Wednesday, May 7, 2014
If the defining issue of the United States is inequality, how is the nation's highest Court addressing that issue?
According to Michele Gilman's new article, A Court for the One Percent: How the Supreme Court Contributes to Economic Inequality, forthcoming in the Utah Law Review and available on ssrn, the Court is decidely part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Gilman's article is valuable because it traverses several different doctrinal areas. Obviously, she discusses Citizens United. But - - - refreshingly - - - she argues that "Citizens United is just one piece of a larger problem." She contends that this problem did not begin with the Roberts' Court, as her discussions of Harris v. McCrae, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, and Dandridge v. Williams illustrate. Ultimately, she suggests that the Court stands in the way of addressing inequality because the legislative and policy suggestions that have worked in other "affluent democracies" will be deemed unconstitutional in the United States:
We currently have a Court majority that is not only unsympathetic to inequality arguments, but also seemingly oblivious to (or skeptical of) the connection between government policies and market outcomes. The Court has ruled that it is up to the legislative branch, rather than the Courts, to remedy economic inequality. Yet, the Court has doomed legislative enactments that would ameliorate inequality, such as desegregation plans, campaign finance reforms, and consumer protection laws. Conversely, when legislatures enact policies that tend to worsen economic inequality or magnify its effects, the Court defers, such as school financing laws and voter identification requirements. In short, the Court’s rulings consistently sustain policies that create or maintain economic inequality.
Gilman has some explanations for this state of affairs, but, more importantly, she proposes a proactive five point plan of change. This important article is worth a read.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Judge Lynn Adelman (E.D. Wis.) yesterday struck Wisconsin's voter ID requirement, ruling that it violated both the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling in Frank v. Walker is a wide-ranging, thorough examination of the evidence of the state's interests, the hassles for voters to comply, and the disparate impact on black and Latino voters. The ruling permanently enjoins the state from enforcing its voter ID requirement.
(There are two other cases challenging Wisconsin's voter ID law under the state constitution. They're both at the state supreme court.)
As to the constitutionality of the law, the court applied the Anderson/Burdick balancing test and concluded that the burden of the voter ID requirement outweighed the state's interests. The court said that the state's interests in preventing in-person voter-impersonation fraud, promoting confidence in the integrity of the electoral process, detecting other types of fraud, and promoting orderly election administration and recordkeeping were not supported, or barely supported, by the evidence. On the other hand, the court found that the hassle to individual voters in complying with the law could be substantial.
The principal difference between this case and Crawford v. Marion County, the 2008 case where the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter-ID law, was the evidence of voter burden. Here, as the court carefully recounted in the opinion, there was particular evidence of serious burdens to individual voters. Not so in Crawford.
As to Section 2 of the VRA, the court said that blacks and Latinos more likely lacked qualifying voter ID--that's based just on the numbers--and therefore were disparately impacted in violation of Section 2. The court rejected the state's argument that blacks and Latinos had equal access to voter ID, even if they more likely lacked voter ID in reality; the court said that equal access didn't reflect the Section 2 test. But even if it did, the court said that blacks and Latinos were likely to have a harder time obtaining qualifying voter IDs. Either way, the court said, the voter ID requirement violated Section 2.
The court said it would "schedule expedited proceedings" to hear a claim that a legislative change in the voter ID requirement saved it, and thus to lift the injunction. But the court also said that "given the evidence presented at trial showing that Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to lack an ID, it is difficult to see how an amendment to the photo ID requirement could remove its disproportionate racial impact and discriminatory result."
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The Court's opinion in Schuette v. BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary), clearly upheld Michigan's Proposal 2, enacted as Article I §26 of the Michigan Constitution barring affirmative action in state universities and subdivisions. The plurality opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Chief Justice Roberts also authored a brief concurring opinion. Justice Scalia's concurring opinion was joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Breyer also wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Sotomayor's impassioned dissent was joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Kagan was recused.
The state constitutional amendment was a reaction to the Court's opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), upholding the University of Michigan Law School's use of diversity in admissions. But since Grutter, the Court has been decidely less friendly to affirmative action, as in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Recall that the en banc Sixth Circuit majority had relied upon the so-called "political process" aspect of the Equal Protection Clause which asks whether a majority may vote to amend its constitution to limit the rights of a minority to seek relief, relying on Washington v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982) and Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385 (1969). At oral arguments, the Justices had seemed hostile to that theory.
Justice Kennedy's plurality opinion for the Court carefully rehearses the cases, but it is probably his rhetoric that is most noteworthy:
This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.
As for Justice Scalia's opinion, it admits that the "relentless logic of Hunter and Seattle would point to a similar conclusion in this case" as the Sixth Circuit understood. However, both Hunter and Seattle should be overruled. Justice Breyer, concurring, would distinguish Hunter and Seattle because Schuette "does not involve a reordering of the political process; it does not in fact involve the movement of decisionmaking from one political level to another."
It is Justice Sotomayor's dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg, that displays the most heft. At more than 50 pages and almost as lengthy as all the other opinions combined, Sotomayor's opinion is an extended discussion of equal protection doctrine and theory, as well as the function of judicial review. In her last section, she also addresses the "substantive policy" of affirmative action and the difference it makes.
The stark division among the Justices is clear. Sotomayor writes that "race matters." Scalia reiterates that the constitution is "color-blind." Roberts implies that racial "preferences do more harm than good." And Kennedy invokes a First Amendment right to debate race:
Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and persisting injustice. That history demands that we continue to learn, to listen, and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity. . . . The respondents in this case insist that a difficult question of public policy must be taken from the reach of the voters, and thus removed from the realm of public discussion, dialogue, and debate in an election campaign. Quite in addition to the serious First Amendment implications of that position with respect to any particular election, it is inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy. One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. . . . It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people. These First Amendment dynamics would be disserved if this Court were to say that the question here at issue is beyond the capacity of the voters to debate and then to determine.
Given this passage, perhaps it is not surprisingly that Justice Kennedy does not cite Romer v. Evans - - - which he authored in 1996 - - - in today's plurality opinion in Schuette. In Romer v. Evans, Kennedy had this to say about Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibited the enactment of anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation:
It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance. . . . A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
In its opinion National Legal Services v. India, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the constitutional rights of transgender persons, including the right not to be denominated as either "male" or "female."
The opinion by K.S. Radhakrishnan begins with an invocation of the "trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo" but rather quickly also invokes the cultural roots and importance of the community: "TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts."
The judgment rests on an interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution of India, including Article 14 (equality before law); Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of various grounds, including sex); Article 16 (equality of opportunity in public employment, including sex); Article 19 (including freedom of expression); and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty). The judgment engaged in some originalist reasoning that broadly interpreted "sex" to include sex-stereotyping:
Constitution makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. Biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression ‘sex’ used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male or female.
Given this interpretation, the Court not suprisingly ruled
We, therefore, conclude that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.
The Court has some interesting discussions of dress and grooming as an aspect of gender which included references to US cases and is further discussed here.
The Court also specifically disavowed any relationship between its present judgment in National Legal Services v. India and the controversial opinion Koushal v. NAZ Foundation decided in December in which the Court - - - or as the Court states here "A Division Bench of this Court" reversed the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court that §377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional under the India Constitution and upheld India's sodomy law as constitutional:
we express no opinion on it [Kousal] since we are in these cases concerned with an altogether different issue pertaining to the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community and their gender identity and sexual orientation.
In a separate judgment, A.K. Sikiri did not mention the sodomy decision in Koushal v. Naz Foundation, but the judgment's expansive rhetoric could be read as an implicit disagreement with that decision as well as serving as a further butressing of today's judgment. The concurring opinion elaborated on the importance of TG persons and communities to India's culture. It referenced Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Amartya Sen as providing the "jurisprudential basis for doing justice to the Vulnerable Groups which definitely include TGs." It explicitly stated the "dynamic" and "living character" of the Constitution and its interpretation. It considered judicial review in the context of democracy (including, implicitly, "sexual democracy") and decidedly opined that it is the role of the judiciary to "ensure access to justice to the marginalized section of the society," and that undoubtedly "TGs belong to the unprivileged class which is a marginalized section."
The judgment not only requires the government to recognize a "third gender" and to grant "legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender," but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and "seriously address" various problems.
April 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, April 14, 2014
In the widely anticipated opinion in Henry v. Himes, Judge Timothy Black has ruled that Ohio Const. Art. XV, § 11 and Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01(C) denying legal recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples validly entered in other jurisdictions violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
Recall that Judge Black previously issued an opinion in Obergefell v. Kasich with a similar conclusion, although that opinion was limited to the particular plaintiffs. Judge Black's preliminary injunction ruling in Obergefell was the first post-Windsor decision on same sex marriage, and interestingly used some of Justice Scalia's dissenting language to support his reasoning.
While Obergefell involved a person who was dying, the plaintiffs in Henry are same-sex couples expecting children or with children. The four plaintiff couples, who entered into valid marriages in other jurisdictions, seek to have the names of both parents recorded on their children’s Ohio birth certificates and a declaration that Ohio’s refusal to recognize valid same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. Judge Black relied heavily on his previous rationale in Obergefell, and again found that while marriage is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has not explicitly recognized it as such, and "the balancing approach of intermediate scrutiny is appropriate in this similar instance where Ohio is intruding into – and in fact erasing – Plaintiffs’ already- established marital and family relations." Again, Judge Black footnotes Professor Steve Sanders work on the liberty interest in having one's marriage recognized.
In the equal protection analysis, Judge Black does advance a distinct rationale for "heightened scrutiny" given that the children's birth certificates are involved. He writes that the "Supreme Court has long held that disparate treatment of children based on disapproval of their parents’ status or conduct violates the Equal Protection Clause," citing Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). But, as in Obergefell, he also explicitly found that even if rational basis were applied, the Ohio provisions failed to satisfy it.
On the last page of Judge Black's opinion is the text of a song, "Happy Adoption Day" (1992). For some, this will seem appropriate and celebratory. For others, this will seem indecorous and treacly. Judge Black's previous statements have displeased at least one state representative - - - who has introduced a resolution in the Ohio legislature calling for the House of Representatives of Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In a divided opinion in Korab v. Fink, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld the constitutionality of Hawai'i's health benefits for a certain class of "nonimmigrant aliens" against an equal protection challenge. The court reversed the preliminary injunction entered by the district judge.
There are several layers of complexity in the case. There is the immigration scheme, including a particular one involving specific nations; the health benefits schemes of both the federal government and the state; and the equal protection doctrine applicable to immigrant status fluctuating depending upon whether the government regulation is federal or state.
Judge Margaret McKeown's relatively brief majority opinion does an excellent job of unweaving and weaving these various strands of complexities in 22 pages. As she explains, in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Congress classified "aliens" into three categories for the purpose of federal benefits, including Medicaid: eligible aliens, ineligible aliens, and a third category which allowed state option. The "aliens" at issue are citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who, under the Compact of Free Association (“COFA”) with the United States, may enter the United States and establish residence as a “nonimmigrant. The "COFA aliens" are in the third category of state option. At one point, Hawai'i included coverage for the COFA "nonimmigrants," but with the advent of Basic Health Hawai'i, its 2010 program, the COFA "nonimmigrants" were excluded. It is the COFA "nonimmigrants" who challenge their exclusion from Basic Health Hawai'i on the basis of equal protection.
Given the federal and state interrelationships, the question of the level of scrutiny that should apply is pertinent. As Judge McKeown explains, "states must generally treat lawfully present aliens the same as citizens, and state classifications based on alienage are subject to strict scrutiny review." In contrast, she states, "federal statutes regulating alien classifications are subject to the easier-to-satisfy rational-basis review." What standard should apply to a "hybrid case" such as Basic Health Hawai‘i, in which a state is following a federal direction? Judge McKeown's majority concludes that rational-basis review applies to Basic Health Hawai'i "because Hawai‘i is merely following the federal direction set forth by Congress under the Welfare Reform Act."
Judge Bybee's concurring opinion, slightly longer than the majority opinion he joined, is an extended argument against equal protection doctrine's applicability in favor of a preemption doctrine.
Judge Richard Clifton, who was appointed to the bench from a private practice in Honolulu, argued that the higher level of scrutiny should be applied essentially because it is Hawai'i that is exercising its state power when in makes the choice.
I acknowledge there is something paradoxical and more than a little unfair in my conclusion that the State of Hawai‘i has discriminated against COFA Residents. The state responded to an option given to it by Congress, albeit an option that I don’t think Congress had the power to give. Hawai‘i provided full Medicaid benefits to COFA Residents for many years, entirely out of its own treasury, because the federal government declined to bear any part of that cost. Rather than terminate benefits completely in 2010, Hawai‘i offered the BHH program to COFA Residents, again from its own pocket. The right of COFA Residents to come to Hawai‘i in the first place derives from the Compacts of Free Association that were negotiated and entered into by the federal government. That a disproportionate share of COFA Residents, from Pacific island nations, come to Hawai‘i as compared to the other forty-nine states is hardly a surprise, given basic geography. The decision by the state not to keep paying the full expense of Medicaid benefits for those aliens is not really a surprise, either. In a larger sense, it is the federal government, not the State of Hawai‘i, that should be deemed responsible.
While Judge Clifton's remarks concluding his dissent focus on the paradox in his opinion, his observations also implicitly point to the paradox at the heart of the majority's decision given that the federal scheme gives the state choices - - - and it was the state that chose to exclude certain "nonimmigrants" from the South Pacific.
April 1, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Disability, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 27, 2014
In a review in this week's New Yorker, John Cassidy makes the case that the new book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is one that "nobody interested in a defining issue of our era can afford to ignore."
This defining issue is economic inequality. Piketty's book, translated from the French and published by Harvard University Press, is an examination of the phenomenon as well as a proposal for remediation.
The proposal is a "wealth tax." Perhaps that's a "political nonstarter" as Cassidy suggests and as Piketty seemingly acknowledges. But perhaps it's not.
Friday, March 21, 2014
Following the trend which we most recently discussed here and here, Senior United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, Bernard Friedman, declared the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in his opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder.
At issue was Michigan's state constitutional amendment, Mich. Const. Art. I, § 25, which the court referred to as the Michigan Marriage Amendment, MMA, passed by voter referendum in November 2004. The judge held a trial limiting the issue to whether the MMA "passed rational basis review" under the Fourteenth Amendment and held that it did not because it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The court stated it therefore did not reach the Due Process Clause question.
The state proffered the by now familiar government interests to satisfy the required "legitimate" government interest:
- providing an optimal environment for child rearing;
- proceeding with caution before altering the traditional definition of marriage; and
- upholding tradition and morality.
In evaluating each of these, the judge reached the by now familiar conclusions. Judge Friedman discussed the evidence at trial, holding that there was "no logical connection between banning same- sex marriage and providing children with an 'optimal environment' or achieving 'optimal outcomes;'" that the "wait and see" approach did not satisfy the legitimate government interest standard; and finally that upholding tradition and morality likewise did not satisfy the legitimate government interest standard, citing several of the recent cases that have held likewise.
Taken together, both the Windsor and Loving decisions stand for the proposition that, without some overriding legitimate interest, the state cannot use its domestic relations authority to legislate families out of existence. Having failed to establish such an interest in the context of same-sex marriage, the MMA cannot stand.
The judge also rejected the argument that the MMA's status as a constitutional amendment prompted by voter referendum was relevant, quoting the famous language from the 1943 flag-salute First Amendment case of West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette: the "very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy" and "to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts."
Judge Friedman's decision is closely and carefully reasoned, although it closes with a rhetorical paragraph that labels the opinion "a step in the right direction."
The Judge enjoined the enforcement of the same-sex marriage ban and unlike some other judges, he did not order a stay.
[image: Map of Michigan circa 1836 via]
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Florida Supreme Court Finds Statutory Wrongful Death Damages Cap Violates State Constitution's Equal Protection Clause
Responding to a certified question from the Eleventh Circuit, the Florida Supreme Court's opinion in Estate of McCall v. United States held that the statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages, Fla. Stat. § 766.118, violates the right to equal protection under Article I, Section 2 of the Florida Constitution.
The statute put a cap in medical malpractice cases, providing that
- Noneconomic damages shall not exceed $500,000 per claimant;
- No practitioner shall be liable for more than $500,000 in noneconomic damages, regardless of the number of claimants; and
- The total noneconomic damages recoverable by all claimants from all practitioner defendants under this subsection shall not exceed $1 million in the aggregate.
The Florida Supreme Court's plurality opinion applied the rational basis test to this statutory scheme (given that there were no suspect or quasi-suspect classes or fundamental rights involved). But it nevertheless found that the
statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants. In such circumstances, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same.
The plurality found that the damages cap "bears no rational relationship to a legitimate state objective."
In a subsection tellingly entitled "The Alleged Medical Malpractice Crisis," the plurality rejected the legitimacy of the government interest. It essentially rejected the Report of Governor’s Select Task Force on Healthcare Professional Liability Insurance (Task Force Report), issued in January 2003, on which the Legislation relied. The opinion dismantles specifics of the Report, ultimately concluding that "the finding by the Legislature and the Task Force that Florida was in the midst of a bona fide medical malpractice crisis, threatening the access of Floridians to health care, is dubious and questionable at the very best."
As to the rational relationship of the means chosen to address the government interest, the plurality reasoned that
Even if these conclusions by the Legislature are assumed to be true, and Florida was facing a dangerous risk of physician shortage due to malpractice premiums, we conclude that section 766.118 still violates Florida’s Equal Protection Clause because the available evidence fails to establish a rational relationship between a cap on noneconomic damages and alleviation of the purported crisis.
Finally, the plurality reasoned that
even if a “crisis” existed when section 766.118 was enacted, a crisis is not a permanent condition. Conditions can change, which remove or negate the justification for a law, transforming what may have once been reasonable into arbitrary and irrational legislation.
The disagreement in the concurring opinion found fault with the court's power to "engage in the type of expansive review of the Legislature’s factual and policy findings" although not questioning the "plurality’s excellent scholarship regarding the flaws in the Legislature’s conclusions as to the existence of a medical malpractice crisis." However, the concurring Justices agreed that if there were a crisi, there was not one any longer, and emphasized that "the arbitrary reduction of survivors’ noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases based on the number of survivors lacks a rational relationship to the goal of reducing medical malpractice premiums."
The dissenting opinion stressed the deference due to the legislature in the rational basis test.
As the plurality noted, other courts have similarly found damages caps in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional. Such cases demonstrate that equality claims under state constitutions can prove a potent limit on legislation.
[image: Henri Geoffroy, "Visit day at the Hospital" via]
Monday, March 3, 2014
There have been a spate of federal judges declaring state constitutional or statutory provisions banning recognition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment:
De Leon v. Perry, from the Western District of Texas;
Bostic v. Rainey from the Eastern District of Virginia;
Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky;
Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma;
Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio;
Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah;
Lee v. Orr applicable only to Chicago.
Other than Lee v. Orr, in which the judge was only ruling on an earlier start date for same-sex marriage than the Illinois legislature had declared, the judges in each of these cases relied on Justice Scalia's dissenting opinions.
In "Justice Scalia’s Petard and Same-Sex Marriage," over at CUNY Law Review's "Footnote Forum," I take a closer look at these cases and their relationship to Shakespeare's famous phrase from Hamlet.
March 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, February 28, 2014
In its opinion in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit rejected a claim by students that their constitutional rights were violated when school officials banned their American flag clothing during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Affirming the district judge, the panel applied Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) to the First Amendment claims, distinguishing Tinker:
In contrast to Tinker, in which there was “no evidence whatever of petitioners’ interference, actual or nascent, with the schools’ work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone,” id., there was evidence of nascent and escalating violence at Live Oak. On the morning of May 5, 2010, each of the three students was confronted about their clothing by other students, one of whom approached student M.D. and asked, “Why are you wearing that? Do you not like Mexicans[?]” Before the brunch break, [Principal] Rodriguez learned of the threat of a physical altercation. During the break, Rodriguez was warned about impending violence by a second student. The warnings of violence came, as the district court noted, “in [the] context of ongoing racial tension and gang violence within the school, and after a near-violent altercation had erupted during the prior Cinco de Mayo over the display of an American flag.” Threats issued in the aftermath of the incident were so real that the parents of the students involved in this suit kept them home from school two days later.
Moreover, the school did not "embargo all flag-related clothing," but "distinguished among the students based on the perceived threat level" and allowed "two students to return to class when it became clear that their shirts were unlikely to make them targets of violence."
The court also rejected the students' equal protection claim, which seemed to rest upon viewpoint discrimination, and indeed the court again relied upon Tinker. The court further rejected the facial due process challenge to the school dress code, which prohibited clothing that “indicate[s] gang affiliation, create[s] a safety hazard, or disrupt[s] school activities," finding that it need not be more specific:
It would be unreasonable to require a dress code to anticipate every scenario that might pose a safety risk to students or that might substantially disrupt school activities. Dress codes are not, nor should they be, a school version of the Code of Federal Regulations. It would be equally unreasonable to hold that school officials could not, at a minimum, rely upon the language Tinker gives them.
While school dress codes and their application can raise grave constitutional concerns, the context as the court explains it here seems to warrant the tailored of school officials, American flag or not.
[image: American Flag clothing patch from "Easy Rider" via]
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Judge Orlando Garcia's opinion in DeLeon v. Perry issuing a preliminary injunction against a state constitutional same-sex marriage ban because it is most likely unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment today marks the sixth time in recent weeks that a federal judge has reached such a conclusion.
Indeed, Judge Garcia's opinion relies upon these previous opinions in Bostic v. Rainey from the Eastern District of Virginia, Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky; Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah, as well as upon the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional.
Judge Garcia's 38 page opinion begins with an extensive discussion of the parties, the statutory and state constitutional scheme in Texas barring same sex marriage, and even a discussion of the "national debate on same sex marriage beginning with the Hawai'i Supreme Court's 1993 decision in Baehr v. Lewin. As a preliminary matter, he not only analyzes the standing issue, but also the United States Supreme Court's summary disposition in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), which would seem to have been rendered irrelevant by Windsor.
On the merits - - - or more properly, on the "likelihood to succeed on the merits" prong of the preliminary judgment analysis - - - Judge Garcia's analysis is well-crafted and closely reasoned.
Regarding equal protection, his analysis of the contention that sexual orientation merits heightened scrutiny is well-done, although he ultimately concludes that it is unnecessary to apply heightened scrutiny because "Texas' ban on same-sex marriage fails even under the most deferential rational basis level of review." He concludes that the two government interests that the State proffers as supporting the same sex marriage ban as failing rational basis review. First, the state's desire "to increase the likelihood that a mother and a father will be in charge of childrearing" is reinterpreted simply as childrearing. As such, while the interest may be legitimate, it is not rationally served by banning same-sex marriage. Second, the state's desire "to encourage stable family environments for responsible procreation" is similarly not served. Third, Judge Garcia discusses "tradition," that while it was not explicitly advanced by the State, undergirds many of the State's arguments. Here Judge Garcia finds that the interest is not legitmate.
In his analysis of due process, Judge Garcia, like Judge Allen in Bostic, finds marriage to be a fundamental right. Judge Garcia marshalls the Supreme Court precedent thusly:
The State does not dispute that the right to marry is one of the fundamental rights protected by the United States Constitution. Oral Arg. Tr. p. 37 (arguing Texas marriage law does not violate Plaintiffs' "fundamental" right to marry). See, e.g., Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978) ("[D]ecisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."); United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 446 (1973) (concluding the Court has come to regard marriage as fundamental); Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) ( The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."); Skinner v. Okla. ex. rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942) (noting marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man fundamental to our existence and survival); Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 205, 211 (1888) (characterizing marriage as "the most important relation in life" and as "the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.").
He thus applies strict scrutiny and the same-sex marriage ban fails.
Judge Garcia also considers the failure to recognize an out of state same-sex marriage, as required by Texas law, and subjects this to rational basis, and analogizing to Windsor, finds this also easily fails.The opinion does seemingly address a popular audience, but even here Judge Garcia grounds his rhetoric in precedent:
Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution. Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation bom out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor).
Judge Garcia stayed his opinion, mindful of the stay in Herbert v. Kitchen. Thus until the Fifth Circuit hears the case - - - or another decision - - - same sex marriages will not be occurring in Texas.
[image: map of Texas circa 1866 via]
February 26, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, February 22, 2014
In her very brief opinion and order in Lee v. Orr, United States District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman found that Illinois' same-sex marriage ban - - - already changed by the legislature but not effective until June 1, 2014 because of state constitutional requirements - - - was unconstitutional.
The judge's reasoning was understandably scanty: Not only did the parties' agree that summary judgment was appropriate because there was no disputed issues of fact, but they essentially agreed that there were not disputed issues of law:
There is no dispute here that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and infringes on the plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry. Indeed, the defendant and intervenor have joined in plaintiffs’ motion, with the caveat the defendant David Orr is bound to follow the law in Illinois.
The sticking points were the remedies.
First, and less sticky, was the timing. The judge quoted Martin Luther King for her reasoning to extend previous rulings:
the focus in this case shifts from the “we can’t wait” for terminally ill individuals to “why should we wait” for all gay and lesbian couples that want to marry. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the time is always ripe to do right. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., WHY WE CAN’T WAIT 74 (1964).
Second, and stickier, was the place:
The plaintiffs are asking this Court to strike down a state statute, although they have brought suit solely against the Cook County Clerk. . . . Although this Court finds that the marriage ban for same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause on its face, this finding can only apply to Cook County based upon the posture of the lawsuit.
Absent additional litigation - - - and different lawyering - - - same-sex marriage in Illinois is available in Chicago now and the rest of the state starting June 1.
[image: map of Chicago, circa 1871, via]
Friday, February 14, 2014
Judge Arenda Wright Allen's opinion in Bostic v. Rainey concludes that Virginia's statutory and state constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriages or their recognition violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.
Judge Allen's due process analysis begins by declaring that there "can be no serious doubt that in America the right to marry is a rigorously protected fundamental right" and she therefore subjects Virginia's marriage laws to strict scrutiny. Given this formulation, she easily concludes that the state's proferred interests of tradition, federalism, and "responsible procreation" coupled with "optimal child rearing" are not satisfactory. The analysis often reverts to the language of lesser scrutiny, including this explicit statement regarding the procreation/child-rearing interest:
This rationale fails under the applicable strict scrutiny test as well as a rational-basis review. Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest. However, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.
Virginia’s Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny. . . .
The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia’s citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state’s will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse "responsible procreation"—share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged. The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.
Judge Allen's opinion may be criticized as being longer on rhetoric than on exemplary legal analysis - - - a charge similar to that leveled against Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional, upon which Judge Allen rightly relies. Judge Allen's numerous of invocations of Loving v. Virginia - - - including beginning the opinion with an extensive quote from Mildred Loving - - - have special resonance in Virginia. Yet at times, lofty language veers toward inaccuracy, as when the opinion states that "Our Constitution declares that 'all men' are created equal." (That's the wording of the Declaration of Independence not the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause). Others may contest that there can be "no serious doubt" that marriage is a fundamental right.
Nevertheless, Judge Allen's opinion follows on the heels of four other opinions by federal district judges reaching the same conclusion about their respective state laws and constitutional provisions: Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky; Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah (now stayed).
Judge Allen stayed the injunction against enforcement of the Virginia same-sex marriage ban, pending resolution by the Fourth Circuit.
But recall that the Virginia Attorney General has declared that he will not defend Virginia's same-sex marriage ban, a position that might mean that Judge Allen's opinion never reaches the Fourth Circuit as we analyzed here.
[image: 1848 map of Virginia via]
February 14, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Race, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 30, 2014
NYC's practice of stop and frisk has been controversial in the streets and in the courts. Recall
that in August 2013, Judge Shira Scheindlin found the New York City Police Department's stop and frisk policies unconstitutional as violative of equal protection. Judge Scheindlin's exhaustive opinion in Floyd v. City of New York was accompanied by an extensive order, setting out remedies, including monitoring. By a very brief opinion, Judge Scheindlin's decision was stayed by the Second Circuit - - - and Judge Scheindlin removed. The Second Circuit later reaffirmed its decision, but in more moderate and explanatory tones.
But before the Second Circuit could issue an opinion on the merits, NYC elected a new mayor, who today announced an agreement in Floyd v. City of New York. Mayor Bill deBlasio (pictured below) announced that NYC has asked for a remand of the appeal to the district court, and has agreed to a court-appointed monitor who will serve for three years, overseeing the NYPD’s reform of its stop-and-frisk policy and reporting to the court.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Tenth Circuit Holds Colorado's Campaign Finance Scheme Unconstitutional as a Violation of Equal Protection
In its opinion this week in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, a panel of the Tenth Circuit unanimously held unconstitutional a differential contribution limit in the Colorado campaign finance scheme as violating the Equal Protection Clause.
The scheme, deriving from Colorado's Amendment 27 and statutes, provided that the campaign limit for contributions to candidates who ran in a primary election, even if unopposed, was $200 per person and there was an additional campaign limit of $200 per person for all candidates running in the general election. This meant that a candidate who was a member of a major party holding a primary had a per person limit of $400, while minor party and write-in candidates had a per person limit of only $200.
The panel held that because "the statutory classification affects a fundamental right, the right to political expression" the correct equal protection standard should be a "standard that is at least as rigorous as the standard applied under the First Amendment," and that under standard the classification fails. The panel found that the anti-corruption (or appearance of corruption) governmental interest was "sufficiently important," but the means chosen "are ill-conceived to advance these interests."
The statutory classification might advance the State’s asserted interest if write-ins, unaffiliated candidates, or minor-party nominees were more corruptible (or appeared more corruptible) than their Republican or Democratic opponents. But the Defendants have never made such a suggestion. In the absence of a link between the differing contribution limits and the battle against corruption, the means chosen are not closely drawn to the State’s asserted interest.
Concurring, Judge Gorsuch began by stating:
I confess some uncertainty about the level of scrutiny the Supreme Court wishes us to apply to this contribution limit challenge, but I harbor no question about the outcome we must reach. My colleagues are surely right that, as applied, Colorado’s statutory scheme offends the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, whatever plausible level of scrutiny we might deploy.
Interestingly, both the concurring opinion and the panel majority opinion, authored by Judge Bacharach, clearly rest their analysis on the Equal Protection Clause, and thus do not reach the First Amendment challenge. Nevertheless, First Amendment doctrine and precedent permeate the reasoning. Yet given that the Colorado campaign finance scheme results in such an untenable classification, the conclusion of an equal protection classification seems the right one.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
As we discussed yesterday, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance, as a response the the Court's holding in Shelby v. Holder that section 4(b) of the VRA was unconstitutional.
Tolson argues that while
there are some aspects of the legislation that may displease civil rights organizations, particularly the exemption of voter identification laws from coverage under the new formula, the proposal is a strong start to address the gaping hole in the preclearance regime created by the Court's decision in Shelby County.
But in some respects, she contends, the proposed legislation may go too far.
She argues that the proposed amendments to section 3(c) of the VRA are "alarming because they place a bull's eye squarely on the back of section 3(c)" as well as section 2. She notes that section 3(c) of the VRA is constitutional precisely "because its intentional discrimination requirement is identical to the constitutional standard for establishing violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments."
She concludes that the "legislative focus should be limited to replacing the coverage formula and leaving section 3(c) alone."
Worth a read for anyone considering the proposed amendments to the VRA and the legacy of Shelby v. Holder.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Ninth Circuit Extends Batson's Equal Protection Doctrine Regarding Juror Exclusion to Sexual Orientation and Applies "Heightened" Scrutiny
In its opinion today in SmithKline Beecham Corporation (GSK) v. Abbott Laboratories, a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit extended the equal protection rule and analysis of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) regarding juror exclusions to those based on sexual orientation.
The underlying dispute between the pharmaceutical companies involved HIV medications and during jury selection the attorneys for Abbott Laboratories "used its first peremptory strike against the only self-identified gay member of the venire." The attorneys for GSK sought to initiate a Batson inquiry on the basis of sexual orientation. The Batson analysis first requires a "prima facie" case of intentional discrimination, after which the striking party must offer a neutral reason for the strike, and then, third and last, the court makes a determination whether there has been an equal protection violation.
The district judge allowed the preemptory strike although said she would "reconsider her ruling if Abbott struck other gay men." While the judge advised Abbott's attorney that “it might be the better part of valor” to reveal the basis for his strike, counsel "replied that he would rely on the grounds given by the judge and further explained, 'I don’t think any of the challenge applies. I have no idea whether he is gay or not.'" Apparently he later "added that he could not have engaged in intentional discrimination because this was only his first strike." After a four week trial, the jury returned a "mixed verdict."
In the opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt, the Ninth Circuit held that there was a "prima facie" sufficient to have triggered the Batson inquiry, and using the record before it, then engaged in the second prong of the Batson analysis, finding that Abbott's counsel did not provide a sufficient explanation.
As to the third prong, the Ninth Circuit panel noted that generally attorneys may "exercise their peremptory challenges to remove from the venire any group or class of individuals normally subject to ‘rational basis’ review." It then stated: "Thus, if sexual orientation is subject to rational basis review, Abbott’s strike does not require reversal."
Judge Reinhardt's opinion for the panel concluded that sexual orientation receives "heightened scrutiny" under equal protection. The opinion turned to "the Supreme Court’s most recent case on the relationship between equal protection and classifications based on sexual orientation": United States v. Windsor (2013), holding that Windsor was "dispositive of the question of the appropriate level of scrutiny in this case," even as the Court's majority opinion in Windsor "did not expressly announce the level of scrutiny it applied to the equal protection claim at issue." Judge Reinhardt correctly noted that the Court in Windsor did not apply a presumption of constitutionality or supply reasons for Congressional action in DOMA.
Windsor scrutiny “requires something more than traditional rational basis review.” Windsor requires that when state action discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, we must examine its actual purposes and carefully consider the resulting inequality to ensure that our most fundamental institutions neither send nor reinforce messages of stigma or second-class status. In short, Windsor requires heightened scrutiny.
Thus, the Ninth Circuit's previous precedent applying rational basis to sexual orientation classifications was no longer valid. Applying this heightened scrutiny, the Ninth Circuit found that the peremptory challenge was unconstitutional:
permitting a strike based on sexual orientation would send the false message that gays and lesbians could not be trusted to reason fairly on issues of great import to the community or the nation. Strikes based on preconceived notions of the identities, preferences, and biases of gays and lesbians reinforce and perpetuate these stereotypes.
In sum, the Ninth Circuit's extended Batson to sexual orientation classifications and used the term "heightened scrutiny" to comply with the doctrine that Batson did not apply to classifications that merited rational basis scrutiny.
However, one might be reading too much into the opinion to conclude that the Ninth Circuit has ruled that sexual orientation classifications now merit heightened scrutiny akin to "intermediate scrutiny." Indeed, the Ninth Circuit relies upon the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Windsor which it admits is less than clear about the level of scrutiny - - - and certainly much less clear than the Second Circuit's opinion in Windsor which determined and applied the intermediate level of equal protection scrutiny used in gender/sex classifications.
Instead, it seems that the Ninth Circuit read the "rational basis" exclusion from Batson to be the "mere" rationality test - - - often called the "anything goes" rational basis of Railway Express Agency v. New York (1949) (which the Ninth Circuit panel opinion did not cite) or Fed. Commc’n Comm’n v. Beach Commc’n, Inc. (1993) (which the Ninth Circuit did cite and quote). The "heightened scrutiny" that the Ninth Circuit finds - - - derived from Windsor - - - is akin to the "heightened rational basis" or "rational basis with bite" or "rational basis with teeth" that has become a common feature of equal protection doctrine for sexual orientation classifications. While the Ninth Circuit opinion does not stress "animus," it does discuss Department of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973), including stating that the Ninth Circuit previously "acknowledged that Moreno applied “‘heightened’ scrutiny.”
Certainly, this is an important opinion: it extends Batson to sexual orientation classifications. And it is also important to the litigation between two giant pharmaceutical corporations given that the case was remanded for a new trial. However, it is not a landmark opinion that substantively changes (rather than clarifies or renames) the level of scrutiny for sexual orientation classifications in all equal protection cases.
Monday, January 20, 2014
The New York State Museum has released the only known audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 speech commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The audio was discovered on the "lost technology" of "reel to reel recording" during an ongoing project by the museum to "digitize the thousands of audio and video recordings" in "collections of more than 15 million objects and artifacts."
The audio and other materials area available at the Musuem's website here.
A preview and explanation is in the video below:
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Julie Ebenstein of the ACLU writes on Jurist.org that the dual system of voter registration in Kansas unlawfully denies citizens the right to vote. Ebenstein outlines the Kansas case challenging the dual system under state constitutional provisions, filed last November and now pending in state court.
As we wrote, two states, Arizona and Kansas, adopted a dual system of voter registration in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. In that case, the Court held that the requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. (The NVRA form requires applicants simply to attest to their citizenship, not to provide additional documentation.)
Arizona and Kansas then announced that they would require voters to register separately for state and federal elections. This created a dual system of voter registration: NVRA and state-form registrants before January 1, 2013, can vote in both state and federal elections; but NVRA registrants after January 1, 2013, can vote in only federal elections. (NVRA registrants after that date also can't sign petitions.) Now only state-form registrants who provide the additional proof of citizenship can vote in state elections. State-form registrants who fail to provide the additional proof of citizenship cannot vote at all.
The ACLU and ACLU of Kansas filed suit last November challenging the dual registration system. The complaint, filed in state court, alleges that the system violates state constitutional equal protection by distinguishing between classes of voters in the state, that state officials exceeded their state constitutional authority, and that the system wasn't properly promulgated as a rule or regulation under Kansas law.
January 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Preemption, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)