Monday, October 10, 2016

Federal Judge Extends Florida Voter Registration Because of Hurricane

In an Order in Florida Democratic Party v. Scott, United States District Judge Mark Walker extended the voter registration until Wednesday, October 12, at 5:00pm and also scheduled a hearing for that afternoon for further determinations.

As Judge Walker explained the facts:

Florida’s voter registration deadline for the 2016 election cycle is currently set for Tuesday, October 11, 2016. For aspiring eligible voters, failing to register by that date effectively forecloses the right to vote in the 2016 election. Just five days before that deadline, however, Hurricane Matthew bore down and unleashed its wrath on the State of Florida. Life-threatening winds and rain forced many Floridians to evacuate or, at a minimum, hunker down in shelters or their homes. Like Hurricane Matthew, the voter registration deadline also approached and bore down on the State of Florida. Citing the impending Hurricane, many urged the Governor of Florida, Defendant Rick Scott, to extend the deadline. But Defendant Scott demurred, asserting instead that Floridian’s had other avenues to ensure that their right to vote was protected.

Judge Walker first considered whether the Florida Democratic Party had standing to assert the rights of voters, quickly concluding it had.  Judge Walker next decided that while the second named defendant, Ken Dentzer, as Secretary of State was a proper defendant, Governor Scott was not.  Judge Walker concluded that while Governor Scott had statutory general emergency management powers, this did not include extending voter registration.  Thus, the judge held that Governor Scott has no power in this regard and is not a proper defendant.

Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida 7 October 2016 NASA via
On the merits in the context of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), Judge Walker applied the well-established test of Burdick v. Takushi (1992) regarding challenges to state election laws: courts considering a challenge to state election laws “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 plaintiff’s rights.’” 
Judge Walker concluded there was a severe burden on voting rights.  He noted that Florida's statutory framework includes no provision that extends the voter registration in an emergency.  Given the hurricane, "Florida’s statutory framework completely disenfranchises thousands of voters, and amounts to a severe burden on the right to vote."  A severe burden warrants strict scrutiny.  Judge Walker concluded that even if Florida could articulate a compelling state interest - - - adding in parenthesis ("and this Court doubts that it can") - - - it "is nonsensical to argue that it is narrowly tailored to that interest."  Further, even if more lenient scrutiny was afforded, Florida's statutory scheme would be unconstitutional.

Even assuming that Florida’s statutory framework was subject to a more flexible Anderson–Burdick test, it still would be unconstitutional. In no way could Defendants argue that there is some sort of limitation that requires them to burden the constitutional rights of aspiring eligible voters. Many other states, for example, either extended their voting registration deadlines in the wake of Hurricane Matthew or already allow voter registration on Election Day.  There is no reason Florida could not do the same. In so ruling, this Court is not suggesting that Florida has to allow voter registration up to Election Day. Rather, it simply holds that the burden on the State of Florida in extending voter registration is, at best de minimis. . . .

Finally, Florida’s statutory framework is unconstitutional even if rational basis review applied (which it does not). Quite simply, it is wholly irrational in this instance for Florida to refuse to extend the voter registration deadline when the state already allows the Governor to suspend or move the election date due to an unforeseen emergency.

[citations omitted].

    After finding that the TRO criteria supported the restraining order, Judge Walker added that the order was necessary state-wide because "Hurricane Matthew’s effects are not circumscribed to one region of the state." He reasoned that it "would be grossly inappropriate, for ex- ample, to hold that aspiring eligible voters in Jacksonville could register later than those in Pensacola."  

Therefore, this Order holds that Florida’s current statutory framework is unconstitutional. That unconstitutionality is not limited to those in the areas most affected by Hurricane Matthew. It extends to the entire State of Florida.

Thus, Floridians have at least one additional day to register to vote for the November 9 election.


In a brief Order after the hearing on October 12, Judge Walker granted the preliminary injunction "for the same reasons" articulated in the TRO order and extended the deadline to Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

October 10, 2016 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Eleventh Amendment, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Is New York's Loitering for Prostitution Statute Unconstitutional?

In a nearly 100 page complaint filed in the federal court in D.H. v. City of New York, the plaintiffs argue that New York's Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, NY Penal Code § 240.37[2], is unconstitutional on its face and as applied.  Represented by The Legal Aid Society, the central constitutional claims are that the statute is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause and that its enforcement violates First Amendment rights to expression, Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and Fourth Amendment rights.

The intersections and distinctions between vagueness under the Due Process Clause and overbreadth under the First Amendment were elucidated by the United States Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010) and the complaint in D.H. might serve as a textbook example of these issues.  Essentially, the complaint alleges that the NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] , does not provide people with adequate notice of the conduct they should avoid to preclude arrest and results in the inclusion of First Amendment protected speech, expressive conduct, and association.  Further, these lack of statutory guidelines have meant that law enforcement actions under the statute have been arbitrary as well as discriminatory on the basis of classifications involving race, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity.

In addition to the statutory arguments, plaintiffs allege that the NYPD guidelines and practices have failed to remedy the problems and have in fact exacerbated them.  One central allegation regards attire:

Furthermore, the purported guidance provided in the NYPD Patrol Guide is equally vague and otherwise flawed, thereby increasing arbitrary enforcement. For instance, the NYPD Patrol Guide instructs officers that an arrestee’s “clothing” is “pertinent” to the probable cause inquiry. At the same time, the NYPD Patrol Guide does not provide any objective criteria regarding what types of attire may or may not have probative value for purposes of establishing probable cause, thus encouraging officers to make arrests based on individual, subjective opinions regarding what clothing someone who might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” would wear.    In pre-printed affidavits provided by prosecutors (also referred to as supporting depositions), which prompt the arresting officer to describe “revealing” or “provocative” clothing, officers often respond by citing a wide range of innocuous attire, such as “jeans,” a “black pea coat” or a pair of leggings.

[¶ 54].  The "black pea coat" as grounds supporting a solicitation for prostitution charge attracted attention in 2013 when a judge dismissed a charge which was based on the defendant "wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes."  

The unconstitutional inequality in the application of NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] is analogous to the equal protection problems in New York City's practice of stop and frisk.  Recall that a federal judge found NYC's practices violated equal protection in her opinion in Floyd v. City of New York, later stayed - - - and thereafter clarified - - - by the Second Circuit, followed by the City's new administration agreeing with the decision and abandoning the appeals.  One of the complaint's pendent state law claims is a violation of the city's own prohibition of bias-based profiling, NYC Admin. Code §14-151 (passed in 2013 by City Council overriding the then-mayor's veto).

Loitering statutes in general, and more specifically loitering (and even soliciting) for "criminal sex" statutes, whether that sex is criminalized because it is commercial, public, or "unnatural" (as in previous sodomy prohibitions), have always been constitutionally problematic.  And the use of dress or appearance to establish "probable cause" or to constitute elements of a crime are constitutionally suspect. It will be interesting to see whether or not the City defends the action, and if it does, how vigorously.


 [image: Moulin Rouge by Toulouse Latrec via]



October 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Suspended

In its 50 page opinion the Alabama Court of the Judiciary has suspended (former) Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his elected term on the Alabama Supreme Court. 

We've previously discussed the details of the judicial complaint and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.  In short, Moore was charged with violations of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for his conduct in resisting same-sex marriage, involving federal court decisions of 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; and Obergefell v. Hodges, decided by the United States Supreme Court and requiring states to grant same-sex marriages.  Chief Justice Moore's own rulings and orders essentially stated these federal court rulings did not apply in Alabama.

The Court of the Judiciary found that Moore lacked judicial integrity in numerous instances.  For example, regarding Moore's January 2016 Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples, the Court found that it was "incomplete, misleading, and manipulative," and intentionally failed to include binding federal authority, the clear purpose of which was to order and direct "probate judges" - - - most of whom are not admitted to practice law - - - not to comply with federal law.  This is a clear problem under Cooper v. Aaron, which Moore knew.

The Court found that the proper sanction was removal of Moore from office without pay for the remainder of his term. (Terms of office are 6 years; Moore was elected to office in 2013).  This is not the first time Moore has been removed from office; he was also removed in 2003, but was re-elected ten years later.  This time, however, Moore will be over the age-cap for the Alabama judiciary by the time his suspension expires.

Moore can appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court - - - the very court from which he sat and has been suspended.  He not doubt will.





September 30, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

SCOTUS ConLaw Cases Preview for 2016-17 Term

The United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.

Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.


The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Virginia concededly did consider race in the redistricting, but the more precise issue is an interpretation under current doctrine regarding whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court is faulted for requiring an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race. The petitioners argue that “where a legislature intentionally assigns voters to districts according to a fixed, nonnegotiable racial threshold, “strict scrutiny cannot be avoided simply by demonstrating that the shape and location of the districts can rationally be explained by reference to some districting principle other than race.” If it were other-wise, they argue, even the most egregious race-based districting schemes would escape constitutional scrutiny. In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation. The plaintiff originally argued that the congressional map drawn by the NC Assembly in 2011 violated the Equal Protection Clause in two districts by making race a predominant factor and by not narrowly tailoring the districts to any compelling interest. North Carolina argues that the conclusion of racial predominance is incorrect and that it need not show that racial considerations were “actually necessary” as opposed to “having good reasons” under the Voting Rights Act. The North Carolina districts have been long controversial; a good timeline is here.

In another Equal Protection Clause case, the classification is sex rather than race.  In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment. The United States argues that because the context is citizenship, only rational basis scrutiny is appropriate. This issue has been before the Court before. The last time was 2011 in Flores-Villar v. United States when the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" upheld the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the differential residency requirement satisfied equal protection. In Flores-Villar, Kagan was recused. The Court hearing Morales-Santana, scheduled for oral argument November 9, will also seemingly be only eight Justices, but this time including Kagan.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. It is concededly more expansive/restrictive than the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment as the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision. Trinity Lutheran argues that the Blaine Amendment violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, with the Eighth Circuit siding with the state of Missouri.

There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution.  Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror.  Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?

Finally - - - at least for now - - - the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute.  Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.

We will be updating this post as the Court adds more cases to its docket.

UPDATE September 29, 2016:  The Court granted certiorari to two important First Amendment cases.

September 26, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Religion, Sixth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Daily Video: Loving The Movie

The official trailer for the movie, Loving, based on Loving v. Virginia (1967) and due to be released November 4, is available:



The film has already received some positive reviews including from audiences at the Cannes Film Festival.

The case is always a popular read with ConLaw students and the film will certainly only accentuate that interest. 

The trailer includes reference to the United States Supreme Court case, but it is best offered to students as a supplement on the course website rather than as precious minutes of class time.

September 19, 2016 in Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Race, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ninth Circuit: Shackling Pregnant Woman During Labor *Might* Be Unconstitutional

Reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Maricopa County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio held that shackling a pregnant woman while she gives birth might rise to a constitutional violation:

We are presented with an important and complex issue of first impression in our circuit: whether the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement officers to restrain a female inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or during postpartum recovery. We hold today that in this case, the answer to that question depends on factual disputes a properly instructed jury must resolve.

Ms. Mediola-Martinez was 6 months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and unconstitutionally detained:   "Because she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, she was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13- 3961(A)(5)," before the Ninth Circuit "later ruled it unconstitutional. See Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772, 792 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert denied, 135 S. Ct. 2046 (2015)." 

Ms. Mediola-Martinez went into early labor about two months later.  During the actual C-section procedure, she was not restrained.  However, before the procedure when she was "in active labor" and during the postpartum recovery, she was restrained.  She had plead guilty a few days before the birth and was released on a sentence of time-served a few days after.

The Ninth Circuit panel acknowledged that the weight of precedent and evidence decries the practice of shackling pregnant women in its discussion of whether the practice is a "sufficiently serious deprivation" of medical care posing a substantial risk of serious harm and thus constitutes an Eighth Amendment claim.  Additionally, the panel held that she had sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference.  A jury, the court held, should consider this claim.

The Ninth Circuit was not so welcoming to the Equal Protection Clause claim.  Mediola-Martinez argued that the county's restraint policy discriminated on the basis of race against Mexican-Americans.  But as the court noted, she needed to show that the "Restraint Policy not only had a discriminatory impact, but that it was enacted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against members of a protected class."  The "offensive quotes" of Sheriff Arpaio were not sufficient to prove intent:  "Even if those hearsay statements were admissible, however, they do not mention the Restraint Policy and do not otherwise lead to any inference that Sheriff Arpaio’s 2006 Restraint Policy was promulgated to discriminate against Mexican nationals."  Likewise, discriminatory intent could not be inferred from the general population statistics; there needs to be a "gross" statistical disparity to raise the specter of intent.

The court was cautious but clear:

Crafting a restraint policy that balances safety concerns with the inmates’ medical needs is equally challenging. But it is not impossible. And we leave it to a jury to decide whether the risk the Maricopa County Restraint Policy posed to Mendiola-Martinez was justified, or whether the County Defendants went a step too far.

Or perhaps several steps?


image: "Birth Room" via



September 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Panel Denies Stays of Texas Executions by Pentobarbital

In its opinion in Wood v. Collier, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the panel and rejected the claims of death row inmates that Texas is obliged by the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law to re-test the execution drug - - -a single, five-gram dose of pentobarbital - - -  to assure it does not present a high risk of unnecessary pain.

Pentobarbital_DOJThe identity and sources of drugs to accomplish "lethal injection" has been much litigated, including the Court's 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, rejecting an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection cocktail. As this Fifth Circuit opinion notes:

Texas originally used pentobarbital purchased from a pharmaceutical firm in its executions. However in 2011, Lundbeck, the Danish pharmaceutical firm that produces manufactured pentobarbital, refused to supply the drug to states that execute by lethal injection.In response, in September 2013, Texas began purchasing pentobarbital compounded by pharmacies.Texas alleges, and Appellants do not dispute, that Texas has used compounded pentobarbital to execute thirty- two prisoners since 2013 without issue.

Yet in June, Texas agreed to re-test the pentobarbital for a death sentenced inmate, mooting his civil action.  The inmates here argue that this settlement essentially substantiates their Eighth Amendment claim and creates an Equal Protection Clause claim.  The court disagreed:

However one kneads the protean language of equal protection jurisprudence, the inescapable reality is that these prisoners have not demonstrated that a failure to retest brings the risk of unnecessary pain forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. Attempting to bridge this shortfall in their submission with equal protection language, while creative, brings an argument that is ultimately no more than word play.

In short, the "strategic decision" of Texas to re-test the drug for one inmate is irrelevant for the others, especially "in the context of an ever-changing array of suits attacking its use of capital punishment from all angles."


September 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

EnBanc Ninth Circuit Rejects Equal Protection Challenge to Tucson's City Council Election Scheme

In its en banc opinion in Public Integrity Alliance v. City of Tucson, the Ninth Circuit held that Tucson's "hybrid system" for electing members of its city council does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.  The staff summary succinctly describes this hybrid system:

Tucson is divided into six wards of approximately equal population, and each ward is allotted one seat on the six- member city council. Council members are elected through a hybrid system involving a ward-level partisan primary election and an at-large partisan general election. The top-vote getter from each party eligible for inclusion on the ward- level primary ballot advances to an at-large general election where she competes against the other candidates nominated from the same ward. In the general election, every Tucson voter may vote for one candidate from each ward that held a primary.

Tucson-logoImportantly, once elected, the city council members represent the entire city.  The challenge to this system rested upon a denial on the one-person one-vote principle in equal protection doctrine.  The challenger Public Integrity argued that either an entirely ward-based system or an entirely at-large system would be constitutional, but the hybrid combination resulted in For the challenger, the hybrid system means that Tucson voters are denied the right to participate in the primary elections for all but one of their representatives. 

The court noted that although primary elections are "indisputably" state action subject to the same constitutional constraints as general elections, this dis not mean that "primaries and general elections must be identically structured and administered." The court thus rejected the challenger's contention that Gray v. Sanders (1963) mandated that the primary and general election use the same geographical units.  Instead, the court applied the balancing test of Burdick v. Takushi (1992) for less than "severe restrictions."  (Recall that in Burdick, the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting). The Ninth Circuit here found Tucson's restrictions minimal and found they were justified by Tucson's "important" interests including to "promote local knowledge and legitimacy, geographic diversity, and city-wide representation on the city council."  

Eleven (of the 29) active judges of the Ninth Circuit participated in this en banc opinion, authored by Judge Marsha Berzon, and affirming the district judge.  Judge Berzon's relatively brief and straightforward opinion provoked no dissenting or concurring opinions.  It does overrule a previous Ninth Circuit case decided in 1994 on the basis that it articulated a different standard than that required by Burdick.  Perhaps the clearest message from the court is that it deferred to a "careful longstanding choice" that is a "product of our democratic federalism" allowing experimentation even where "the best solution is far from clear."

September 3, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

United States Supreme Court Stays Fourth Circuit Order in Transgender Bathroom Case

The Court today issued a stay in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board, the case from the Fourth Circuit concluding that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination,  20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity.  As we discussed,while the constitutional issues are not "front and center," the case implicates both the constitutional power of Executive branch agencies, federalism, and Equal Protection.

The stay opinion divides the Court, with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissenting without opinion. 

Justice Breyer - - - the crucial vote for the majority - - - writes separately to concur stating that he votes to grant the stay "as a courtesy" joining the four other Justices to "preserve the status quo (as of the time the Court of Appeals made its decision)," meaning presumably, before the Fourth Circuit rendered its decision.


[Caricature image of Justice Breyer by Donkey Hotey via]

August 3, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Gender, Separation of Powers, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fourth Circuit Enjoins North Carolina's Voting Amendments as Discriminatory

In its extensive opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory, the Fourth Circuit has permanently enjoined the implementation of North Carolina SL 2013-381’s photo ID requirement and changes to early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration.  The Voter Information Verification Act, the Fourth Circuit concluded, made a racial classification although it seemed neutral, reasoning that

on the day after the Supreme Court issued Shelby County v. Holder (2013), eliminating preclearance obligations, a leader of the party that newly dominated the legislature (and the party that rarely enjoyed African American support) announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an “omnibus” election law. Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.


In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.

The Fourth Circuit concluded that the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act violated both the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and §2 of the Voting Rights Act.  For both, the hurdle was finding the legislature acted with racially discriminatory intent.  Most of the opinion is devoted to this discussion. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district judge on this basis, writing that the judge seemed "to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," and ignoring "critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina."

In the Equal Protection analysis, the Fourth Circuit applied the well-established requirement of racial intent (as well as effects) from Washington v. Davis. In considering whether the seemingly-neutral voting requirements were enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” their discriminatory effect, citing Pers. Adm’r of Mass. v. Feeney (1979), the Fourth Circuit discussed the factors of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (1977):

In Arlington Heights, the Court set forth a nonexhaustive list of factors to consider in making this sensitive inquiry. These include: “[t]he historical background of the [challenged] decision”; “[t]he specific sequence of events leading up to the challenged decision”; “[d]epartures from normal procedural sequence”; the legislative history of the decision; and of course, the disproportionate “impact of the official action -- whether it bears more heavily on one race than another.”

The Fourth Circuit then discussed these factors individually.  Importantly, on the sequence of events, the opinion stated that 

the General Assembly’s eagerness to, at the historic moment of Shelby County’s issuance, rush through the legislative process the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow -- bespeaks a certain purpose. Although this factor, as with the other Arlington Heights factors, is not dispositive on its own, it provides another compelling piece of the puzzle of the General Assembly’s motivation.

But, as the Fourth Circuit noted - - - and for which it faulted the district court - - - the factors should not be considered in isolation. Instead, Arlington Heights requires a totality of circumstances analysis. 

The Fourth Circuit having found that race was a factor in the enactment of the Voter Information Verification Act (emphasis in original), the burden shifted to the state to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without this factor, by assessing "whether a law would have been enacted without a racially discriminatory motive by considering the substantiality of the state’s proffered non-racial interest and how well the law furthers that interest." The Fourth Circuit faulted the district judge for conducting this analysis through a "rational-basis-like lens," when such deference is "wholly inappropriate." 

The Fourth Circuit discussed each challenged provision of the Voter Information Verification Act. On the voter identification requirement specifically, the Fourth Circuit found Crawford largely inapplicable given that Crawford did not involve even an allegation of intentional race discrimination. It found that while preventing voter fraud is a valid government interest, the means chosen are both too narrow and too broad.  Similarly, the Fourth Circuit found that the other provisions could not satisfy the standard:

In sum, the array of electoral “reforms” the General Assembly pursued in SL 2013-381 were not tailored to achieve its purported justifications, a number of which were in all events insubstantial. In many ways, the challenged provisions in SL 2013-381 constitute solutions in search of a problem. The only clear factor linking these various “reforms” is their impact on African American voters. The record thus makes obvious that the “problem” the majority in the General Assembly sought to remedy was emerging support for the minority party. Identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote was an easy and effective way to do so.

The Fourth Circuit panel was unanimous to this point, but divided as to the relief.  Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, wrote the panel's opinion except to Part V.B., from which she dissented.  Her dissent is from a permanent injunction as to the photo identification requirement given that the North Carolina legislature passed a "reasonable impediment exception" from that requirement.  She would"only temporarily enjoin the photo ID requirement and remand the case to the district court to determine if, in practice, the exception fully remedies the discriminatory requirement or if a permanent injunction is necessary."

The dissenting point is a small one.  The Fourth Circuit panel unanimously held that the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act violates both the Equal Protection Clause and §2 of the Voting Rights Act.


 [image via]

July 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Alaska Supreme Court Holds Parental Notification Law Violates State Constitution's Equal Protection Clause

In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. State of Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court held unconstitutional the 2010 voter-enacted Parental Notification Law which required 48-hour advance parental notice before a physician may terminate a minor’s pregnancy, but importantly not before a physician could provide other care.  The court's majority opinion, authored by Justice Daniel Winfree, found that the Parental Notification Law violates the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee by unjustifiably burdening the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than applying equally to all pregnant minors.

Although explicitly under the state constitution, the court's equal protection analysis is a familiar one and executed with great precision.  The court first identifies the classification - - - pregnant minors seeking termination and pregnant minors seeking to carry to term - - - and then identifies the level of scrutiny; because the right at stake is the fundamental one of reproductive choice is strict scrutiny. Applying the level of scrutiny, the court then examined the state's interests and the means chosen to effectuate those interests.

The court noted that to "justify differently burdening fundamental privacy rights, the State’s interests in doing so must be compelling," and that the State asserts two main interests as justifying the Notification Law’s disparate treatment of pregnant minors: (1) “aiding parents to fulfill their parental responsibilities” and (2) “protecting minors from their immaturity.” The court accepted that these were compelling interests, even as it refined the immaturity interest because "immaturity in and of itself is not a harm."  Instead, the court defined the interest in “protecting minors from their immaturity”  as "protecting minors from specific pitfalls and dangers to which their immaturity makes them especially susceptible" which in this case would be risks to mental and physical health and from sexual abuse.

The problem arose - - - as it so often does in equal protection - - - with the "fit" between the state's chosen means to effectuate its interests.  As to the parental responsibility interest:

We conclude that vindicating the State’s compelling interest in encouraging parental involvement in minors’ pregnancy-related decisions does not support the Notification Law’s disparate treatment of the two classes of pregnant minors. Parents do have an “important ‘guiding role’ to play in the upbringing of their children.” We have said that “it is the right and duty, privilege and burden, of all parents to involve themselves in their children’s lives; to provide their children with emotional, physical, and material support; and to instill in their children ‘moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship.’ ” But as the State acknowledged at oral argument, this must be true for all pregnant minors’ parents, not just those whose daughters are considering termination.

[footnotes omitted; emphasis added].  Similarly, regarding the minor's immaturity, the court concluded that the statute suffered from being

under-inclusive because the governmental interests asserted in this case are implicated for all pregnant minors — as they face reproductive choices and as they live with their decisions — and the asserted justifications for disparate treatment based upon a minor’s actual reproductive choice are unconvincing.

One of the complicating legal issues of the case was the effect of a previous decision regarding a parental consent law, which the concurring opinion argued precluded an equal protection analysis.  Instead, the concurring opinion argued that the 2010 statute was unconstitutional under the state constitution's privacy provision.

One of the five Justices of the Alaska Supreme Court dissented, arguing that the 2010 Parental Notification law violated neither equal protection nor privacy and was thus constitutional.

As the majority opinion notes, other states have similarly found state constitutional infirmities with parental notification laws. The Alaska opinion, however, is particularly well-reasoned and applicable to many state constitutions.

Alaska skies
Alaska Skies mural in Alaska Supreme Court via




July 22, 2016 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Agency Power, Executive Power, and Gender Equality in School Bathrooms

While the constitutional issues are not front and center in the controversies and litigation over gender identity and school bathroom access, the disputes certainly implicate constitutional issues of equal protection, federalism, unconstitutional conditions, and executive/agency as well as judicial powers.

A Virginia school board has filed a stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari to the Fourth Circuit's opinion in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board.  In G.G., a divided panel, reversing the senior district judge, concluded that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination,  20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity. (The senior district judge had not reached the Equal Protection claim, so it was not before the Fourth Circuit.)  In construing Title IX, the Fourth Circuit relied upon a January 7, 2015 opinion letter from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, with a similar conclusion.  The Fourth Circuit accorded deference to the agency interpretation of Title IX under Auer v. Robbins (1997), because the relevant regulation was ambiguous - - - perhaps not in the plain meaning, but in its application:

Although the regulation may refer unambiguously to males and females, it is silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms. We conclude that the regulation is susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading— determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia—and the Department’s interpretation—determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity. [citation omitted].  It is not clear to us how the regulation would apply in a number of situations—even under the Board’s own “biological gender” formulation. For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.

The Fourth Circuit panel rejected G.G.'s request to have the case reassigned to another district judge, but did reverse, vacate, and remand the district court's order dismissing the complaint.  The Fourth Circuit panel, in an unpublished opinion on July 12, denied the school board's motion for a stay pending appeal, again with one dissent. 

The stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari argues that the Fourth Circuit's opinion in an "extreme example" of judicial deference to an administrative agency and is the "perfect vehicle" for the Court's reconsideration of Auer v. Robbins (1997).  The motion notes that several Justices have signaled such a reconsideration might be warranted, notably the late Justice Scalia, as well as Alito and Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts.  The application also argues that the DOE and DOJ have "seized momentum" and issued further instructions (citing a May 13 DOE  "Dear Colleagues" Letter) which would further solidify Auer deference, making action by the Court necessary.

Meanwhile, thirteen states have filed a complaint and application for preliminary injunction in Texas, based on the same letter:

On May 13, 2016, following years of incremental preambles (“guidances,” “interpretations,” and the like), Defendants informed the nation’s schools that they must immediately allow students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers of the student’s choosing, or risk losing Title IX-linked funding. And employers that refuse to permit employees to utilize the intimate areas of their choice face legal liability under Title VII. These new mandates, putting the federal government in the unprecedented position of policing public school property and facilities, inter alia, run roughshod over clear lines of authority, local policies, and unambiguous federal law.

The central challenge is failure to conform with the Administrative Procedure Act, including notice and comment for rule-making.  However, the complaint also alleges that the federal government defendants "violated the Spending Clause" by engaging in "unconstitutional coercion" by "economic dragooning."  The complaint relies on that portion of the "Obamacare" case, NFIB v. Sebelius, in which a plurality found constitutional issues with the medicaid expansion program.
This portion of the complaint is less than 2 pages (in a 39 page document) and is cursory at best, although perhaps these arguments have the potential to be developed.
In short, it seems issues of gender-identity will be the subject of much litigation, perhaps even at the United States Supreme Court, in the next few years.

[image via]

July 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daily Read: When Justices Scalia and Kennedy Referenced Donald Trump

Justice Ginsburg's comments about presidential candidate Donald Trump have caused controversy and invited comparisons with the late Justice Scalia's remarks and relationship with a sitting Vice President and his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving the VP which Scalia himself described as "heroic" in an interview. (Amy Howe for SCOTUSBlog has a great round-up of commentary on the controversy; Howard Bashman also has a good list).

But interestingly, Justice Scalia - - - as well as Justice Kennedy - - - broached the possibility of a Donald Trump presidential candidacy more than 25 years ago, in the 1989 oral arguments in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce.  The Court in Austin upheld the constitutionality of a Michigan statute that prohibited corporations, excluding media corporations, from using general treasury funds for independent expenditures in connection with state candidate elections, rejecting both First Amendment and Equal Protection claims, and recognizing a government interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in the political arena from large corporate treasuries.  Both Scalia and Kennedy dissented.  Twenty years later, the Court, 5-4, with Kennedy authoring the opinion and Scalia joining, overruled Austin in the controversial 2010 Citizens United v. FEC

Near the beginning of the Austin oral arguments, Justice Scalia uses Donald Trump, alluding to the wealth that would allow him to self-finance a campaign, as a comparison to corporate financing:

General Caruso, why is there a greater risk to the political process from an independent political expenditure by a family corporation, closely held corporation, eight family members, and they want to spend the corporation's money for a particular candidate whom they think will favor their business.

That... that is prohibited by this.

But if Donald Trump wants to come in and spend as much money as he likes, that is perfectly all right.

Why wouldn't it make much more sense, if you are worried about the problem, to establish an amount of money as the criterion?

A few moments later, Kennedy follows:

All right.

Then it... it seems to me that Justice Scalia's question indicates that you have to give a specific reason why a corporation of that type presents more [of] a danger than Donald Trump, and I didn't really hear the answer to that question.

Louis J. Caruso:  Well, the thing of it is--

Anthony M. Kennedy:  And it has to be answered in the terms of a compelling interest that is narrowly tailored.

 Did Justice Kennedy actually call Donald Trump a "danger" in 1989?


h/t Navid Khazanei

July 14, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Daily Read: Black Lives Matter, Respectability Politics, and News Reporting

In a just-published article, Black Lives Matter and Respectability Politics in Local News Accounts of Officer-Involved Civilian Deaths: An Early Empirical Assessment, 2016 Wisconsin Law Review 541, ConLawProf Osagie K. Obasogie (pictured below) and UC Hastings law student Zachary Newman present a compelling discussion of how news media - - - and by extension the general public - - - engage in the politics of respectability with regard to allegations of police misconduct, focusing on the conduct or character of the victim. 

The authors argue that although " sustained media attention to Black Lives Matter may lead some to conclude that journalists have become more sensitive to how respectability politics can lead to inaccurate reporting and encourage more balanced descriptions of these events, our qualitative assessment of the selected data suggests that journalists’ reporting of these incidents continues to reflect a troubling respectability politics that minimizes the lives lost and overstates the legitimacy of police use of deadly force."

In looking at news reports from 2013 until July 2015, the authors conclude that

overall, as a qualitative matter, there is a notable discursive consistency across pre– and post–Black Lives Matter reporting on officer-involved killings, suggesting that the movement’s concerns over race and respectability are not reflected in journalists’ accounts. This overall finding is empirically supported by three persistent themes throughout the data: (1) a strong commitment to colorblindness in discussing the race of the parties involved, (2) the dominance of the police perspective in reporting these incidents, and (3) continued use of criminalizing language unrelated to the incident itself to characterize the victim’s respectability.

The authors insights could be extended to more recent events, including those of this past week, which will be sure to still be on the minds of law students in our classes and  this article could be a great introductory reading for 1L students.

Additionally, more must-read discussions of respectability politics including the events of the last week is over at Race and the Law Prof Blog, including Atiba Ellis's, On Respectability, the Dallas Shootings, #BlackLivesMatter, and Reasoned Discourse which links to that blog's online symposium on Respectability Politics.

July 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)

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 Carlton Reeves via

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.

[citations omitted].

 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

United States Supreme Court in Fisher II: UT Affirmative Action Plan Constitutional

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."




June 23, 2016 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Congressional Reps Lack Standing to Challenge Districting Plan

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.

May 23, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Death Row Inmate on Batson Racial Challenge to Jury Selection

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.

FosterImageAlmost 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.


May 23, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Charged with Judicial Misconduct Based on Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

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":

 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.



video via

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

Update: DOJ Sends Letter to North Carolina re: Anti-LGBT HB2

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.


May 4, 2016 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)