Court stay. Here's the text of Justice Sotomayor's opinion:
UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,
IT IS ORDERED that the preliminary injunction entered by the United State District Court for the District of Kansas on November 4, 2014, is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Tuesday, November 11, 2014, by 5 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.
Perhaps we can expect another Order from Justice Sotomayor late on Tuesday?
Friday, November 7, 2014
A day after the Sixth Circuit's divided decision upholding same-sex marriage bans in several states, and thus creating a circuit split (with the Supreme Court having denied certiorari to the Seventh, Tenth, and Fourth Circuit opinions holding to the contrary), United States District Judge Ortrie D. Smith of Missouri (and in the Eighth Circuit) has rendered an opinion in Lawson v. Kelly, finding Missouri's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
Judge Smith's 18 page opinion agrees with the Sixth Circuit majority in one respect: The Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor v. United States holding DOMA unconstitutional is not dispositive. However, Judge Smith also states that the Court's 1972 dismissal in Baker v. Nelson is not dispositive.
Judge Smith holds that under Eighth Circuit precedent, sexual orientation "is not a suspect class and that classifications based on sexual orientation are not subject to heightened review of any kind." On that basis, he grants judgments on the pleadings to the defendants.
However, Judge Smith holds that the same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. First, Judge Smith concludes that marriage is a fundamental right under the Due Process Clause, even as he notes that not all regulations of marriage are subject to strict scrutiny. Following Zablocki v. Redhail, however, he applies the "interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry" standard and concludes that the "prohibition must be examined with strict scrutiny, and viewed in that light the restriction fails to satisfy the Due Process Clause’s dictates."
Additionally, Judge Smith analyzes the same-sex marriage ban under the Equal Protection Clause as a classification based on gender:
The restriction on same-sex marriage is a classification based on gender. The State’s “permission to marry” depends on the gender of the would-be participants. The State would permit Jack and Jill to be married but not Jack and John. Why? Because in the latter example, the person Jack wishes to marry is male. The State’s permission to marry depends on the genders of the participants, so the restriction is a gender-based classification.
As Judge Smith avers, "Restrictions based on gender are subject to intermediate scrutiny." He finds the standard is not satisfied:
The State has not carried its burden. Its sole justification for the restriction is the need to create rules that are predictable, consistent, and can be uniformly applied. Assuming this is a valid justification for a restriction, there is no suggestion as to why the gender-based classification is substantially related to that objective. A rule that ignores gender would be just as related to that objective and be just as easy to apply (and arguably would impose less of a burden on the Recorders of Deeds because they would not have to conduct any gender-based inquiry whatsoever). Regardless, administrative convenience is not a valid reason to differentiate between men and women.
Judge Smith therefore concluded that "section 451.022 of the Revised Missouri Statutes and Article I, section 33 of the Missouri Constitution, and any other provision of state law that precludes people from marrying solely because they are of the same gender violates the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment" and enjoined state officials from declining to issue same-sex marriage licenses although the Judge stayed the "effects of the judgment" until the judgment is final.
November 7, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 6, 2014
The Sixth Circuit's opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder upheld the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage bans in several states, reversing the district court decisions in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton and joined by Judge Deborah Cook begins by invoking judicial restraint and democratic processes: "This is a case about change—and how best to handle it under the United States Constitution." Such an opening may not be surprising given Judge Sutton's published views such as this from a Harvard Law Review piece favoring "a return to a world in which the state courts and state legislatures are on the front lines when it comes to rights innovation."
Dissenting, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, begins with a scathing assessment of Judge Sutton's opinion:
The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state’s constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
For the majority, the operative precedent is Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." The opinion distinguishes Windsor v. United States as limited to the federal government. The opinion also rejects the relevance of the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari from circuit decisions finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional: "The Court’s certiorari denials tell us nothing about the democracy-versus-litigation path to same-sex marriage, and they tell us nothing about the validity of any of these theories."
The majority also rejects the persuasive value of the opinions from the other circuits, again returning to the judicial restraint perspective:
There are many ways, as these lower court decisions confirm, to look at this question: originalism; rational basis review; animus; fundamental rights; suspect classifications; evolving meaning. The parties in one way or another have invoked them all. Not one of the plaintiffs’ theories, however, makes the case for constitutionalizing the definition of marriage and for removing the issue from the place it has been since the founding: in the hands of state voters.
In considering rational basis review (under either equal protection or due process), the majority finds that states can rationally incentivize marriage for heterosexual couples who "run the risk of unintended offspring" and that states might rationally chose to "wait and see" before changing the definition of marriage.
In considering animus (which might heighten the rational basis review to rational basis "plus"), the majority distinguishes both City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center and Romer v. Evans, stating that the state-wide initiatives banning same-sex marriage merely "codified a long-existing, widely held social norm already reflected in state law," rather than being novel acts of animus. Indeed, the majority states
What the Court recently said about another statewide initiative that people care passionately about applies with equal vigor here: “Deliberative debate on sensitive issues such as racial preferences all too often may shade into rancor. But that does not justify removing certain court-determined issues from the voters’ reach. Democracy does not presume that some subjects are either too divisive or too profound for public debate.” Schuette v. Coal. to Defend Affirmative Action[BAMN].
Moreover, in another portion of the opinion the majority addresses the possibility of heightened review under the Equal protection Clause based on level of scrutiny to be applied to sexual minorities and invokes Carolene Products. For the majority, the issue of political power is the key rationale for denying heightened scrutiny:
The Fourteenth Amendment does not insulate influential, indeed eminently successful, interest groups from a defining attribute of all democratic initiatives—some succeed, some fail—particularly when succeeding more and failing less are in the offing.
And in considering fundamental right to marriage under the Due Process Clause, the majority concluded marriage is not a fundamental right, distinguishing Loving v. Virginia as a case that "addressed, and rightly corrected, an unconstitutional eligibility requirement for marriage; it did not create a new definition of marriage." Moreover, if marriage were a fundamental right, this would call into question laws regarding divorce, polygamy, and age requirements.
The majority also rejects the "right to travel" argument as a rationale for recognizing valid out of state marriages.
Additionally, the majority articulates its constitutional interpretative strategies. In section B, entitled "Original meaning" and in Section G, entitled "Evolving meaning," the majority is very clear that one theory is more consistent with its view of judicial restraint.
The Sixth Circuit - - - as many predicted - - - has now created a split in the circuits on the question of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans. The plaintiffs, who prevailed in the district court cases below, are sure to petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, perhaps bypassing seeking en banc review by the Sixth Circuit.
November 6, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
In a 38 page opinion in Marie v. Moser, Judge Daniel Crabtree held that Kansas' state constitutional provisions and statutes prohibiting same-sex marriages violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
This is not surprising given the Tenth Circuit's opinions in Bishop v. Smith (finding Oklahoma's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional) and Kitchen v. Herbert (finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional and the United States Supreme Court's denial of certiorari in these cases a month ago. As Judge Crabtree states: "When the Supreme Court or the Tenth Circuit has established a clear rule of law, our Court must follow it."
First, why is the opinion 38 pages? Shouldn't this opinion be more like last month's four page opinion by the Arizona federal judge stating that it is bound by the Circuit opinion? And indeed, Judge Crabtree's analysis of the Circuit precedent is relatively brief. However, Judge Crabtree's opinion also contains not only a brief discussion of the parties and the challenged laws, but a careful consideration of a variety of other matters including those related to justicability and jurisdiction:
- Standing (generally focusing on redressability, but including a claim that because the plaintiffs are a same-sex female couple, they cannot argue the constitutionality of the Kansas laws as applied to same-sex male couples);
- Eleventh Amendment
- Domestic Relations Exception to federal court jurisdiction
- Absention (including Pullman, Younger, Colorado River, Burford, Rooker-Feldman)
Additionally, Judge Crabtree considered an argument that the correct precedent was not the Tenth Circuit opinion, but a Kansas state court opinion (to which the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari).
Judge Crabtree rejected all of these arguments, but in a careful and considered manner.
Second, why did Judge Crabtree grant a stay to the defendants? Judge Crabtree's answer is related to the length of the opinion. He states that although
the Tenth Circuit has settled the substance of the constitutional challenge plaintiffs’ motion presents. And under the Circuit’s decisions, Kansas law is encroaching on plaintiffs constitutional rights. But defendants’ arguments have required the Court to make several jurisdictional and justiciability determinations, and human fallibility is what it is; the Circuit may come to a different conclusion about one of these threshold determinations. On balance, the Court concludes that a short-term stay is the safer and wiser course.
Thus Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction until November 11, unless the defendants inform the court they will not appeal. Perhaps the state officials in Kansas will conclude that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money as did the state officials in Arizona. Or perhaps not.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
In his opinion in Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla, United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez dismissed the constitutional challenge to Puerto Rico's law defining marriage as "man and woman" and refusing recognition to marriages "between persons of the same sex or transexuals."
In large part, Judge Perez-Gimenez relied upon Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." For Judge Perez-Gimenez, this dismissal remains binding precedent for several reasons. Judge Perez-Gimenez finds that Baker remains good law despite the "nebulous 'doctrinal developments" since 1972. He rejects the precedential value of Windsor v. United States in this regard: "Windsor does not - - - and cannot - - - change things." He acknowledges and cites authority to the contrary, but finds it unpersuasive. He specifically rejects the relevance of the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari from circuit decisions finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional in light of the more solid precedent of Baker v. Nelson.
Judge Perez-Gimenez also grounds his adherence to Baker v. Nelson on the First Circuit's opinion in Massachusetts v. HHS, finding DOMA unconstitutional. The First Circuit's discussion of Baker v. Nelson is somewhat unclear, but Judge Perez-Gimenez rejects the argument that they are dicta and further reasons even if the statements are dicta, "they would remain persuasive authority, and as such, further support the Court's independent conclusions about, and the impact of subsequent decisions on, Baker."
Judge Perez-Gimenez articulates a perspective of judicial restraint, articulating deference to the democtratic institutions of Puerto Rico and adherence to stare decisis. But in the opinion's conclusion, he makes his own views clear:
Recent affirmances of same-gender marriage seem to suffer from a peculiar inability to recall the principles embodied in existing marriage law. Traditional marriage is “exclusively [an] opposite-sex institution . . . inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship,” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2718 (Alito, J., dissenting). Traditional marriage is the fundamental unit of the political order. And ultimately the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.
Those are the well-tested, well-proven principles on which we have relied for centuries. The question now is whether judicial “wisdom” may contrive methods by which those solid principles can be circumvented or even discarded.
A clear majority of courts have struck down statutes that affirm opposite-gender marriage only. In their ingenuity and imagination they have constructed a seemingly comprehensive legal structure for this new form of marriage. And yet what is lacking and unaccounted for remains: are laws barring polygamy, or, say the marriage of fathers and daughters, now of doubtful validity? Is “minimal marriage”, where “individuals can have legal marital relationships with more than one person, reciprocally or asymmetrically, themselves determining the sex and number of parties” the blueprint for their design? *** It would seem so, if we follow the plaintiffs’ logic, that the fundamental right to marriage is based on “the constitutional liberty to select the partner of one’s choice.”
Undoubtedly, this issue is on its way to the First Circuit. The states in the First Circuit - - - Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine - - - all have same-sex marriage without federal court decisions, so this decision from the District of Puerto Rico will provide the First Circuit the opportunity to reconsider Baker v. Nelson and the applicability of its DOMA decision, Massachusetts v. Gill.
Although perhaps the challengers to the same-sex and "transsexual" marriages might seek to have the issue decided by the Puerto Rican Supreme Court.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Judge John Sedwick's opinion in Connolly v. Jeanes is a mere four pages, noting that the requirement of a "lengthy and detailed opinion" is now obviated because as the district court is bound by the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Latta v. Otter. As to a stay, an "appeal to the Ninth Circuit would be futile" and given the Supreme Court's denial of petitions for writs of certiorari, it is "also clear" that the "High Court will turn a deaf ear on any request for relief from the Ninth Circuit's decision."
Despite the recent activity by Justice Kennedy including the stay and modified stay and vacated stay of the Ninth Circuit's decision, the Attorney General Tom Horne (pictured) agreed in a statement (video here) and cited his ethical duties under Rule 11 and not to "waste the taxpayers' money." He issued a letter to the clerks "effective immediately."
October 17, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
On Sunday afternoon before a Monday federal holiday, federal district judge Timothy Burgess of the District of Alaska issued an opinion in Hamby v. Parnell and immediately enjoined officials of the state of Alaska from enforcing either the statute or state constitutional provision barring same-sex marriages.
Judge Burgess' 25 page opinion predictably relied upon the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter concluding that the same-sex marriage bans of Idaho and Nevada violated the Equal Protection Clause and using the Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard for sexual orientation. Judge Burgess also found that the Alaska laws violated the Due Process Clause because they infringe on the "fundamental right to choose whom to marry."
In the Due Process discussion, Judge Burgess has an interesting invocation of originalism:
In Lawrence [v. Texas], the critical mistake identified by the Supreme Court in its earlier reasoning [in Bowers v. Hardwick] is the same error made by Defendants in this case: in the desire to narrowly define the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, they “fail to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake.”
Our forefathers wrote the Bill of Rights hundreds of years ago and could not have predicted “the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities” as we see today. As the Supreme Court articulately explained, “those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clause...knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once necessary and proper in fact only serve to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” The Plaintiffs in this case do not ask the Court to recognize an entirely new fundamental right to same-sex marriage; rather, Plaintiffs wish to participate in the existing liberty granted to other couples to make a deeply personal choice about a private family matter.
Alaska has filed an Emergency Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, arguing in part that there is a "reasonable likelihood the Ninth Circuit will rehear Latta en banc and thus vacate the panel's decision." This is largely based on the Ninth Circuit's application of heightened scrutiny in the panel opinion.
But recall that this heightened scrutiny is based on SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, decided 10 months ago and which was denied a rehearing en banc.
And recall also that while Justice Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court granted a stay of Latta, he later clarified that the stay was only as to Idaho and not Nevada (although the Ninth Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard was applied to the laws of both states), and the stay vacated on Friday.
Additionally, Alaska argues that "conditions compelling Supreme Court review of this issue could easily develop very soon." Recall that the Supreme Court denied certiorari of the decisions from three circuits finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. As Alaska argues:
The Sixth Circuit heard argument in early August regarding cases14 from four states (Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio) and could issue a decision at any time, and the Fifth Circuit has expedited argument of Louisiana and Texas cases and could issue a decision by end of this year. Accordingly, circumstances are likely to develop in which the Supreme Court is virtually obligated to review the issue.
Yet given the lack of endurance of previous stays, there is little reason to believe Alaska would be considered a different case.
October 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari to the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits that had held that an array of states' same-sex marriage ban statutes were unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion holding that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada were unconstitutional, on substantially similiar reasoning to the cases from the other circuits.
On Wednesday, in a brief Order, Justice Anthony Kennedy, as Circuit Court Justice, entered a stay of the mandate of the Ninth Circuit opinion in Otter v. Lata. Here's the text of Kennedy's Order:
UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,
IT IS ORDERED that the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, case Nos. 12-17668, 14-35420 & 14-35421, is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court. It is further ordered that a response to the application be filed on or before Thursday, October 9, 2014, by 5 p.m.
While the Ninth Circuit applies intermediate scrutiny in the equal protection analysis, this does not seem to be sufficient to warrant a stay.
What does Justice Kennedy have in mind?
UPDATE: Later on Wednesday, Justice Kennedy issued a second Order clarifying that the stay applies only to Idaho and not to Nevada.
Here's the text of that Order:
UPON FURTHER CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,
IT IS ORDERED that the portion of the order issued on this date entering a stay of the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in case No. 12-17668 is hereby vacated. The stay entered with respect to the Ninth Circuit’s mandate in case Nos. 14-35420 & 14-35421, shall remain in effect pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.
Further updated on October 10 here.
A divided three-judge district court in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the district lines for Virginia's Third Congressional District violated equal protection. The court left the district in place for the fall elections, but ordered the state legislature to redraw the boundaries in the next legislative session.
The ruling tests whether and when a state's use of race to increase the percentage of racial minority voters in a district above the pre-existing percentage--for the stated reason to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (pre-Shelby County)--violates equal protection.
In other words: When can a state pack racial minority voters into a district in a way that dillutes their influence elsewhere, in the name of compliance with Section 5 of the VRA?
A similar issue is now before the Supreme Court in the Alabama cases, set for oral argument on November 12. We'll have an argument preview and review.
The legislature drew Virginia's Third in 2012 with an eye toward satisfying the non-retrogression standard in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. (At the time, before Shelby County struck the coverage formula for Section 5, Virginia was a covered jurisdiction.) In particular, the legislature used a 55 percent floor for the percentage of persons of voting age who identified as African America (the "BVAP"), so that the district wouldn't fall below a 55 percent BVAP. The legislature then increased the BVAP from 53.1 percent (the BVAP in the old district, the benchmark, under the 2000 census) to 56.3 percent (the BVAP in the redrawn district, based on the 2010 census). DOJ precleared the plan under Section 5 (again, before Shelby County).
Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the plan was a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The court ruled that legislative history and circumstantial evidence showed that the predominant purpose of the plan was race, and that the plan was subject to strict scrutiny. The court assumed, without deciding, that compliance with Section 5 was a compelling state interest before the Court struck Section 4 in Shelby County, but ruled that the redrawn district wasn't narrowly tailored to meet that interest. In particular, the court, citing Bush, said that the BVAP increase wasn't narrowly tailored "when the district had been a safe majority-minority district for two decades." The court wrote that "[w]hile the BVAP increase here is small than in Bush [where a plurality of the Supreme Court held that a BVAP increase from 35.1 percent to 50.9 percent wasn't narrowly tailored to achieve non-retrogression], the principle is the same." The court also said that the legislature's use of a 55 percent BVAP threshold (as a baseline below which the district could not fall), as opposed to some other analysis of racial voting patterns, wasn't narrowly tailored.
Judge Payne dissented.
Unless and until there's an appeal, Virginia's Third will stay the shape of the 2012 plan for the 2014 elections. But the legislature will have to redraw it next year.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The Ninth Circuit has issued its opinion in Latta v. Otter (and Sevick v. Sandoval) holding that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada respectively are unconstitutional.
This is not surprising given yesterday's denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court to the petitions in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit cases with similar holdings.
The unanimous opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt held that the Idaho and Nevada laws regarding same-sex marriage "violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard" of SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs.
The court rejected the argument that the same-sex banning marriage laws survive heightened scrutiny because they promote child welfare by encouraging optimal parenting. In part, the court found that the means chosen to accomplish this goal was underinclusive:
If defendants really wished to ensure that as many children as possible had married parents, they would do well to rescind the right to no-fault divorce, or to divorce altogether. Neither has done so. Such reforms might face constitutional difficulties of their own, but they would at least further the states’ asserted interest in solidifying marriage. Likewise, if Idaho and Nevada want to increase the percentage of children being raised by their two biological parents, they might do better to ban assisted reproduction using donor sperm or eggs, gestational surrogacy, and adoption, by both opposite-sex and same-sex couples, as well as by single people. Neither state does.
The court found that the other interests were likewise inadequate to support the ban on same-sex marriage. In approximately 30 pages, the court affirmed the district court in Latta and reversed the district court in Sevcik.
Interestingly, there are two separate concurring opinions. Judge Reinhardt wrote a separate concurring opinion (to his own opinion), adding a fundamental rights analysis: "laws abridging fundamental rights are subject to strict scrutiny, and are invalid unless there is a “compelling state interest” which they are “narrowly tailored” to serve. Unsurprisingly, he found the same-sex statutes did not survive under this more rigorous standard.
Judge Berzon's separate concurring opinion added yet another justification for the ruling: the same-sex marriage bans are classifications on the basis of gender that do not survive the level of scrutiny applicable to such classifications.
Monday, October 6, 2014
In its Order today, the Court denied certiorari to a raft of cases, including the cases seeking review of opinions in which appellate courts found bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
These cases are from three circuits:
From the Seventh Circuit: Bogan v. Baskin and Walker v. Wolf, decided in September, regarding the same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin;
From the Fourth Circuit's Bostic v. Rainey, regarding Virginia's prohibition there were three petitions, McQuigg v. Bostic, Schaefer v. Bostic, and Rainey v. Bostic. The Fourth Circuit has already issued a Mandate, lifting the stay.
Monday, September 29, 2014
In a closely divided vote, the United States Supreme Court has issued a stay of the Sixth Circuit's affirmance of an injunction that would require early voting to begin in Ohio tomorrow, September 30.
Here's the entire Order:
The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted, and the district court’s September 4, 2014 order granting a preliminary injunction is stayed pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.
Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan would deny the application for stay.
Friday, September 26, 2014
With quick dispatch, the Sixth Circuit has issued its unanimous opinion in Ohio State Conference of the NAACP v. Husted, affirming District Judge Peter Economus's decision earlier this month issuing a preliminary injunction enjoining the Ohio legislature's amendments to the election code that limited early in-person voting.
The Sixth Circuit rejected Ohio Secretary of State Husted's claim that the district judge's extensive findings of fact were clearly erroneous. Likewise, the Sixth Circuit rejected the argument that the district judge should have applied rational basis scrutiny in the equal protection claim, holding that the district judge was correct in applying the "flexible Anderson-Burdick" test, articulated as
A court considering a challenge to a state election law must weigh “the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate” against “the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule,” taking into consideration “the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiffs’ rights.”
Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 434 (1992). The Sixth Circuit moreover found that the district judge applied the test correctly. The opinion specifically discussed Ohio's asserted justifications - - - preventing voter fraud, containing costs, and uniformity - - - and found that Ohio did not demonstrate that these interests outweighed the burdens on voters.
In the last third of the opinion, the court analyzed the Section 2, Voting Rights claim (Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973), again agreeing with the district judge.
This means that the Sixth Circuit validated the district judge's order requiring early voting provisions that become effective in just a few days, on September 30.
Ohio has already filed an application to the United States Supreme Court for a stay. As Sixth Circuit Justice, Justice Kagan may rule on the application or refer it to the full Court.
Monday, September 22, 2014
A call that should be of interest to many ConLawProfs:
Policing, Protesting, and Perceptions:
A Critical Examination of the Events in Ferguson
at the University of Missouri
Here are some details on the call for works-in-progress:
The University of Missouri Law Review is issuing a call for proposals for an upcoming Works-in-Progress conference, which will be held on Thursday, February 26, 2015 in conjunction with the Missouri Law Review’s Symposium, which will take place the following day Friday, February 27, 2015. The symposium, "Policing, Protesting, and Perceptions: A Critical Examination of the Events in Ferguson," focuses on a number of issues that arose from the events in Ferguson, Missouri this past August following the shooting of Michael Brown, and will include a number of invited panelists. Marc Mauer, the Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, will deliver the keynote address. On Thursday, February 26, 2015, the Missouri Law Review will host several works-in-progress panels related to the subject matter of the symposium.
If you interested, we would ask that you submit a presentation proposal. Presentation proposals should be no more than one page in length. The topic of the presentation can include analyses that are practical, theoretical or interdisciplinary in nature relating to what transpired in Ferguson, MO. Proposals from scholars outside the United States are also welcome, although prospective attendees should note that there is no funding available to assist participants with their travel expenses. Proposals for the works-in-progress will be accepted until November 15, 2014. Those interested may submit proposals and direct questions to Professor S. David Mitchell (MitchellSD AT missouri.edu). Decisions regarding accepted proposals will be made by December 1, 2014.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Recall that in February of 2014, a panel of the Ninth Circuit in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District rejected a claim by students that their constitutional rights were violated when school officials banned their American flag clothing during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
The en banc Ninth Circuit has now denied en banc review, over a dissent, and issued an amended panel opinion which adds several paragraphs of analysis.
Dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Tallman and Bea, argued that the reaction of other students to the flag-clothing wearing students amounted to a " heckler’s veto" which the panel wrongly validated. Moreover, the dissent argued that this created a circuit split with the Seventh Circuit, relying on Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School District No. 204, decided in 2011. Judge Posner's opinion in Zamecnik concluded that the students wearing the "Be Happy Not Gay" t-shirt was protected by the First Amendment (although importantly Posner did not highlight any possible violence in that case). The dissenting opinion from en banc review by O'Scannlain does not include the Sixth Circuit's Bible Believers v. Dearborn County decided less than a month ago in which the court extensively analyzed the heckler's veto doctrine and found the speech could be limited. As to the "confederate flag" cases on which the original panel relied, the dissent from en banc review by O'Scannlain distinguished situations dealing "solely with a symbol that is 'widely regarded as racist and incendiary.'”
In its amended opinion, the panel added three paragraphs that presumably address some of these concerns. The amended opinion now includes:
We recognize that, in certain contexts, limiting speech because of reactions to the speech may give rise to concerns about a “heckler’s veto.” [fn 7] But the language of Tinker and the school setting guides us here. Where speech “for any reason . . . materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others,” school officials may limit the speech. Tinker, 393 U.S. at 513. To require school officials to precisely identify the source of a violent threat before taking readily-available steps to quell the threat would burden officials’ ability to protect the students in their charge—a particularly salient concern in an era of rampant school violence, much of it involving guns, other weapons, or threats on the internet—and run counter to the longstanding directive that there is a distinction between “threats or acts of violence on school premises” and speech that engenders no “substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.” Id. at 508, 514; see also id. at 509, 513.
In the school context, the crucial distinction is the nature of the speech, not the source of it. The cases do not distinguish between “substantial disruption” caused by the speaker and “substantial disruption” caused by the reactions of onlookers or a combination of circumstances. See, e.g., Taylor v. Roswell Indep. Sch. Dist., 713 F.3d 25, 38, 38 n. 11 (10th Cir. 2013) (observing that “Plaintiffs note that most disruptions occurred only because of wrongful behavior of third parties and that no Plaintiffs participated in these activities . . . . This argument might be effective outside the school context, but it ignores the ‘special characteristics of the school environment,’” and that the court “ha[d] not found case law holding that school officials’ ability to limit disruptive expression depends on the blameworthiness of the speaker. To the contrary, the Tinker rule is guided by a school’s need to protect its learning environment and its students, and courts generally inquire only whether the potential for substantial disruption is genuine.” (quoting Tinker, 393 U.S. at 506)); Zamecnik, 636 F.3d at 879–80 (looking to the reactions of onlookers to determine whether the speech could be regulated); Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1272 (11th Cir. 2004) (looking to the reactions of onlookers to determine whether a student’s expression “cause[d] (or [was] likely to cause) a material and substantial disruption”) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Perhaps no cases illustrate this principle more clearly than those involving displays of the Confederate flag in the school context. We respect the American flag, and know that its meaning and its history differ greatly from that of the Confederate flag. Nevertheless, the legal principle that emerges from the Confederate flag cases is that what matters is substantial disruption or a reasonable forecast of substantial disruption, taking into account either the behavior of a speaker—e.g., causing substantial disruption alongside the silent or passive wearing of an emblem—or the reactions of onlookers. Not surprisingly, these cases also arose from efforts to stem racial tension that was disruptive. Like Dariano, the reasoning in these cases is founded on Tinker. See, e.g., Hardwick, 711 F.3d at 437 (Fourth Circuit case upholding school officials’ ban on shirts with labels like “Southern Chicks,” “Dixie Angels,” and “Daddy’s Little Redneck,” and the Confederate flag icon, even though the bearer contended that hers was a “silent, peaceable display” that “even drew positive remarks from some students” and “never caused a disruption” because “school officials could reasonably forecast a disruption because of her shirts” (internal quotation marks omitted)); A.M. ex rel. McAllum v. Cash, 585 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2009) (noting that “[o]ther circuits, applying Tinker, have held that administrators may prohibit the display of the Confederate flag in light of racial hostility and tension at their schools”); Barr v. Lafon, 538 F.3d 554, 567–68 (6th Cir. 2008) (noting the “disruptive potential of the flag in a school where racial tension is high,” and that “[o]ur holding that the school in the circumstances of this case reasonably forecast the disruptive effect of the Confederate flag accords with precedent in our circuit as well as our sister circuits”).[fn8]
Whether these additional paragraphs are sufficient to ameliorate the concerns that might be raised in a petition for certiorari is now the question.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit last week threw a wrench into the November election in Wisconsin by staying an earlier district court ruling and injunction against the state's voter ID law, thus allowing the law to take effect immediately. The problem: some people have already cast absentee ballots without providing ID. More: some 11,800 voters requested absentee ballots before the panel's ruling, and thus under the assumption that they wouldn't have to provide ID. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the director of the state Government Accountability Board is directing clerks to contact voters who requested an absentee ballot and tell them they need to provide an ID. He said that absentee ballots from voters who do not provide IDs won't be counted.
And this says nothing about the inevitable confusion at the polls.
There's another problem, the original one that sparked the litigation in the first place. That is, some 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin, mostly poor and disproportionately racial minorities, lack a qualifying ID for voting, according to U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman, who ruled in an exhaustive opinion last April that the law was unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement.
The Seventh Circuit panel order undoes Judge Adelman's injunction. The panel wrote that
[a]fter [Judge Adelman's] decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury . . . . The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.
While the panel's brief, one-page order is not a final ruling on the merits (that will come "in due course"), it presages the likely final merits ruling.
But the most recent move by the plaintiffs may preempt that. The plaintiffs asked the full en banc Seventh Circuit to review the panel's decision. The full bench would have to act quickly, because the absentee election is already underway.
The Seventh Circuit is the same court that upheld Indiana's voter ID law, later also upheld by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County. (That law, according to the panel last week, is "materially identical" to Wisconsin's law). But Judge Posner (who was on the panel in the Indiana case, but not on the panel in the Wisconsin case) wrote last year that Indiana's voter ID law is "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention," suggesting that his opinion on voter ID changed. We may find out, if the full Seventh Circuit takes up the case.