Monday, March 21, 2016

Racial Redistricting, District Packing, and an Outsider's Interests in Reelection

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Whittman v. Personhuballah, the case testing whether a state's move to pack black voters into a congressional district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, but with the effect of diluting black voters' influence, violates equal protection.

Our preview is here.

Not surprisingly, the justices spent a good deal of time on standing, in particular, whether Representative Forbes, a congressman who had a lock on reelection in District 4, had standing to challenge the lower court's redistricting plan, because it made it tougher for him to get reelected in District 4. (Indeed, he's running in District 2, where he has a better chance of election, for this reason.) Justices Sotomayor and Kagan seemed to take strong positions that Forbes lacked standing; Justice Breyer staked out an only somewhat weaker position. The conservatives, along with Justice Kennedy, seemed to lean the other way.

On the merits, Justice Kagan put the finest point on the challengers' theory: If a legislature redistricts based malign racial intent, but the map also perfectly promotes acceptable political interests, is it subject to strict scrutiny? Michael Carvin, attorney for the challengers, said no. Justice Kagan went right to the point: "that sounds to me as though it's a harmless error rule for racial discrimination. And we've never had a harmless error rule for racial discrimination."

Chief Justice Roberts put a similar question to all the attorneys, but his hypo did not include any other evidence of racial motive: "If race and partisanship are co-extensive, then . . . which one predominates?" Opponents of the legislature's map had to concede that it'd be a tie; and under a tie, race could not predominate.

The difference between Justice Kagan's hypo and Chief Justice Roberts's hypo is the evidence of the 55-percent BVAP floor. But Chief Justice Roberts didn't seem inclined to look to that evidence to show that race predominated with the legislature. He asked: How do we determine the intent of the legislature? By 10 percent say-so? By 80 percent say-so? What if most of the legislators were only interested in protecting their own party, even though the sponsor of the legislature's redistricting plan used a 55-percent-BVAP (race-based) floor? If the direct evidence of a 55-percent-BVAP floor doesn't persuade that race predominated, then it's a tie, and then race didn't predominate--and the legislature's plan stands.

Chief Justice Roberts was also troubled that the lower court didn't require the plaintiffs to show that a map based on partisanship interests would be different.

With Justice Kennedy seeming to lean with the conservatives, the case could be headed for a 4-4 split, which would uphold the lower court's ruling that District 3 was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

March 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Can a State Pack Black Voters in a District to Comply with the Voting Rights Act?

The Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in Whittman v. Personhuballah, a case testing whether a state's move to pack black voters into a congressional district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but with the net effect of diluting black voters' influence, violates equal protection. This is the second time in two Terms that the Court has dealt with the issue: last Term the Court ruled in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama that the lower court applied the wrong standard and remanded the case for further proceedings. Whittman deals with a slightly different question, as described below. There's also a significant question of standing.

Here's my oral argument preview, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:

Does a redrawn congressional district, which is based on maintaining a minimum fixed percentage of black voters in a district and in fact increases the percentage, violate equal protection?

Case at a Glance

The Equal Protection Clause forbids a state legislature from unjustifiably using race as the predominate factor in redrawing state legislative and congressional districts. At the same time, some states were required under the Voting Rights Act to ensure against retrogression, the diminution of a minority group’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of their choice. This means that a covered state had to consider race in redistricting. This case tests how a covered state can consider race.

INTRODUCTION

The Virginia legislature adopted a redistricting plan that increased the percentage of black voters in a majority-minority congressional district. The legislature based the plan on maintaining a fixed percentage of black voters in a certain congressional district, supposedly to comply with the Voting Rights Act. A three-judge district court struck the plan as a racial gerrymander and ordered the implementation of its own map.

ISSUES

    1. Does a member of congress from an adjoining district have standing to challenge the court-ordered map, on the theory that the map may make it harder for him to win re-election?
    2. Did the Virginia legislature’s use of race predominate when it drew congressional district 3, and, if so, was its use of race justified in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act?

FACTS

In 1991, as part of its redistricting plan after the 1990 Census, Virginia created its Third Congressional District, or “CD3.” The state created CD3 as its only majority-minority district, so that racial minorities in the district could elect a candidate of their choice. At the time, CD3 had a black voting age population, or “BVAP,” of 61.17 percent. The U.S. Department of Justice, or “DOJ,” precleared the plan and CD3 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, “VRA.”

In 1997, however, a three-judge court invalidated CD3 as a racial gerrymander. The court in Moon v. Meadows, 952 F. Supp. 1141 (E.D. Va. 1997), found the evidence “overwhelming that the creation of a safe black district predominated in the drawing of the boundaries.” As a result, the General Assembly redrew the district, and lowered its BVAP to 50.47 percent. DOJ precleared the plan, and CD3 was not challenged.

After the 2000 Census, the state redrew CD3 again, along with its other congressional districts. As part of this redistricting, the state shifted a number of black voters from CD4 into CD3 and CD5. As a result, the BVAP in CD3 increased to 53.1 percent. DOJ precleared the plan, and CD3 was not challenged. (This plan is sometimes called “the Benchmark Plan,” because it immediately preceded the challenged plan and thus sets the benchmark against which the challenged plan is measured.)

After the 2010 Census, the state once again undertook to redraw its congressional districts. This time, CD3 was underpopulated by 63,976 citizens, so it needed additional citizens in order to reach the state’s benchmark population for compliance with the one-person-one-vote principle. Delegate Bill Janis introduced a plan that added population to CD3 and increased its BVAP from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent.

Janis said that he based his plan on several criteria. These included the one-person-one-vote principle, the VRA rule against retrogression of minority voter influence, respecting the will of the Virginia electorate as reflected in the November 2010 elections, and maintaining current boundaries as much as possible. Throughout the floor debates on the plan, Janis repeatedly said that Section 5 of the VRA prohibited retrogression of minority voter influence, that compliance with Section 5 was “nonnegotiable,” and that compliance with the non-retrogression mandate was a “paramount concern” in drafting the plan.

The Virginia legislature failed to enact a plan in its 2011 special session. But Janis’s plan was reintroduced in the 2012 session (although Janis was no longer a member). At least two members of the legislature (Senators Locke and McEachin) protested that the plan packed black voters into CD3 and some surrounding districts, leaving them “essentially disenfranchised.” The House and Senate nevertheless passed the Janis plan, and the governor signed it. The plan maintained an 8-3 partisan division in favor of Republicans in the state and protected all incumbent members of congress. DOJ precleared the plan in March 2012.

In June 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612, the Court invalidated the preclearance coverage formula in Section 4 of the VRA. This meant that Virginia (along with other previously covered jurisdictions) were no longer subject to the non-retrogression requirement in Section 5.

In October 2013, Dawn Curry Page, Gloria Personhuballah, and James Farkas, three voters in CD3, filed this case, seeking to invalidate CD3 as a racial gerrymander. Republican members of congress from districts surrounding CD3, including Representative Randy Forbes, Republican from CD4, intervened in the case to defend the plan.

The plaintiffs alleged that CD3 was designed to pack black voters in the district, which would dilute black voters’ influence in CD3 and in other districts. During trial, the plaintiffs called an expert, Dr. Michael McDonald, who testified that CD3 was drawn as a majority-black district for predominantly racial reasons. (McDonald based his conclusion in part on an Alternative Plan, produced by the plaintiffs, that resulted in a 50.1 percent BVAP in CD3. The parties disagree over the meaning of the Alternative Plan and whether it supports McDonald’s conclusion.) The state called its own expert, John Morgan, who testified that CD3 was explainable by race-neutral factors of politics and incumbency protection.

Importantly, evidence suggests the General Assembly applied a 55-percent-BVAP floor in drawing CD3. In particular, some evidence shows that at least some in the legislature thought that CD3 needed a 55 percent BVAP in order to pass DOJ preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA. (Remember, the state created CD3 before the Court ruled in Shelby County.)

The district court, by a 2-1 vote, concluded that CD3 was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and enjoined the state from conducting any further congressional elections under the 2012 plan. The intervenors appealed, and the Supreme Court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case in light of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 135 S. Ct. 1257 (2015). (Alabama Legislative Black Caucus involved the same kind of challenge to a similar plan, which also packed black voters into a district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the VRA. The Court held that the lower court used an incorrect standard for judging this kind of case and gave some guidance for applying the correct standard. As discussed below, a portion of this ruling is relevant here.)

On remand, the district court again ruled 2-1 that CD3 was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The court wrote that the “legislative record here is replete with statements indicating that race was the legislature’s paramount concern in enacting the 2012 Plan,” and that the legislature had impermissibly used “a 55% BVAP floor” in redrawing CD3. (Because race predominated in redrawing CD3, the court applied strict scrutiny. The court held that compliance with Section 5 was a compelling state interest, but that the state’s use of race to increase the BVAP from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent was not narrowly tailored to avoid retrogression in CD3. That’s because Congressman Bobby Scott, “a Democrat supported by the majority of African-American voters,” had been repeatedly reelected under the prior BVAP by large margins.) The intervenors appealed to the Court.

Meanwhile, the remedial phase of the litigation proceeded in the district court. The court invited the parties and any interested non-parties to propose plans and appointed Dr. Bernard Grofman as special master. Grofman rejected the proposed plans and recommended his own. The court found that the Grofman plan cured the racial gerrymander by redrawing CD3 according to neutral districting criteria, and not race. The court also found that the plan complied with the VRA, despite the drop in CD3’s BVAP (to 45.3 percent), because the lower BVAP combined with significant white-crossover voting preserved “African-American voters’ ability to elect the representative of their choice.”

The court-ordered plan also changed CD4. The plan increased the BVAP in CD4 from 31.3 percent to 40.9 percent, creating a “realistic possibility,” according to Grofman, that black voters could elect a candidate of their choice. The plan also increased Democratic representation (as measured by the election results for the 2012 Presidential election) from 48.8 percent to 60.9 percent, turning a “safe seat for the Republican incumbent” into a “competitive” district, according to Grofman. (The current and previous maps, and alternative maps, are available at the web-site for the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, http://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov/2010/RedistrictingPlans.aspx#41,list.)

The intervenors again appealed to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in the original case (minus Dawn Curry Page, who was dismissed by stipulation) defend the court-ordered plan as appellees before the Court. The Virginia State Board of Elections also defends the plan as an appellee. The government defends the plan as amicus in support of the appellees. The Court divided oral argument to permit each of the parties and the government to participate.

CASE ANALYSIS

The case involves two principal issues. Let’s take them one at a time.

Standing

In order to bring a case in federal court, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that he or she suffered an “injury in fact,” (2) that the challenged action caused the injury, and (3) that the lawsuit will redress the injury. The injury-in-fact requirement means that a plaintiff must show “concrete” and “particularized” harm, “actual or imminent.” The causation requirement means that the plaintiff has to show that the challenged action (here, the district court ruling and the court-ordered map) caused the injury. And the redressibility requirement means that the plaintiff must show that a successful lawsuit would redress their harm.

Standing is a threshold requirement. This means that the Court has to be satisfied that the intervenors have standing before it will rule on the merits (the discrimination claim, discussed below). Here, the parties focus particularly on intervenor Forbes. If Forbes has standing, then the Court will consider the merits. If not, the Court will dismiss the case.

The intervenors argue that they have standing, because the court-ordered plan transforms at least one of their districts (CD4, Forbes’s district) from a majority-Republican district to a majority-Democratic district. (Indeed, they say that every proposed plan would have made at least one Republican district a majority-Democratic district, so that they would have standing under any of the proposed plans.) The intervenors contend that this injures at least one of them, because it harms his or her chances for reelection, replaces his or her “base electorate” with “unfavorable” Democratic voters, and undoes his or her recommendations for the district. (The Board sides with the intervenors on standing and makes similar arguments.)

The plaintiffs argue that the intervenors lack standing. They claim that the intervenors have no responsibility for drawing or enforcing the 2012 redistricting plan (and therefore cannot complain that they were harmed by losing their redistricting power), and that they do not live in or represent CD3, the only challenged district. The plaintiffs assert that the intervenors’ only claim to standing is that the court-ordered plan might make it harder for some of them to win, if they choose to run, and if they defeat their primary challengers. The plaintiffs say that this alleged harm is too speculative and not sufficiently connected to the court-ordered plan. And in any event, they say, there are many other factors that might contribute to this harm. (The government sides with the plaintiffs on standing. The government adds that the intervenors have no right to “fence out those voters to enhance their odds of electoral success,” and therefore no harm when that happens.)

Discrimination

State legislatures can use a variety of factors in redrawing state legislative and congressional districts. Most of these factors are neutral—for example, preserving the compactness of a district, preserving the contiguity of a district, maintaining communities with like interests within a single district, and even advancing political interests—and do not alone raise constitutional problems. But the Equal Protection Clause prohibits a state legislature from using race as a factor, when its use of race predominates over other race-neutral factors without a sufficient justification (that is, without satisfying strict scrutiny).

States that were subject to the preclearance requirement in Section 5 of the VRA, including Virginia, had to consider race in their redistricting decisions. That’s because in order to obtain preclearance under Section 5, a covered state had to show that its new map, as compared to the immediately preceding map, would not result in retrogression, that is, diminishment of a minority group’s ability to elect its preferred candidate. (No state is subject to the preclearance requirement today. The Supreme Court in Shelby County struck the coverage formula for preclearance. This means that preclearance remains on the books, but currently there are no covered jurisdictions.)

This raises an important question: If a state legislature uses race in redistricting in order to comply with Section 5, does that use of race violate equal protection? The Supreme Court gave us some guidance to work that out last Term in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. As relevant here, the Court held that Section 5 does not require a state to maintain a particular minority percentage; instead, it requires the state to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice. This means that when a state legislature uses race as a predominate factor in redistricting in order to comply with Section 5, it cannot use a mechanical percentage—because that’s not what Section 5 requires.

That principle would seem to answer the question in this case (in favor of the plaintiffs and the Board), except that this case involves an additional wrinkle. Here, the intervenors claim even if the legislature used race as a predominate factor, CD3 would have looked the same if the legislature hadn’t used race. The intervenors rely on language from Easley v. Cromartie, 552 U.S. 234 (2001), to argue that because CD3 would have come out the same under neutral principles (without considering race), then race couldn’t have predominated, and the 2012 map satisfies equal protection.

The parties and amicus frame their equal protection arguments around these principles.

The intervenors argue first that the district court erred in finding that race predominated in drawing CD3 in the 2012 plan. The intervenors concede that race was a factor in the 2012 plan—that the legislature recognized that compliance with Section 5 of the VRA was “non-negotiable” and “paramount.” But they say that this use of race was necessary (because the state had to comply with Section 5), and that if it is considered predominant, then every use of race to comply with the VRA will automatically be deemed predominant. Moreover, they contend that the legislature’s racial goals were coextensive with neutral redistricting principles that governed all districts (like protecting incumbents by preserving the cores of existing districts) and with the legislature’s political objectives. They say that because the use of race resulted in the same district lines that would have resulted without the use of race, race cannot have predominated over neutral redistricting principles. Finally, the intervenors contend that the district court’s approach requires the legislature to treat majority-minority districts differently than majority-white districts, because under the district court’s approach the legislature could not use neutral principles to draw CD3, so long as the VRA also required the legislature to draw CD3 the same way.

Next, the intervenors argue that the district court failed to properly determine whether the legislature’s racial considerations subordinated other neutral redistricting criteria. They claim that the legislature would have drawn CD3 the same based only on neutral criteria, and so race could not have predominated. (They even say that achieving a 55 percent BVAP floor was the best way to achieve the legislature’s neutral redistricting objectives, irrespective of any racial purpose in using that floor.) The intervenors contend that the district should have determined whether there was an inconsistency between the neutral motives and the racial motives in order to determine whether racial motives predominated. But they say that the court never looked at this question.

Third, the intervenors argue that CD3 in the 2012 plan served permissible political purposes. They say that the 2012 plan treated CD3 the same as all other (majority-white) districts in the state, making only minor changes to district cores for the permissible purpose of benefitting incumbents. They claim moreover that changing CD3’s shape or reducing its BVAP would have sent a significant number of Democratic voters into the adjacent districts, all of which had Republican incumbents. Again, according to the intervenors, this means that CD3’s shape and BVAP serve the permissible purpose of benefitting incumbents. Finally, they contend that even the plaintiffs’ expert conceded that CD3 benefitted Republican incumbents and could be explained by a political purpose.

Fourth, the intervenors argue that the plaintiffs failed to show that the state could have achieved its political goals by drawing CD3 any other way. They contend that drawing CD3 with a BVAP of 56.3 percent was the only way for the state to retain all Republicans incumbents. They say that the plaintiffs’ alternative plan proves their point: this plan, which itself subordinated neutral redistricting principles to race, would have converted CD2 from a toss-up district with a Republican incumbent into a Democratic district, in order to achieve a lower BVAP.

Finally, the intervenors argue that CD3 in the 2012 plan meets the Alabama test. They claim that of all the alternatives, CD3 best advances the legislature’s political purposes and thus least subordinates those principles to race. In particular, they say that the court-ordered plan, with its reduction to a 30 percent BVAP, was not only based on race but likely would have failed DOJ preclearance. They contend that the legislature therefore had a “good reason” under Alabama to adopt the 2012 version of CD3.

The plaintiffs argue that race impermissibly predominated when the legislature redrew CD3 in 2012. They say that Janis, who originally introduced the plan, said as much, when he adopted the 55-percent-BVAP threshold based on a mistaken belief that any decrease in the BVAP would violate Section 5 of the VRA. They claim that circumstantial evidence shows this, too: the 2012 version of CD3 was the least compact district in the state, using water continuity to connect disparate black communities along the James River; it moved over 180,000 people to address underpopulation in CD3 of only 63,976; and the legislature disproportionately moved black voters into and white voters out of CD3.

The plaintiffs argue next that the intervenors are wrong to assert that the district court failed to apply Alabama—a legal error. Instead, the plaintiffs say that in truth the intervenors challenge the district court’s factual findings. But the plaintiffs contend that the intervenors cannot show that the district court’s findings were “clearly erroneous,” the standing for reversal on appeal.

The plaintiffs argue that the intervenors are also wrong to assert that the legislature’s use of race could not have predominated, because CD3 would have looked the same based on race-neutral redistricting criteria. The plaintiffs claim that if the legislature used race as a proxy for race-neutral criteria (as the intervenors seem to argue), then the legislature impermissibly used race. Moreover, the plaintiffs say that Comartie II is distinguishable: in that case, the direct evidence showed a partisan purpose, and the plaintiffs advanced a largely circumstantial case to prove otherwise; but in this case, the direct evidence (Janis’s statements) reveals a clear racial purpose behind the 2012 version of CD3.

Finally, the plaintiffs argue that Alabama supports their position. They say that the legislature made the same mistake as the legislature in Alabama, by focusing on how it could meet the arbitrary threshold of a 55 percent BVAP. But the plaintiffs argue that under Alabama the legislature should have focused on this question: “To what extent must we preserve existing minority percentages in order to maintain the minority’s present ability to elect the candidate of its choice?” Alabama, 135 S. Ct. at 1274. The plaintiffs argue that the intervenors try to escape the plain factual record, but they cannot: the record clearly reflects that race was the predominate purpose in drawing the 2012 version of CD3.

The Virginia State Board of Elections (as appellees) and the government (as amicus) make substantially similar arguments. The government clarifies a couple of points, however. First, the government says that mere statements that the legislature has to comply with the VRA does not mean that race predominated; instead, the legislature’s use of the 55-percent-BVAP threshold, along with other circumstantial evidence, means that race predominated. And the government, like the plaintiffs and the Board, argues that the court made no clear error in finding these facts. Next, the government contends, contrary to the intervenors, that a racial gerrymandering claim does not depend on a showing that race and politics conflicted. Instead, the government says that the constitutional harm comes from the predominate use of race, and that a plaintiff who can show that race predominated need not also show that the district’s actual configuration was different than an alternative configuration under race-neutral criteria. Finally, the government emphasizes that “Section 5 does not require jurisdictions to adhere to mechanical and factually unsupported racial targets, uninformed by a functional analysis of a minority group’s ability to elect.” And because that is exactly what the legislature did here, race impermissibly predominated.

SIGNIFICANCE

This is the second time in two years that the Court will consider a case of a previously covered jurisdiction packing black voters into a district supposedly to comply with Section 5 of the VRA. The Court limited this practice last Term in Alabama by ruling that (as relevant here) a state legislature cannot use mechanical percentages in order to comply with the VRA; instead, it must use the retrogression standard. That principle seems to answer the question in this case (because the Virginia legislature used a mechanical percentage), except that the intervenors claim that CD3 would have looked the same even without race—and therefore that race did not predominate in drawing CD3. Look for the Court to test this claim at oral argument.

The history of this case and the result in Alabama both suggest that the Court may lean toward the plaintiffs and the Board (and against the intervenors). First, the Court denied the intervenors’ application for a stay of the lower court’s decision pending appeal. Ordinarily, that would not (necessarily) suggest anything about the likely outcome. But in this case, Virginia has to know the shape of its districts, because it has to conduct 2016 elections. Because Virginia is set to run its elections based on the court-ordered map, the Court would throw a real wrench into Virginia politics by reversing course. (For one, it could affect Forbes himself. Forbes has announced that he will run for re-election in 2016 in CD2, not CD4, his current district. That’s because under the court-ordered map, CD4 leans much more Democratic. If the Court reversed the lower court, this could affect Forbes and the new representative in CD4, among others. It’ll be interesting to see if Forbes’s decision to run in CD2 becomes a factor for standing purposes.) Second, Alabama was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Kennedy siding with the progressives. This is a different case, to be sure, but it could turn on a similar line-up.

If the Court gets to the merits, look for it to rule narrowly. Given the Court’s approach in Alabama and given certain features of this case, this case seems an unlikely vehicle for the Court to make a grand statement about the constitutionality of the practice of packing districts for the supposed purpose of complying with the VRA, but with the effect of diluting the impact of all black voters in the state.

But that’s only if the Court rules on the merits. Indeed, we have good reason to think it might not, or at least that the Court will take the standing issue very seriously. The Court itself introduced the issue and ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs on it—twice. The first time, the Court simply asked the parties to brief whether the intervenors had standing. This apparently didn’t satisfy the Court, however, because it then asked the parties to brief whether they had standing because none of them lived in or represented CD3. These orders raise the real possibility that the Court could simply dismiss the case based on lack of standing, and not even address the merits.

March 17, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

DOJ Guidance on Court Fines and Fees

The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance and resources yesterday for state courts on the assessment and enforcement of fines and fees--and how to avoid access barriers, the criminalization of poverty, and other constitutional problems for those who can't pay. The move addresses a disturbing trend in state courts to use fines and fees to raise revenue and line the pockets of private corporations, while at the same time barring access to justice and jailing people because they're poor.

The Civil Rights Division and Office for Access to Justice issued a "Dear Colleague" letter and Resource Guide, and announced $2.5 million in grants and support for a task force to address these issues.

The Dear Colleague letter outlines the problem:

Recent years have seen increased attention on the illegal enforcement of fines and fees in certain jurisdictions around the country--often with respect to individuals accused of misdemeanors, quasi-criminal ordinance violations, or civil infractions. Typically, courts do not sentence defendants to incarceration in these cases; monetary fines are the norm. Yet the harm caused by unlawful practices in these jurisdictions can be profound. Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape. Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.

The letter outlines seven actions that state courts must take to bring their fine- and fee-practices in line with Bearden v. Georgia, Boddie v. Connecticut, and, most recently, Turner v. Rogers, among other due process and equal protection cases protecting access and barring the criminalization of poverty.

March 15, 2016 in Equal Protection, News, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Alabama Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court of Alabama has issued its opinions- - - totaling 170 pages typescript - - - in Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Citizens Action Program, and John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County dismissing all pending petitions and motions that seek relief from having to issue marriage licenses.  And yet, the lengthy concurring opinions in the case contradict rather than support this dismissal.

Recall that in January, controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an Administrative Order forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect." Earlier, after an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Justice Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue.  In a March 2015 opinion  in  this same case - - - Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute - - - known as API,  the court, without Justice Moore and over a dissent by Justice Shaw held  that the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, art. I, § 36.03, Ala. Const. 1901, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, § 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, are constitutional. Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment.  A few months later, the United States Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In today's opinions, Chief Justice Moore is center-stage and plays a confusing part.

Ala-s-ct

First, he provides a "statement of nonrecusal."  He discusses his own participation in various aspects of this continuing litigation and concludes he is not reviewing his own Administrative Order but instead "the effect of Obergefell."  

Second, in his own "specially concurring" opinion, his ultimately conclusion is that Obergefell is incorrectly decided and that the Alabama Supreme Court is under no duty to obey it.  He writes quite personally:

I took my first oath to support the Constitution of the United States in 1965 at the United States Military Academy on the banks of the Hudson River at West Point, New York. On this very site General George Washington defended the northwest territory against British invasion during the Revolutionary War. I repeated that oath many times during my military service in Western Europe, Vietnam, and locations in the continental United States. Following my military service and upon graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law, I again took an oath to "uphold and support" the United States Constitution. As a private practitioner, deputy district attorney, circuit judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on two separate occasions, I took that oath and have administered it to other Judges, Justices, Governors, and State and local officials. In both civilian and military life the oath of loyalty to the Constitution is of paramount importance. **** The oath I took as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West

Point stated, in part, "that I will at all times obey the legal orders of my superior officers, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." 57 Bugle Notes, at 5 (1965) (emphasis added). Later, as a company commander in Vietnam, I knew the importance of following orders. The success or failure of a mission and the lives of others depended on strict adherence to the chain of command. The principle of obedience to superior orders is also crucial to the proper functioning of a court system. Nevertheless, the principle of obedience to superior officers is based on the premise that the order given is a lawful one.

He then discusses "Lt. William Calley, a unit commander at My Lai in Vietnam who was convicted of killing 22 innocent civilians," to support his "military analogy" that one should not simply "follow orders" when the orders are immoral.

Third,  Chief Justice Moore's opinion is the major, if not majority opinion. 

The opinion garnering the most Justices - - - three - - - is by Justice Stuart and is quite short, but speaks volumes.  It reads in full:

Motions and petitions are dismissed without explanation by this Court for numerous reasons as a matter of routine. When a Justice issues a writing concurring in or dissenting from an order summarily dismissing a pending motion or petition the writing expresses the explanation for the vote of only the Justice who issues the writing and of any Justice who joins the writing. Attributing the reasoning and explanation in a special concurrence or a dissent to a Justice who did not issue or join the writing is erroneous and unjust.

Justice Greg Shaw also concurs specially, but his is the opinion that supports the conclusion. Justice Shaw had dissented from the March 2015 Order.   He now concludes that given Obergefell, the March 2015 Order "no longer has a field of operation or any legal effect."  

It is the accepted legal doctrine and the historic legal practice in the United States to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court as authoritative on the meaning of federal law and the federal Constitution. Arguments have been put forth suggesting that this doctrine and this practice are incorrect. Those arguments generally have not been accepted by the courts in this country. For example, in Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the argument by certain state officials that they were not bound by that Court's decisions.

The idea that decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States are to be followed is not something new or strange. Thus, the members of this Court who would follow the Obergefell decision would not, as either Chief Justice Moore or Justice Parker suggests, be "bow[ing their] knee[s] to the self-established judicial despots of America," "blindly follow[ing] the unsubstantiated opinion of 'five lawyers,'" "'shrink[ing] from the discharge'" of duty, "betray[ing]" their oaths, "blatantly disregard[ing] the Constitution," standing "idly by to watch our liberties destroyed and our Constitution violated," participating in the "conversion of our republican form of government into an aristocracy of nine lawyers," or be adhering to a perceived "evil."  They would, quite frankly, be doing what the vast majority of past and present judges and lawyers in this country have always assumed the Constitution requires, notwithstanding the unconvincing arguments found in the requests before us and in the specially concurring opinion of Chief Justice Moore. I charitably say the arguments are "unconvincing" because virtually no one has ever agreed with their rationales.

 [footnote omitted].

Justice Shaw certainly seems to have the better view and the citation of Cooper v. Aaron is exactly on point.  But given the result, it does not seem as if the National Guard will be marching into Montgomery any time soon.

Could this part of the saga be concluded?

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March 4, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Federal Judge Finds No Constitutional Violation in Denying Permit to "Wandering Dago" Food Truck

In her extensive opinion in Wandering Dago, Inc.  v. Desito, United States District Judge for the Northern District of New York Judge Mae D'Agostino granted summary judgment for the government against the First Amendment and Equal Protection claims of "Wandering Dago" resulting from the denial of a permit to operate a food truck at the Empire State Plaza in Albany (pictured below), a facility owned by the state of New York and operated by the state Office of General Services (OGS) under Commissioner RoAnn Desito.

 In the summers of 2013 and 2014, OGS administered "The Empire State Plaza Summer Outdoor Lunch Program," permitting vendors to operate food trucks for limited hours on the plaza, intended to provide "lunch options to the approximately 11,000 State employees who work at Empire State Plaza, as well as for visitors to the Capitol, State Museum, performing arts center" - - - known as The Egg - - - and various monuments and memorials in New York's capital city.  As the list of applicants was being processed, the name "Wandering Dago" attracted attention of OGS employees, one who "recognized the term 'dago' as 'a highly offensive term for Italians,'" and after conducting a "computer search" to determine whether this was true, his conclusion was not only "confirmed" but it was "revealed" that the term has been "used to refer to people of Spanish and Portuguese descent, as well as Italians."  OGS denied the application "on the grounds that its name contains an offensive ethnic slur and does not fit with OGS' policy of providing family-friendly policy."  Wandering Dago's application the next year was similarly rejected.

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The First Amendment claims were primary; the Equal Protection Clause claims having been previously dismissed and warranting little more analysis when re-plead.  On the First Amendment, Judge D'Agostino identified the problem common to so much free speech litigation: this case does not fit neatly into any particular First Amendment "framework."  Thus, Judge D'Agostino engaged in several strands of analysis, most prominently being "forum" analysis, but also government speech, employee (contractor) speech, and commercial speech.

As to forum doctrine, Judge D'Agostino rehearses the well-know different types of forum, ultimately deciding that the forum is a "nonpublic forum."  Key to this conclusion, as is so often true, is the definition of the forum.  For Judge D'Agostino, the forum is not Empire State Plaza, but the lunch program - - - "which happens to take place within the grounds that comprise the Empire State Plaza."  That OGS required permits and controlled the "forum" contributes to this view.

Yet even under a nonpublic forum, the government must be "reasonable" and content/viewpoint neutral.  As to the reasonableness, Judge D'Agostino discounted the fact that the policy was not written or even previously articulated.  Somewhat confusingly, the judge decided that the owners of Dago did not intend to express anything particular by the name, and therefore there could be no viewpoint/content discrimination and similarly found that there was no problem with unbridled discretion.  The judge rejected the applicability of  In Re Simon Shiao Tam, in which the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment because  it did not involve a forum, but an application of strict scrutiny.  Judge D'Agostino also distinguished cases in which the proprietor was denied the entire opportunity to sell the goods rather than simply not allowed to participate in a particular program.

The particular program aspect supports the judge's conclusion that "government speech" was at issue, relying on Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans in which the Court found that Texas's program of specialty license plates was government speech.

While Judge D'Agostino's opinion is well-structured and comprehensive, the analysis regarding content/viewpoint discrimination, no matter the forum type, will most likely be fertile ground for appeal.  On government speech, the case may provide the Second Circuit with an opportunity to clarify the limits of Walker.

March 2, 2016 in Equal Protection, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Court Denies Stay in North Carolina Districting Case

The Supreme Court on Friday denied a stay of a three-judge district court order requiring North Carolina to redraw two congressional districts because they violated equal protection.

The brief denial (without opinion) came after the state developed a new districting plan--which wouldn't have gone into effect if the Court granted a stay, but which will now go into effect for the state's primaries.

Recall that the lower court ruled that North Carolina impermissibly used race to draw the districts, by packing black voters into these two districts. The court rejected the state's claim that it used race in one of the districts to comply with preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. The court said that even assuming (without deciding) that compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest, the state failed to show that its use of race was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

February 22, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Three-Judge Court Orders North Carolina to Redraw Districts

Schwinn-steven
Steven D. Schwinn,  John Marshall Law School

A three-judge federal district court last week ruled in Harris v. McCrory that two of North Carolina's congressional districts violated equal protection, because the state impermissibly used race as a predominant factor in drawing them.

The state claimed that it used race in one of the districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the court rejected that claim, saying that even if compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest, the state failed to demonstrate that it used race in a narrowly tailored way.

The court ordered the state to redraw the districts quickly, within two weeks, although the state has already asked the Supreme Court for a stay pending appeal.

North Carolina is notorious for its shenanigans with elections and voting. Recall that the state moved quickly to tighten voting requirements after the Supreme Court in Shelby County released it and other covered jurisdictions from the preclearance requirement in Section 5 of the VRA.

The case raises an important question, yet unanswered by the Supreme Court (but assumed for the purpose of further analysis in its cases), whether compliance with the Voting Rights Act (avoiding Section 2 liability, and avoiding the Section 5 non-retrogression rule in previously covered jurisdictions) can be a compelling government interest that could justify race-based redistricting. If so, the problem, addressed last Term in Alabama State Legislature, is that a state might then use race to pack black voters into districts in a way that dilutes their influence in other districts. The Supreme Court in Alabama gave four principles for courts to use in evaluating these kinds of claims (and remanded that case for further proceedings), but it didn't categorically answer the question whether and when states might use race to comply with the VRA (even if only putatively).

The case challenges North Carolina Congressional Districts 1 and 12. These were not majority-minority districts (majority-Black Voting Age Population, or "BVAP," districts) going into the 2010 census, but "African-American preferred candidates easily and repeatedly won reelection under those plans."

After the 2010 census, legislators engaged Dr. Thomas Hofeller, who served as redistricting coordinator for the Republican National Committee for the 1990, 2000, and 2010 redistricting cycles, to design and draw the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan. On instructions from legislators (which, they said, were based on VRA concerns), the 2011 plan increased the percentage of the BVAP in districts 1 and 2 so that they became majority-minority districts. DOJ precleared the plan, in the days before Shelby County, when preclearance was still a thing.

A prior state supreme court ruling held that race was the predominant factor in drawing CD 1, but that the state had a compelling government interest in using race to draw CD 1 to comply with the VRA. It also held that race was not a factor in drawing CD 12. The state high court thus found no violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Plaintiffs in this federal case argued that the state used compliance with Section 5 as a pretext for packing black voters into CDs 1 and 12 in order to reduce those voters' influence in other districts.

The court ruled that "plaintiffs have presented dispositive direct and circumstantial evidence that the legislature assigned race a priority over all other districting factors in both CD 1 and CD 12." The court went on to say that even if compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest for CD 1 (a point the court assumed, without deciding), the legislature's use of race in drawing the districts was not narrowly tailored to meet that interest: "Evidence of narrow tailoring in this case is practically nonexistent." (The state didn't give a compelling government interest or argue narrow-tailoring for CD 12.)

The next word on the case will come from the Supreme Court, which should rule soon whether to the stay the three-judge court's ruling pending North Carolina's appeal.

February 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Kansas Appellate Court Affirms Finding That Kansas's "Dismemberment Abortion Act" is Unconstitutional under State Constitution

The Kansas Court of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court, has found that the Kansas Constitution includes a due process right applicable to abortion and that the Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act (SB95) violates that right in its opinion by Judge Steve Leben in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt.

Before the discussion of the constitutionality of the Act, there were some preliminary - - - and unusual - - - issues, including some noteworthy matters of procedure. Unusually, the Court of Appeals heard the case en banc rather in a panel of three.  And presumably also unusual, the judges were "equally divided, seven voting to affirm the district court and seven voting to reverse."  Thus, the trial court's ruling granting a preliminary injunction against the Act was affirmed. 

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Judges of the Kansas Court of Appeals via


Additionally, there were some state constitutional law issues.  Importantly, the plaintiffs' argument that the Act is unconstitutional rests solely on the state constitution.  As the Leben opinion stated, this was a case of first impression and a  "plaintiff has the procedural right to choose the legal theories he or she will pursue; we cannot force the plaintiffs here to choose another legal avenue.")  But the Kansas State Constitution does not include a due process clause - - - or even the words "due process" - - - unlike the United States Constitution's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, in which the right to an abortion has been anchored.  Instead, plaintiffs argued, and the court found, that §1 and §2 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights include a due process right despite their explicit language:

§ 1. Equal rights. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

§ 2. Political power; privileges. All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and are instituted for their equal protection and benefit. No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted by the legislature, which may not be altered, revoked or repealed by the same body; and this power shall be exercised by no other tribunal or agency.

Judge Leben's finding was based in large part on previous decisions of the Kansas Supreme Court.  Where the dissent differed was not on the matter of due process as a general matter but on the specific inclusion of "abortion."  Indeed, as Judge Leben's opinion admitted "What the Kansas Supreme Court has not yet done is apply substantive-due-process principles in a case involving personal or fundamental rights, like the right to contraception, the right to marry, or the right to abortion."  But as Judge Leben's opinion noted, "the Kansas Supreme Court has explicitly recognized a substantive-due- process right under the Kansas Constitution and has applied a substantive-due-process legal standard equivalent to the one applicable under the Fourteenth Amendment at the time of these Kansas decisions."  This past practice was an embrace of the present, and Judge Leben's opinion interestingly quotes the Court's recent opinion by Justice Kennedy Obergefell  as well as opinions from the Kansas Supreme Court.  Judge Leben nicely sums up the position:

The rights of Kansas women in 2016 are not limited to those specifically intended by the men who drafted our state's constitution in 1859.

Having decided that the Kansas constitutional text merits a co-extensive interpretation with the federal constitution, Judge Leben's opinion for the Kansas Court of Appeal does not rest on "adequate and independent state grounds" under Michigan v. LongJudge Gordon Atcheson's extensive and scholarly concurring opinion makes the case that §1 of the Kansas Bill of Rights provides "entirely separate constitutional protection without direct federal counterpart" for abortion and that such protection is greater under the Kansas state constitution than under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under the co-extensive interpretation, Judge Leben's opinion thus confronted the constitutionality of the Kansas Act under the substantive due process "undue burden" standard.  This entailed an application of the disparate Carhart cases: Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) and Gonzales v. Carhart (2007).  In Stenberg, the Court concluded Nebraska's so-called "partial-birth abortion" statute was unconstitutional; in Gonzales, the Court concluded that the federal so-called "partial-birth abortion" statute was constitutional.

The Judge Leben opinion distinguished Gonzales:

But the circumstances here are quite unlike Gonzales. There, the Court considered a ban on an uncommon procedure and noted that the most common and generally safest abortion method remained available. Here, the State has done the opposite, banning the most common, safest procedure and leaving only uncommon and often unstudied options available.

Interestingly, Judge Atcheson's concurring opinion responded to the Justice Kennedy's language in Gonzales and the language of the Kansas Act:

The State's remaining argument rests on the unaesthetic description of a D &E abortion contained in Senate Bill 95 and in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). But aesthetics really cannot justify legislative limitations on safe medical procedures. The lack of justification is even more pronounced when the procedure is integral to a woman's constitutional right to self-determination and reproductive freedom. The government cannot impose upon an essential right because some exercise of the right may be unaesthetic or even repulsive to some people. That's all the more true when those people needn't see or participate in the protected activity.

The dissenting opinion concludes that there is "nothing in the text or history of §§1 and 2 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights to lead this court to conclude that these provisions were intended to guarantee a right to abortion."

This matter is surely going to the Kansas Supreme Court, as Judge Leben's opinion for the Kansas Court of Appeals acknowledged.  Rendered on the 43rd anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade and as the Court prepares to consider its first abortion case in 8 years, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the Kansas Court of Appeals evenly split decision exemplifies how divided opinion on this issue can be.

January 22, 2016 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, International, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Daily Read: Taunya Banks on MLK and Education

On this Martin Luther King Day, the 2016 Presidential Proclamation  includes attention to the continuing quest for educational equality:

Today, we celebrate the long arc of progress for which Dr. King and so many other leaders fought to bend toward a brighter day.  It is our mission to fulfill his vision of a Nation devoted to rejecting bigotry in all its forms; to rising above cynicism and the belief that we cannot change; and to cherishing dignity and opportunity not only for our own daughters and sons, but also for our neighbors' children.

We have made great advances since Dr. King's time, yet injustice remains in many corners of our country.  In too many communities, the cycle of poverty persists and students attend schools without adequate resources -- some that serve as a pipeline to prison for young people of color.  Children still go to bed hungry, and the sick go without sufficient treatment in neighborhoods across America.  To put up blinders to these realities or to intimate that they are inherent to a Nation as large and diverse as ours would do a disservice to those who fought so hard to ensure ours was a country dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

It's worth (re)reading Professor Taunya Lovell Banks' 2013 article, The Unfinished Journey - Education, Equality and Martin Luther King, Jr. Revisited, 58 Villanova Law Review 471, available on ssrn, arguing that educational equality includes economic equality. 

LAW-BanksDelivered as a MLK Day Lecture at Villanova, Professor Banks remarks have continued resonance as the United States Supreme Court deliberates Fisher II regarding affirmative action in higher education:

As our experience with Brown [v. Board of Education] has taught us, law is an imperfect vehicle for bringing about massive social change. In 1963, Dr. King, in his often quoted Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote about the “interrelatedness of all communities and states.” The same year he wrote in his book Strength to Love that: “True integration will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations.” I contend that we as Americans have an unenforceable obligation to provide quality education for all of our children and not handicap some children so that others can become more competitive. We must do this by public will, not solely through law.
As I said earlier, our efforts to bring about educational equality should be multi-directional, and lawyers have a role to play. As part of this battle some lawyers and academics must recommit to convincing state courts to define more broadly their guarantees of a free public education. We must convince state courts that education is a fundamental right. Others must work with state legislatures to get them to commit, in words and funds, to the achievement of a twenty-first century notion of educational equality. More importantly, we all must work to get Americans throughout the nation to recommit to a strong public education system throughout the country.

[footnotes omitted; emphasis added]. 

 

January 18, 2016 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Race, Scholarship, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

United States Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Free Exercise State Funding Case: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo.

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley regarding a Free Exercise and Equal Protection challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on a state constitutional provision prohibiting state funds be given to religious organizations. 

As the Eighth Circuit opinion ruling for the state, had phrased it, "Trinity Church seeks an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church."  The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology."  For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.  

There are actually two Missouri constitutional provisions, Art. I §7 and Art. IX §8, which as the Eighth Circuit noted, are "not only more explicit but more restrictive than the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution,” quoting a Missouri Supreme Court decision.  The provisions were initially adopted in 1870 and 1875, and re-adopted in the Missouri Constitution of 1945, the current constitution.  The first provision is the one at the heart of this dispute.  Placed in the state constitution's "Bill of Rights," Art. I §7 provides:

That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect, or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.

It was in reliance on this state constitutional provision that the state Department of Natural Resources denied the grant application of Trinity Lutheran Church for funds to purchase of recycled tires to resurface its preschool playground.  To supply such funds, the state officials decided, would violate the state constitution. 

Trinity Lutheran Church articulated the issue in its petition for certiorari as

Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.

It argues that the Eigth Circuit's decision was not "faithful" to Locke v. Davey because the playground resurfacing program was purely secular in nature, unlike in Locke.  But this might mean that the state constitutional provisions defining their own boundaries regarding "establishment" of religion are unconstitutional.

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image via

 

January 16, 2016 in Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Daily Read: The Late Judge Judith Kaye's Dissenting Opinion in New York's Same-Sex Marriage Challenge

In Memoriam:

Former Chief Judge of New York's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, Judith Kaye.

Judith_S.KayeThe New York Times obituary notes the highlights of her amazing career, including her dissenting opinion in Hernandez v. Robles, the New York same-sex marriage case, in 2006.  Today's "Daily Read" reproduces that opinion, notable for its lucid reasoning as well as its excellent analytic structure.  It is in sharp contrast to the majority's opinion which became the subject of derisive comments, including most notably John Mitchell's  terrific send-up Chatting with the Lady in the Grocery Store about Hernandez V. Robles, the New York Same-Sex Marriage Case (available on srrn).

 

Here is Chief Judge Kaye's opinion in full:

 

Chief Judge Kaye (dissenting).

Plaintiffs (including petitioners) are 44 same-sex couples who wish to marry. They include a doctor, a police officer, a public school teacher, a nurse, an artist and a state legislator. Ranging in age from under 30 to 68, plaintiffs reflect a diversity of races, religions and ethnicities. They come from upstate and down, from rural, urban and suburban settings. Many have been together in committed relationships for decades, and many are raising children—from toddlers to teenagers. Many are active in their communities, serving on their local school board, for example, or their cooperative apartment building board. In short, plaintiffs represent a cross-section of New Yorkers who want only to live full lives, raise their children, better their communities and be good neighbors.

For most of us, leading a full life includes establishing a family. Indeed, most New Yorkers can look back on, or forward to, their wedding as among the most significant events of their lives. They, like plaintiffs, grew up hoping to find that one person with whom they would share their future, eager to express their mutual lifetime pledge through civil marriage. Solely because of their sexual orientation, however—that is, because of who they love—plaintiffs are denied the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. This State has a proud tradition of affording equal rights to all New Yorkers. Sadly, the Court today retreats from that proud tradition.

  1. Due Process

Under both the state and federal constitutions, the right to due process of law protects certain fundamental liberty interests, including the right to marry. Central to the right to marry is the right to marry the person of one's choice (see e.g. Crosby v State of N.Y., Workers' Compensation Bd., 57 NY2d 305, 312 [1982] ["clearly falling within (the right of privacy) are matters relating to the decision of whom one will marry"]; People v Shepard, 50 NY2d 640, 644 [1980] ["the government has been prevented from interfering with an individual's decision about whom to marry"]). The deprivation of a fundamental right is subject to strict scrutiny and requires that the infringement be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest (see e.g. Carey v Population Services Int'l, 431 US 678, 686 [1977]).

Fundamental rights are those "which are, objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition . . . and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed" (Washington v Glucksberg, 521 US 702, 720-721 [1997] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). Again and again, the Supreme Court and this Court have made clear that the right to marry is fundamental (see e.g. Loving v Virginia, 388 US 1 [1967]; Zablocki v Redhail, 434 US 374 [1978]; Turner v Safley, 482 US 78 [1987]; Matter of Doe v Coughlin, 71 NY2d 48, 52 [1987]; Cooper v Morin, 49 NY2d 69, 80 [1979]; Levin v Yeshiva Univ., 96 NY2d 484, 500 [2001] [G.B. Smith, J., concurring] ["marriage is a fundamental constitutional right"]).

The Court concludes, however, that same-sex marriage is not deeply rooted in tradition, and thus cannot implicate any fundamental liberty. But fundamental rights, once recognized, cannot be denied to particular groups on the ground that these groups have historically been denied those rights. Indeed, in recasting plaintiffs' invocation of their fundamental right to marry as a request for recognition of a "new" right to same-sex marriage, the Court misapprehends the nature of the liberty interest at stake. In Lawrence v Texas (539 US 558 [2003]), the Supreme Court warned against such error.

Lawrence overruled Bowers v Hardwick (478 US 186 [1986]), which had upheld a Georgia statute criminalizing sodomy. In so doing, the Lawrence court criticized Bowers for framing the issue presented too narrowly. Declaring that "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today" (539 US at 578), Lawrence explained that Bowers purported to analyze—erroneously—whether the Constitution conferred a "fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy" (539 US at 566 [citation omitted]). This was, however, the wrong question. The fundamental right at issue, properly framed, was the right to engage in private consensual sexual conduct—a right that applied to both homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. In narrowing the claimed liberty interest to embody the very exclusion being challenged, Bowers "disclose[d] the Court's own failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake" (Lawrence, 539 US at 567).

The same failure is evident here. An asserted liberty interest is not to be characterized so narrowly as to make inevitable the conclusion that the claimed right could not be fundamental because historically it has been denied to those who now seek to exercise it (see Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v Casey, 505 US 833, 847 [1992] [it is "tempting . . . to suppose that the Due Process Clause protects only those practices, defined at the most specific level, that were protected against government interference by other rules of law when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. . . . But such a view would be inconsistent with our law"]).

Notably, the result in Lawrence was not affected by the fact, acknowledged by the Court, that there had been no long history of tolerance for homosexuality. Rather, in holding that "[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for the[ ] purpose[ of making intimate and personal choices], just as heterosexual persons do" (539 US at 574), Lawrence rejected the notion that fundamental rights it had already identified could be restricted based on traditional assumptions about who should be permitted their protection. As the Court noted, "times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom" (Lawrence, 539 US at 579; see also id. at 572 ["(h)istory and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry" (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)]; Cleburne v Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 US 432, 466 [1985] [Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part] ["what once was a 'natural' and 'self-evident' ordering later comes to be seen as an artificial and invidious constraint on human potential and freedom"]).

Simply put, fundamental rights are fundamental rights. They are not defined in terms of who is entitled to exercise them.

Instead, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the fundamental right to marry must be afforded even to those who have previously been excluded from its scope—that is, to those whose exclusion from the right was "deeply rooted."[FN1]Well into the twentieth century, the sheer weight of precedent accepting the constitutionality of bans on interracial marriage was deemed sufficient justification in and of itself to perpetuate these discriminatory laws (see e.g. Jones v Lorenzen, 441 P2d 986, 989{**7 NY3d at 383} [Okla 1965] [upholding antimiscegenation law since the "great weight of authority holds such statutes constitutional"])—much as defendants now contend that same-sex couples should be prohibited from marrying because historically they always have been.

Just 10 years before Loving declared unconstitutional state laws banning marriage between persons of different races, 96% of Americans were opposed to interracial marriage (see brief of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., as amicus curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 5). Sadly, many of the arguments then raised in support of the antimiscegenation laws were identical to those made today in opposition to same-sex marriage (see e.g. Kinney v Commonwealth, 71 Va [30 Gratt] 858, 869 [1878] [marriage between the races is "unnatural" and a violation of God's will]; Pace v State, 69 Ala 231, 232 [1881] ["amalgamation" of the races would produce a "degraded civilization"]; see also Lonas v State, 50 Tenn [3 Heisk] 287, 310 [1871] ["(t)he laws of civilization demand that the races be kept apart"]).

To those who appealed to history as a basis for prohibiting interracial marriage, it was simply inconceivable that the right of interracial couples to marry could be deemed "fundamental." Incredible as it may seem today, during the lifetime of every Judge on this Court, interracial marriage was forbidden in at least a third of American jurisdictions. In 1948, New York was one of only 18 states in the nation that did not have such a ban. By 1967, when Loving was decided, 16 states still outlawed marriages between persons of different races. Nevertheless, even though it was the ban on interracial marriage—not interracial marriage itself—that had a long and shameful national tradition, the Supreme Court determined that interracial couples could not be deprived of their fundamental right to marry. [*21]

Unconstitutional infringements on the right to marry are not limited to impermissible racial restrictions. Inasmuch as the fundamental right to marry is shared by "all the State's citizens" (Loving, 388 US at 12), the State may not, for example, require individuals with child support obligations to obtain court approval before getting married (see Zablocki, 434 US 374 [1978]). Calling Loving the "leading decision of this Court on the right to marry," Justice Marshall made clear in Zablocki that Loving

"could have rested solely on the ground that the{**7 NY3d at 384} statutes discriminated on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. But the Court went on to hold that laws arbitrarily deprived the couple of a fundamental liberty protected by the Due Process Clause, the freedom to marry. . . .

"Although Loving arose in the context of racial discrimination, prior and subsequent decisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals" (434 US at 383-384 [citation omitted]).

Similarly, in Turner (482 US 78 [1987]), the Supreme Court determined that the right to marry was so fundamental that it could not be denied to prison inmates (see also Boddie v Connecticut, 401 US 371 [1971] [state requirement that indigent individuals pay court fees to obtain divorce unconstitutionally burdened fundamental right to marry]).

Under our Constitution, discriminatory views about proper marriage partners can no more prevent same-sex couples from marrying than they could different-race couples. Nor can "deeply rooted" prejudices uphold the infringement of a fundamental right (see People v Onofre, 51 NY2d 476, 490 [1980] ["disapproval by a majority of the populace . . . may not substitute for the required demonstration of a valid basis for intrusion by the State in an area of important personal decision"]). For these reasons, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as amicus, contends that

"[a]lthough the historical experiences in this country of African Americans, on the one hand, and gay men and lesbians, on the other, are in many important ways quite different, the legal questions raised here and in Loving are analogous. The state law at issue here, like the law struck down in Loving, restricts an individual's right to marry the person of his or her choice. We respectfully submit that the decisions below must be reversed if this Court follows the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Loving" (brief of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., as amicus curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 3-4; see also brief of New York County Lawyers' Association and National Black Justice Coalition, as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs [detailing history of antimiscegenation laws and public attitudes toward interracial marriage]).{**7 NY3d at 385}

It is no answer that same-sex couples can be excluded from marriage because "marriage," by definition, does not include them. In the end, "an argument that marriage is heterosexual because it 'just is' amounts to circular reasoning" (Halpern v Attorney Gen. of Can., 65 OR3d 161, 172 OAC 276, ¶ 71 [2003]). "To define the institution of marriage by the characteristics of those to whom it always has been accessible, in order to justify the exclusion of those to whom it never has been accessible, is conclusory and bypasses the core question we are asked to decide" (Goodridge v Department of Pub. Health, 440 Mass 309, 348, 798 NE2d 941, 972-973 [2003] [Greaney, J., concurring]). [*22]

The claim that marriage has always had a single and unalterable meaning is a plain distortion of history. In truth, the common understanding of "marriage" has changed dramatically over the centuries (see brief of Professors of History and Family Law, as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs). Until well into the nineteenth century, for example, marriage was defined by the doctrine of coverture, according to which the wife's legal identity was merged into that of her husband, whose property she became. A married woman, by definition, could not own property and could not enter into contracts.[FN2] Such was the very "meaning" of marriage. Only since the mid-twentieth century has the institution of marriage come to be understood as a relationship between two equal partners, founded upon shared intimacy and mutual financial and emotional support. Indeed, as amici professors note, "The historical record shows that, through adjudication and legislation, all of New York's sex-specific rules for marriage have been invalidated save for the one at issue here."

That restrictions on same-sex marriage are prevalent cannot in itself justify their retention. After all, widespread public opposition to interracial marriage in the years before Loving could not sustain the antimiscegenation laws. "[T]he fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice" (Lawrence, 539 US at 577-578 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see also id. at 571 [fundamental right to engage in private consensual sexual conduct extends to homosexuals, notwithstanding that "for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual{**7 NY3d at 386} conduct as immoral"]). The long duration of a constitutional wrong cannot justify its perpetuation, no matter how strongly tradition or public sentiment might support it.

  1. Equal Protection

By virtue of their being denied entry into civil marriage, plaintiff couples are deprived of a number of statutory benefits and protections extended to married couples under New York law. Unlike married spouses, same-sex partners may be denied hospital visitation of their critically ill life partners. They must spend more of their joint income to obtain equivalent levels of health care coverage. They may, upon the death of their partners, find themselves at risk of losing the family home. The record is replete with examples of the hundreds of ways in which committed same-sex couples and their children are deprived of equal benefits under New York law. Same-sex families are, among other things, denied equal treatment with respect to intestacy, inheritance, tenancy by the entirety, taxes, insurance, health benefits, medical decisionmaking, workers' compensation, the right to sue for wrongful death and spousal privilege. Each of these statutory inequities, as well as the discriminatory exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefits and protections of civil marriage as a whole, violates their constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.

Correctly framed, the question before us is not whether the marriage statutes properly benefit those they are intended to benefit—any discriminatory classification does that—but whether there exists any legitimate basis for excluding those who are not covered by the law. [*23]That the language of the licensing statute does not expressly reference the implicit exclusion of same-sex couples is of no moment (see Domestic Relations Law § 13 ["persons intended to be married" must obtain a marriage license]). The Court has, properly, construed the statutory scheme as prohibiting same-sex marriage. That being so, the statute, in practical effect, becomes identical to—and, for purposes of equal protection analysis, must be analyzed as if it were—one explicitly providing that "civil marriage is hereby established for couples consisting of a man and a woman," or, synonymously, "marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited."

On three independent grounds, this discriminatory classification is subject to heightened scrutiny, a test that defendants concede it cannot pass.{**7 NY3d at 387}

  1. Heightened Scrutiny
  2. Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Homosexuals meet the constitutional definition of a suspect class, that is, a group whose defining characteristic is "so seldom relevant to the achievement of any legitimate state interest that laws grounded in such considerations are deemed to reflect prejudice and antipathy—a view that those in the burdened class are not as worthy or deserving as others" (Cleburne, 473 US at 440). Accordingly, any classification discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation must be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest (see e.g. Alevy v Downstate Med. Ctr. of State of N.Y., 39 NY2d 326, 332 [1976]; Matter of Aliessa v Novello, 96 NY2d 418, 431 [2001]).

"No single talisman can define those groups likely to be the target of classifications offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore warranting heightened or strict scrutiny" (Cleburne, 473 US at 472 n 24 [Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part]). Rather, such scrutiny is to be applied when analyzing legislative classifications involving groups who "may well be the target of the sort of prejudiced, thoughtless, or stereotyped action that offends principles of equality found in" the Constitution (id. at 472).

Although no single factor is dispositive, the Supreme Court has generally looked to three criteria in determining whether a group subject to legislative classification must be considered "suspect." First, the Court has considered whether the group has historically been subjected to purposeful discrimination. Homosexuals plainly have been, as the Legislature expressly found when it recently enacted the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), barring discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit and the exercise of civil rights. Specifically, the Legislature found

"that many residents of this state have encountered prejudice on account of their sexual orientation, and that this prejudice has severely limited or actually prevented access to employment, housing and other basic necessities of life, leading to deprivation and suffering. The legislature further recognizes that this prejudice has fostered a general climate of hostility and distrust, leading in some instances to{**7 NY3d at 388} physical violence against those perceived to be homosexual or bisexual" (L 2002, ch 2, § 1; see also brief of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc., et al., as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 22-49 [detailing history of state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians]).

[*24]

Second, the Court has considered whether the trait used to define the class is unrelated to the ability to perform and participate in society. When the State differentiates among its citizens "on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities" (Massachusetts Bd. of Retirement v Murgia, 427 US 307, 313 [1976]), the legislative classification must be closely scrutinized. Obviously, sexual orientation is irrelevant to one's ability to perform or contribute.

Third, the Court has taken into account the group's relative political powerlessness. Defendants contend that classifications based on sexual orientation should not be afforded heightened scrutiny because, they claim, homosexuals are sufficiently able to achieve protection from discrimination through the political process, as evidenced by the Legislature's passage of SONDA in 2002. SONDA, however, was first introduced in 1971. It failed repeatedly for 31 years, until it was finally enacted just four years ago. Further, during the Senate debate on the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, one Senator noted that "[i]t's no secret that for years we could have passed a hate-crimes bill if we were willing to take out gay people, if we were willing to take out sexual orientation" (New York State Senate Debate on Senate Bill S 4691-A, June 7, 2000, at 4609 [statement of Senator Schneiderman]; accord id. at 4548-4549 [statement of Senator Connor]). The simple fact is that New York has not enacted anything approaching comprehensive statewide domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples, much less marriage or even civil unions.

In any event, the Supreme Court has never suggested that racial or sexual classifications are not (or are no longer) subject to heightened scrutiny because of the passage of even comprehensive civil rights laws (see Cleburne, 473 US at 467 [Marshall, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part]). Indeed, sex discrimination was first held to deserve heightened scrutiny in 1973—after passage of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination. Such measures acknowledge—rather {**7 NY3d at 389}than mark the end of—a history of purposeful discrimination (see Frontiero v Richardson, 411 US 677, 687-688 [1973] [citing antidiscrimination legislation to support conclusion that classifications based on sex merit heightened scrutiny]).

Nor is plaintiffs' claim legitimately answered by the argument that the licensing statute does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation since it permits homosexuals to marry persons of the opposite sex and forbids heterosexuals to marry persons of the same sex. The purported "right" of gays and lesbians to enter into marriages with different-sex partners to whom they have no innate attraction cannot possibly cure the constitutional violation actually at issue here. "The right to marry is the right of individuals, not of . . . groups" (Perez v Sharp, 32 Cal 2d 711, 716, 198 P2d 17, 20 [1948]). "Human beings are bereft of worth and dignity by a doctrine that would make them as interchangeable as trains" (32 Cal 2d at 725, 198 P2d at 25). Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples undeniably restricts gays and lesbians from marrying their chosen same-sex partners whom "to [them] may be irreplaceable" (id.)—and thus constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation.[FN3]

[*25]2. Sex Discrimination

The exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage also discriminates on the basis of sex, which provides a further basis for requiring heightened scrutiny. Classifications based on sex must be substantially related to the achievement of important governmental objectives (see e.g. Craig v Boren, 429 US 190, 197 [1976]), and must have an "exceedingly persuasive justification" (Mississippi Univ. for Women v Hogan, 458 US 718, 724 [1982] [citations omitted]).

Under the Domestic Relations Law, a woman who seeks to marry another woman is prevented from doing so on account of her sex—that is, because she is not a man. If she were, she would be given a marriage license to marry that woman. That{**7 NY3d at 390} the statutory scheme applies equally to both sexes does not alter the conclusion that the classification here is based on sex. The "equal application" approach to equal protection analysis was expressly rejected by the Supreme Court in Loving: "[W]e reject the notion that the mere 'equal application' of a statute containing [discriminatory] classifications is enough to remove the classifications from the [constitutional] proscription of all invidious . . . discriminations" (388 US at 8). Instead, the Loving court held that "[t]here can be no question but that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race [where the] statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races" (id. at 11; see also Johnson v California, 543 US 499, 506 [2005]; McLaughlin v Florida, 379 US 184, 191 [1964]; Anderson v Martin, 375 US 399, 403-404 [1964]; Shelley v Kraemer, 334 US 1, 21-22 [1948]; J. E. B. v Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 US 127, 141-142 [1994] [government exercise of peremptory challenges on the basis of gender constitutes impermissible sex discrimination even though based on gender stereotyping of both men and women]).

  1. Fundamental Right

"Equality of treatment and the due process right to demand respect for conduct protected by the substantive guarantee of liberty are linked in important respects, and a decision on the latter point advances both interests" (Lawrence, 539 US at 575). Because, as already discussed, the legislative classification here infringes on the exercise of the fundamental right to marry, the classification cannot be upheld unless it is necessary to the achievement of a compelling state interest (see Onofre, 51 NY2d at 492 n 6; Alevy, 39 NY2d at 332; Eisenstadt v Baird, 405 US 438, 447 n 7 [1972]). "[C]ritical examination of the state interests advanced in support of the classification is required" (Zablocki, 434 US at 383 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). And if "the means selected by the State for achieving" even "legitimate and substantial interests" unnecessarily impinge on the right to marry, the statutory distinction "cannot be sustained" (id. at 388).

  1. Rational-Basis Analysis

Although the classification challenged here should be analyzed using heightened scrutiny, it does not satisfy even rational-basis review, which requires that the classification "rationally further{**7 NY3d at 391} a legitimate state interest" (Affronti v Crosson, 95 NY2d 713, 718 [2001], cert [*26]denied sub nom. Affronti v Lippman, 534 US 826 [2001]). Rational-basis review requires both the existence of a legitimate interest and that the classification rationally advance that interest. Although a number of interests have been proffered in support of the challenged classification at issue, none is rationally furthered by the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Some fail even to meet the threshold test of legitimacy.

Properly analyzed, equal protection requires that it be the legislated distinction that furthers a legitimate state interest, not the discriminatory law itself (see e.g. Cooper, 49 NY2d at 78; Romer v Evans, 517 US 620, 633 [1996]). Were it otherwise, an irrational or invidious exclusion of a particular group would be permitted so long as there was an identifiable group that benefitted from the challenged legislation. In other words, it is not enough that the State have a legitimate interest in recognizing or supporting opposite-sex marriages. The relevant question here is whether there exists a rational basis for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, and, in fact, whether the State's interests in recognizing or supporting opposite-sex marriages are rationally furthered by the exclusion.

  1. Children

Defendants primarily assert an interest in encouraging procreation within marriage. But while encouraging opposite-sex couples to marry before they have children is certainly a legitimate interest of the State, the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from marriage in no way furthers this interest. There are enough marriage licenses to go around for everyone.

Nor does this exclusion rationally further the State's legitimate interest in encouraging heterosexual married couples to procreate. Plainly, the ability or desire to procreate is not a prerequisite for marriage. The elderly are permitted to marry, and many same-sex couples do indeed have children. Thus, the statutory classification here—which prohibits only same-sex couples, and no one else, from marrying—is so grossly underinclusive and overinclusive as to make the asserted rationale in promoting procreation "impossible to credit" (Romer, 517 US at 635).[FN4] Indeed, even the Lawrence dissenters observed that "encouragement of procreation" could not "possibly" be a justification for {**7 NY3d at 392}denying marriage to gay and lesbian couples, "since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry" (539 US at 605 [Scalia, J., dissenting]; see also Lapides v Lapides, 254 NY 73, 80 [1930] ["inability to bear children" does not justify an annulment under the Domestic Relations Law]).

Of course, there are many ways in which the government could rationally promote procreation—for example, by giving tax breaks to couples who have children, subsidizing child care for those couples, or mandating generous family leave for parents. Any of these benefits—and many more—might convince people who would not otherwise have children [*27]to do so. But no one rationally decides to have children because gays and lesbians are excluded from marriage.

In holding that prison inmates have a fundamental right to marry—even though they cannot procreate—the Supreme Court has made it clear that procreation is not the sine qua non of marriage. "Many important attributes of marriage remain . . . after taking into account the limitations imposed by prison life. . . . [I]nmate marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and public commitment. These elements are an important and significant aspect of the marital relationship" (Turner, 482 US at 95-96). Nor is there any conceivable rational basis for allowing prison inmates to marry, but not homosexuals. It is, of course, no answer that inmates could potentially procreate once they are released—that is, once they are no longer prisoners—since, as nonprisoners, they would then undeniably have a right to marry even in the absence of Turner.

Marriage is about much more than producing children, yet same-sex couples are excluded from the entire spectrum of protections that come with civil marriage—purportedly to encourage other people to procreate. Indeed, the protections that the State gives to couples who do marry—such as the right to own property as a unit or to make medical decisions for each other—are focused largely on the adult relationship, rather than on the couple's possible role as parents. Nor does the{**7 NY3d at 393} plurality even attempt to explain how offering only heterosexuals the right to visit a sick loved one in the hospital, for example, conceivably furthers the State's interest in encouraging opposite-sex couples to have children, or indeed how excluding same-sex couples from each of the specific legal benefits of civil marriage—even apart from the totality of marriage itself—does not independently violate plaintiffs' rights to equal protection of the laws. The breadth of protections that the marriage laws make unavailable to gays and lesbians is "so far removed" from the State's asserted goal of promoting procreation that the justification is, again, "impossible to credit" (Romer, 517 US at 635).

The State plainly has a legitimate interest in the welfare of children, but excluding same-sex couples from marriage in no way furthers this interest. In fact, it undermines it. Civil marriage provides tangible legal protections and economic benefits to married couples and their children, and tens of thousands of children are currently being raised by same-sex couples in New York. Depriving these children of the benefits and protections available to the children of opposite-sex couples is antithetical to their welfare, as defendants do not dispute (see e.g. Baker v State, 170 Vt 194, 219, 744 A2d 864, 882 [1999] ["(i)f anything, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the legal protections incident to marriage exposes their children to the precise risks that the State argues the marriage laws are designed to secure against"]; cf. Matter of Jacob, 86 NY2d 651, 656 [1995] ["(t)o rule otherwise would mean that the thousands of New York children actually being raised in homes headed by two unmarried persons could have only one legal parent, not the two who want them"]). The State's interest in a stable society is rationally advanced when families are established and remain intact irrespective of the gender of the spouses.

Nor may the State legitimately seek either to promote heterosexual parents over homosexual parents, as the plurality posits, or to discourage same-sex parenting. First, granting such a preference to heterosexuals would be an acknowledgment of purposeful discrimination against homosexuals, thus constituting a flagrant equal protection violation. Second, such a preference would be contrary to the stated public policy of New York, and therefore irrational (see 18 NYCRR 421.16 [h] [2] [applicants to be adoptive parents "shall not be rejected solely on the basis of homosexuality"]; see also Jacob, 86 NY2d at 668 [same-sex partner of a legal parent may adopt that parent's child; "(a)ny proffered justification for rejecting (adoptions) based on a governmental policy disapproving of homosexuality or encouraging marriage would not apply"]; brief of American Psychological Association et al., as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 34-43 [collecting the results of social scientific research studies which conclude that children raised by same-sex parents fare no differently from, and do as well as, those raised by opposite-sex parents in terms of the quality of the parent-child relationship and the mental health, development and social adjustment of the child]; brief of Association to Benefit Children et al., as amici curiae in support of plaintiffs, at 31-35 [same conclusion]).[FN5]

  1. Moral Disapproval

The government cannot legitimately justify discrimination against one group of persons as a mere desire to preference another group (see Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v Ward, 470 US 869, 882 and n 10 [1985]). Further, the Supreme Court has held that classifications "drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law" can never be legitimate (Romer, 517 US at 633), and that "a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest" (Department of Agriculture v Moreno, 413 US 528, 534 [1973]; see also Onofre, 51 NY2d at 490 ["disapproval by a majority of the populace . . . may not substitute for the required demonstration of a valid basis for intrusion by the State in an area of important personal decision"]; Palmore v Sidoti, 466 US 429, 433 [1984] ["(p)rivate biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect"]; Lawrence, 539 US at 571 [no legitimate basis to penalize gay and lesbian relationships notwithstanding that "for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral"]; id. at 583 [O'Connor, J., concurring in the judgment] ["(m)oral disapproval" of homosexuals cannot be a legitimate state interest]).

  1. Tradition

That civil marriage has traditionally excluded same-sex couples—i.e., that the "historic and cultural understanding of marriage" has been between a man and a woman—cannot in itself provide a rational basis for the challenged exclusion. To say that discrimination is "traditional" is to say only that the discrimination has existed for a long time. A classification, however, cannot be maintained merely "for its own sake" (Romer, 517 US at 635). Instead, the classification (here, the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from civil marriage) must advance a state interest that is separate from the classification itself (see Romer, 517 US at 633, 635). Because the "tradition" of excluding gay men and lesbians from civil marriage is no different from the classification itself, the exclusion cannot be justified on the basis of "history." Indeed, the justification of "tradition" does not explain the classification; it merely repeats it. Simply put, a history or tradition of discrimination—no matter how entrenched—does not make the discrimination constitutional (see also Goodridge, 440 Mass at 332 n 23, 798 NE2d at 961 n 23 ["it is circular reasoning, not analysis, to maintain that marriage must remain a heterosexual institution because that is what it historically has been"]).[FN6]

  1. Uniformity

The State asserts an interest in maintaining uniformity with the marriage laws of other states. But our marriage laws currently are not uniform with those of other states. For example, New York—unlike most other states in the nation—permits first cousins to marry (see Domestic Relations Law § 5). This disparity has caused no trouble, however, because well-settled principles of comity resolve any conflicts. The same well-settled principles of comity would resolve any conflicts arising from any disparity involving the recognition of same-sex marriages.

It is, additionally, already impossible to maintain uniformity among all the states, inasmuch as Massachusetts has now legalized same-sex marriage. Indeed, of the seven jurisdictions that border New York State, only Pennsylvania currently affords no legal status to same-sex relationships. Massachusetts, Ontario and Quebec all authorize same-sex marriage; Vermont and Connecticut provide for civil unions (see Vt Stat Ann, tit 15, § 1204 [a]; Conn Gen Stat § 46b-38nn); and New Jersey has a statewide domestic partnership law (see NJ Stat Ann § 26:8A-1 et seq.). Moreover, insofar as a number of localities within New York offer domestic partnership registration, even the law within the state is not uniform. Finally, and most fundamentally, to justify the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from civil marriage because "others do it too" is no more a justification for the discriminatory classification than the contention that the discrimination is rational because it has existed for a long time. As history has well taught us, separate is inherently unequal.

III. The Legislature

The Court ultimately concludes that the issue of same-sex marriage should be addressed by the Legislature. If the Legislature were to amend the statutory scheme by making it gender neutral, obviously the instant controversy would disappear. But this Court cannot avoid its obligation to remedy constitutional violations in the hope that the Legislature might some day render the question presented academic. After all, by the time the Court decided Loving in 1967, many states had already repealed their antimiscegenation laws. Despite this trend, however, the Supreme Court did not refrain from fulfilling its constitutional obligation.

The fact remains that although a number of bills to authorize same-sex marriage have been introduced in the Legislature over the past several years, none has ever made it out of committee (see 2005 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 5156, A 7463; 2005 NY Assembly Bill A 1823; 2003 NY Senate Bill S 3816; 2003 NY Assembly Bill A 7392; 2001 NY Senate Bill S 1205; see also 2005 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 1887-A, A 3693-A [proposing establishment of domestic partnerships]; 2004 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 3393-A, A 7304-A [same]).

It is uniquely the function of the Judicial Branch to safeguard individual liberties guaranteed by the New York State Constitution, and to order redress for their violation. The Court's duty to protect constitutional rights is an imperative of the separation of powers, not its enemy.

I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep

footnotes:

Footnote 1: In other contexts, this Court has also recognized that due process rights must be afforded to all, even as against a history of exclusion of one group or another from past exercise of these rights (see e.g. Matter of Raquel Marie X., 76 NY2d 387, 397 [1990] [affording the right to custody of one's children to unwed fathers, despite a long history of excluding unwed fathers from that right]; Rivers v Katz, 67 NY2d 485, 495-496 [1986] [affording the right to refuse medical treatment to the mentally disabled, despite a long history of excluding the mentally ill from that right]).
Footnote 2: Moreover, until as recently as 1984, a husband could not be prosecuted for raping his wife (see People v Liberta, 64 NY2d 152 [1984]).
Footnote 3: Indeed, the true nature and extent of the discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians in this regard is perhaps best illustrated by the simple truth that each one of the plaintiffs here could lawfully enter into a marriage of convenience with a complete stranger of the opposite sex tomorrow, and thereby immediately obtain all of the myriad benefits and protections incident to marriage. Plaintiffs are, however, denied these rights because they each desire instead to marry the person they love and with whom they have created their family.
Footnote 4: Although the plurality asserts that the Legislature could not possibly exclude from marriage opposite-sex couples unable to have children because to do so would require "grossly intrusive inquiries" (plurality op at 365), no explanation is given as to why the Legislature could not easily remedy the irrationality inherent in allowing all childless couples to marry—if, as the plurality believes, the sole purpose of marriage is procreation—by simply barring from civil marriage all couples in which both spouses are older than, say, 55. In that event, the State would have no need to undertake intrusive inquiries of any kind.
Footnote 5: Nor could the State have a legitimate interest in privileging some children over others depending on the manner in which they were conceived or whether or not their parents were married (see Jacob, 86 NY2d at 667 [depriving children of legal relationship with de facto parents "based solely on their biological mother's sexual orientation or marital status . . . raise(s) constitutional concerns"]; Levy v Louisiana, 391 US 68, 71 [1968] [child born out of wedlock may not be denied rights enjoyed by other citizens]).
Footnote 6: Ultimately, as the Lawrence dissenters recognized, " 'preserving the traditional institution of marriage' is just a kinder way of describing the State's moral disapproval of same-sex couples" (539 US at 601 [Scalia, J., dissenting]), an illegitimate basis for depriving gay and lesbian couples of the equal protection of the laws.


January 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Gender, News, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Daily Read: Attorneys, Abortions, and the Amicus Brief in Whole Women's Health

The amicus brief of Anice MacAvoy, Janie Schulman, and Over 110 Other Women in the Legal Profession Who Have Exercised their Constitutional Right to an Abortion filed in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the abortion case before the United States Supreme Court regarding Texas's controversial HB2 statute, puts the emotions and stories of legal professionals whose abortions have played a positive role in their lives and careers.

Although the amicus does not cite the Court's most recent abortion decision, Gonzales v. Carhart (Carhart II), the import of the amicus is a challenge to some of the reasoning in that case.  Specifically, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Carhart II stated that:

Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. The Act recognizes this reality as well. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision. Casey, supra, at 852–853 (opinion of the Court). While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. See Brief for Sandra Cano et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 05–380, pp. 22–24. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow. See ibid.

The dissenting opinion of four Justices, authored by Justice Ginsburg, responded to this passage at length:

Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from “[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.” Ante, at 29. Because of women’s fragile emotional state and because of the “bond of love the mother has for her child,” the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. Ante, at 28–29. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Cf. Casey, 505 U. S., at 873 (plurality opinion) (“States are free to enact laws to provide a reasonable framework for a woman to make a decision that has such profound and lasting meaning.”). Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

 

Myra_Bradwell_1870
Myra Bradwell, attorney, circa 1870

This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution—ideas that have long since been discredited. Compare, e.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U. S. 412, 422–423 (1908) (“protective” legislation imposing hours-of-work limitations on women only held permissible in view of women’s “physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal funct[ion]”); Bradwell v. State, 16Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, J., concurring) (“Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. … The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”), with United States v. Virginia, 518 U. S. 515 , n. 12 (1996) (State may not rely on “overbroad generalizations” about the “talents, capacities, or preferences” of women; “[s]uch judgments have … impeded … women’s progress toward full citizenship stature throughout our Nation’s history”); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U. S. 199, 207 (1977) (gender-based Social Security classification rejected because it rested on “archaic and overbroad generalizations” “such as assumptions as to [women’s] dependency” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Though today’s majority may regard women’s feelings on the matter as “self-evident,” ante, at 29, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]he destiny of the woman must be shaped … on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 852. See also id., at 877 (plurality opinion) (“[M]eans chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.”); supra, at 3–4.

[footnotes omitted].

The brief of the attorneys who have had abortions and are legal professionals clearly supports the view that women must be able to exercise reproductive free choice.  The stories of the women attorneys gathered in the amicus brief is a testament to the positive aspects of abortions - - - rather than the regrets - - - that women attorneys have experienced. 

 

 

 

 


January 7, 2016 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alabama's CJ Roy Moore Issues Administrative Order on Same-Sex Marriage

Despite the United States Supreme Court's holding last Term in Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the controversial Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an " Adminstrative Order" forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect."

Alabama5Today's administrative opinion is part of Moore's ongoing reaction to constitutional issues surrounding same-sex marriage.  After an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Judge Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue.  Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment.  Despite these direct orders, seemingly Moore's current argument in today's Administrative Order is that Obergfell does not apply to Alabama but only the states involved in the Sixth Circuit opinion to which the Court granted certiorari.

Judge Moore's "interesting" construction of constitutional law is not limited to the precedential value of United States Supreme Court opinions.  Several months ago - - - in a lesbian second-parent adoption case, E.L. - - - the Alabama Supreme held that Alabama need not accord full faith and credit to a Georgia decision because of a dissenting opinion. The United States Supreme Court stayed the decision in E.L. pending a decision on the petition for certiorari.

 

 

January 6, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ACLU Sues to Force Indiana to Take Syrian Refugees

The Indiana ACLU filed suit late yesterday in federal court seeking to force Indiana to take Syrian refugees. The lawsuit argues that Governor Mike Pence's action halting state aid to refugee resettlement efforts is preempted by federal law and violates equal protection and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case started when Indiana Governor Mike Pence said that his state would not accept Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks, and ordered state agencies not to provide assistance for resettlement efforts. Indiana then turned away a Syrian family (that was subsequently placed in Connecticut).

The ACLU sued on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc., a private non-profit that provides nuts-and-bolts assistance to refugee families in the state. Exodus claims it incurred costs in anticipation of the federal government accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees, some of whom would come to Indiana, but did not receive reimbursement from the state (as it usually would) after Governor Pence ordered state agencies to stop supporting Syrian refugee resettlement.

The complaint argues that the INA preempts Governor Pence's order. It recognizes that the INA requires the federal government to "take into account recommendations of the State," among other considerations and to the extent possible, but correctly says that "[t]he INA does not allow a State to veto placement of a refugee within the State . . . ." In short:

Defendants' suspension of the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana is preempted by the Constitution and federal law for multiple reasons, including that it impinges on the exclusively federal authority to regulate immigration and to classify non-citizens; that federal law occupies the field of refugee admission and resettlement; and that it conflicts with the Immigration and Nationality Act and other federal statutes.

The plaintiffs also argue that Governor Pence's order violates equal protection and Title VI.

Indiana is one of 31 states that have "refused" to accept Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. (The quotes are because states don't have this authority.) But this appears to be the first federal lawsuit against a governor's order to halt state support for resettlement.

November 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Federal Judge Finds Transgender Status a Fundamental Privacy Right

In an opinion denying a motion to dismiss in Love v. Johnson, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Nancy Edmunds has concluded there is a fundamental privacy right in one's transgender status under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.  The constitutional challenge is to Michigan's policy for changing the sex designation on state-issued identification, including drivers licenses.  Under the policy, the only document that is accepted as a proof of sex designation is a certified birth certificate.   Thus, transgendered individuals would need an amended certified birth certificate - - - for which the procurement process is described as "onerous" - - - and could not use passports, which are specifically excluded by the Michigan policy.

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sample Michigan driver license via

In finding a fundamental right, the judge considered Sixth Circuit precedent that there were two types of fundamental rights protected “by the right to privacy that is rooted in substantive due process”:  the interest in “independence in making certain kinds of important decisions,” and the “interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters.”  The court found that the latter - - - the "informational privacy" interest - - - was implicated.  This right must not only relate to a "fundamental liberty interest" but must satisfy either of two conditions: "the release of personal information could lead to bodily harm" or "the information released was of a sexual, personal, and humiliating nature."  The judge found that both 'the potential for harm' and 'the personal nature' conditions were satisfied.  The judge rejected the State's argument that the plaintiffs had not satisfied the harm prong because they had not shown sufficiently specific danger to themselves; it recognized "hostility and intolerance" and cited supporting Second Circuit caselaw.

The judge then applied strict scrutiny, writing that when

state action infringes upon a fundamental right, “such action will be upheld under the substantive due process component of the Fourteenth Amendment only where the governmental action furthers a compelling state interest, and is narrowly drawn to further that state interest.”  Defendant vaguely identifies two purported interests–albeit not in the context of a fundamental right–in support of the Policy: (1) “maintaining accurate state identification documents” to “promote effective law enforcement” and, (2) ensuring “that the information on the license is consistent with other state records describing the individual.”

[citations and footnote omitted].   The judge found that the means chosen - - - the restrictive policy - - - bears "little, if any, connection" to the "purported interests."  The judge considered two facts especially salient.  First, the Michigan policy applied only to those wishing to change the sex designation on a drivers license, not to procure an original drivers license (in which case a passport would be acceptable identification).  Second,  Michigan's policy was especially restrictive: the majority of other states, as well as the federal government, did not require a certified birth certificate and thus the judge stated she was "unable to conclude at this juncture that the Policy narrowly serves the state’s interest in maintaining “accurate” identification documents or promoting effective law enforcement."

While the complaint raised other constitutional claims, including an equal protection claim, the judge found the motion to dismiss need not be considered as to those claims given the conclusion that there is a valid substantive due process claim which will move forward.

 

November 18, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Federal Judge Applies Intermediate Scrutiny in Transgender Equal Protection Claim

Considering a complaint regarding an arrest during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, United States District Judge Jed Rakoff has allowed the Equal Protection Clause claim to proceed in his opinion  in Adkins v. City of New York.

 The judge based his opinion on the Second Circuit's 2012 decision in United States v. Windsor (affirmed on other grounds by the United States Supreme Court):

[The Second Circuit in] Windsor held that gay people were a quasi-suspect class on the basis of four factors: gay people have suffered a history of persecution; sexual orientation has no relation to ability to contribute to society; gay people are a discernible group; and gay people remain politically weakened. While transgender people and gay people are not identical, they are similarly situated with respect to each of Windsor’s four factors.

OccupyJudge Rakoff then applied each of the factors (derived from Carolene Products' footnote four) to hold that transgender people are a quasi-suspect class.  Indeed, Judge Rakoff decides that in each of the factors, transgender people more easily meet the factor than "gay people" did at the time of the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor.  For example, on the political weakness factor, Judge Rakoff reasoned:

Fourth, transgender people are a politically powerless minority. “The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination.” Windsor, 699 F.3d at 184. Particularly in comparison to gay people at the time of Windsor, transgender people lack the political strength to protect themselves. For example, transgender people cannot serve openly in the military, see Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03 at 48 (incorporating changes as of September 13, 2011), as gay people could when Windsor was decided. See Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Pub.L. No. 111–321, 124 Stat. 3515. Moreover, like gay people, it is difficult to assess the degree of underrepresentation of transgender people in positions of authority without knowing their number relative to the cisgender population. However, in at least one way this underrepresentation inquiry is easier with respect to transgender people: for, although there are and were gay members of the United States Congress (since Windsor, in both houses), as well as gay federal judges, there is no indication that there have ever been any transgender members of the United States Congress or the federal judiciary.

In applying intermediate scrutiny, the judge rejected the government's argument that there was an important safety interest by concluding that there were no actual safety concerns according to the allegations of the complaint (taken as true in the procedural posture of the motion to dismiss).  Judge Rakoff continued:

Moreover, defendants cannot argue their actions were substantially related to ensuring plaintiff’s safety when they removed him from an allegedly safe place and caused him injury, albeit minimal injury, by handcuffing him to a wall next to the sole bathroom in the precinct.

The judge found that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, especially given that the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor occurred after the October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest.  However, the judge found that the City of New York could be held liable under a specific pattern on conduct in the unequal treatment of transgender persons.

Thus, the case moves to settlement as so many of the Occupy arrest cases have done - - - unless New York City chooses to appeal the decision that transgendered individuals merit intermediate scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

[image via]

November 17, 2015 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Daily Read: SALT Amicus Brief in Fisher v. UT (II)

As the oral argument scheduled for December 9  for Fisher II approaches, organizations and individuals are filing amicus briefs for the Court's consideration.  SALT - - - the Society of American Law Teachers - - - a progressive organization of law faculty that has long fought for diversity in legal education, has predictably filed an amicus brief supporting University of Texas's admissions program. 

Logo-saltOne of the more interesting aspects of the brief is its argument that race neutrality is essentially impossible: "race-blind holistic review is not only a contradiction in terms, it is infeasible."  As the brief argues, "Put simply, because peoples’ lives are not “color blind,” neither can a holistic admissions policy be."

Consider a college application from an individual who lists youth leadership in his or her African Methodist Episcopal Church as an activity. Or consider an application from a first-generation Latina high-school senior whose personal essay discusses her immigrant parents’ experiences and how she learned to thrive in an English-dominated culture even though Spanish is the language spoken at home. If the reader is to conduct holistic review but cannot consider race, the reader is confronted with uncomfortable choices about how to handle these applications.

Moreover, if the reader cannot consider race, the reader would be confronted with an impossible task, because race affects assessments of individuals consciously or unconsciously, regardless of intentions and any mandate from this Court. . . .

Just as Dostoevsky’s polar bear will occupy the mind of anyone challenged not to think about it, so too will the admonition not to think about race generate an unspoken preoccupation with that subject.

 Although the SALT amicus brief does not argue that race will then be only used negatively, that is perhaps a consequence of an elimination of racialized diversity as a positive value.

 

November 10, 2015 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, Race, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Court Hears Oral Arguments in Batson Challenge to Death Sentence

The Court heard oral arguments today in Foster v. Humphrey regarding a challenge to a 1987 conviction and death sentence by an all-white Georgia jury based on  Batson v. Kentucky (1986) applying equal protection principles to peremptory challenges in jury selection.

A seemingly new issue on the case involved whether or not the United States Supreme Court should be hearing the case at all.  While the Court granted certiorari to the Georgia Supreme Court (as we discussed and as the petition requested), the problem is that the Georgia Supreme Court had denied review . . . . for reasons that are unclear.  Was it discretionary? Was that discretion bounded?  Did the Georgia Supreme Court's denial of review for lack of a meritorous claim constitute a decision on the merits?  And even more complexly, did the Georgia state courts have an adequate and independent state ground - - - res judicata - - - under Michigan v. Long (1983)?  (Beth Burton, the attorney for Georgia seemed to concede this was not the case.)  And to add yet another layer of complexity, even if the United States Supreme Court decided it should review the matter, what exactly should it review? As Chief Justice Roberts asked, "In other words, are we addressing just whether there's arguable merit to the claim or are we addressing the claim on its own merits?"

On the merits of the Batson claim, the problem arises from the "smoking gun" of prosecutorial notes singling out the Black potential jurors in the case.  Although Steve Bright, attorney for Foster suggested that there was "an arsenal of smoking guns" here, Justice Scalia suggested that Foster had to "establish [in order ] to reverse the Georgia courts is that the new smoking gun, assuming that all the rest were not enough to demonstrate a Batson violation ­­ the new smoking guns would tip the scale."  Justice Kagan seemed to see it differently, suggesting to Beth Burton, the Georgia Deputy Attorney, that this was a clear Batson violation:

You have a lot of new information here from these files that suggests that what the prosecutors were doing was looking at the African-­American prospective jurors as a group, that they had basically said, we don't want any of these people.  Here is the one we want if we really have to take one.  But that there ­­ all the evidence suggests a kind of singling out, which is the very antithesis of the Batson rule.

Burton initially suggested that the prosecutors' notes highlighting Black jurors was that the prosecutor was preparing for a Batson challenge.  Justice Breyer expressed some incredulity at this based on the fact that prosecutors never previously advanced such a reason.  Justice Breyer also seemingly expressed incredulity at the prosecutors' argument that there were "40 different reasons" - - - other than race - - - meant that one was truly valid, rather than drawing an inference from the sheer number of reasons that they were invalid. 

Justice Kennedy, perhaps the decisive vote, seemed convinced the prosecutors committed a Batson violation: "They've ­­ - - - they've made a mistake - - - ­­ they've made a mistake of - - -­­ in Batson."  But Justice Kennedy was also quite vocal in pressing the attorneys on the procedural issue, which could be an escape hatch for the Court in what could prove to be a difficult case.

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November 2, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

En Banc Sixth Circuit Rejects "Heckler's Veto" in "Bible Believers" Protest at Arab-American Festival

The en banc Sixth Circuit's opinion in Bible Believers v. Wayne County clearly rejected the existence of a "heckler's veto" to inflammatory but protected speech under the First Amendment's speech clause, as well as finding the speech protected under the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The en banc court also found that the government was liable and that there was no qualified immunity.

Recall that last year a panel of the Sixth Circuit rejected the constitutional challenges of the Bible Believers group, affirming the district judge's grant of summary judgment for the government.

The underlying controversy arose when a group known as the "Bible Believers," Evangelical Christians, came to the Arab International festival on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan - - - as they had done the year before - - - to "preach."  Their speech included "strongly worded" slogans on signs, t-shirts, and banners (e.g., "Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder"),  a "severed pig's head

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Repin, Demontsration 1905, via

on a stick" (intended to protect the Bible Believers by repelling observers who feared it), statements through a megaphone castigating the following of a "pedophile prophet" and warning of "God's impending judgment."  A crowd gathered, seemingly mostly of children and adolescents, who yelled back and threw items at the preachers.  A law enforcement asked the Bible Believers to leave, and - when pressed - saying they would be cited for disorderly conduct. They were eventually escorted out.

The Sixth Circuit's extensive en banc opinion, authored by Judge Eric Clay - - - and in which 8 (including Clay) of the 15 Sixth Circuit judges joined - - - resolutely "confirms" the free speech protections that should be accorded to a speaker even when "angry, hostile, or violent crowds" seek to silence that speaker. 

The opinion first finds that the Bible Believers' speech was protected, rejecting exception of incitement (to riot) and fighting words.  The "fighting words" discussion is regrettably short - - - a single paragraph - - - and summarily advances the "objective standard" requiring the insult to be likely to provoke the "average person" (emphasis in original) and moreover to be directed at an "individual."  In the context of the facts here, these principles deserved further exploration.

After a brief discussion of the public forum, the en banc opinion then discussed at length the "heckler's veto" doctrine and concluded it was not a viable doctrine.  Applying that conclusion, the opinion discussed law enforcement performance, citing the video record (which the court did at several points in the opinion): there was "next to no attempt made by the officers to protect the Bible Believers or prevent the lawless actions of the audience" and  it was not sufficient an effort "to maintain peace among a group of rowdy youths" - - - i.e., the crowd at the festival - - - if it consists of  a"few verbal warnings and a single arrest.  The court advised:

We do not presume to dictate to law enforcement precisely how it should maintain the public order. But in this case, there were a number of easily identifiable measures that could have been taken short of removing the speaker: e.g., increasing police presence in the immediate vicinity, as was requested; erecting a barricade for free speech, as was requested; arresting or threatening to arrest more of the law breakers, as was also requested; or allowing the Bible Believers to speak from the already constructed barricade to which they were eventually secluded prior to being ejected from the Festival. If none of these measures were feasible or had been deemed unlikely to prevail, the WCSO [Wayne County Sheriff's Office] officers could have called for backup—as they appear to have done when they decided to eject the Bible Believers from the Festival—prior to finding that it was necessary to infringe on the group’s First Amendment rights. We simply cannot accept Defendants’ position that they were compelled to abridge constitutional rights for the sake of public safety, when at the same time the lawless adolescents who caused the risk with their assaultive behavior were left unmolested.

In a very brief analysis, the court held that the free exercise claim "succeeds on the same basis as the free speech claim."  As for the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court's discussion is similarly summary, but its analysis seems much too conclusory:

The Festival included a number of other religious organizations that came to share their faith by spreading a particular message. There are several distinctions between the Bible Believers and these other groups. Mainly, the Bible Believers chose, as was their right, not to register for an assigned table under the information tent. Instead, they paraded through the Festival and proselytized, as was also their right, while carrying signs and a severed pig’s head. Although these actions set them apart from the other speakers and religious organizations at the Festival, they do not do so in any relevant respect. Any speaker could have walked the Festival grounds with or without signs if they chose to do so. The Bible Believers, like the other religious organizations at the Festival, sought to spread their faith and religious message. Although they declined to utilize the tent set aside for outside groups, their conduct was at all times peaceful while they passionately advocated for their cause, much like any other religious group. Wayne County did not threaten the Bible Believers based on their decision to march with signs and banners, but based on the content of the messages displayed on the signs and banners. The county’s disparate treatment of the Bible Believers was based explicitly on the fact that the Bible Believers’ speech was found to be objectionable by a number of people attending the Festival. Wayne County therefore violated the Bible Believers’ right to equal protection by treating them in a manner different from other speakers, whose messages were not objectionable to Festival-goers, by burdening their First Amendment rights.

The en banc court also held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity and that municipal liability was established.  On these issues, there were vigorous dissents.  And indeed, the en banc majority seems on tenuous ground, especially given its earlier discussion of Sixth Circuit precedent in Glasson v. City of Louisville decided in 1975:

In this Circuit, a modicum of confusion is understandable with respect to the prohibition against the heckler’s veto due to Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith affirmative defense.  . . . . Therefore, to the extent that Glasson’s good-faith defense may be interpreted as altering the substantive duties of a police officer not to effectuate a heckler’s veto, it is overruled.

Yet in the discussion of qualified immunity, the en banc court reasoned:

To the extent that Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith defense confused the issue of whether a heckler’s veto constitutes a constitutional violation, the facts and analysis in Glasson nonetheless alerted Defendants that removing a peaceful speaker, when the police have made no serious attempt to quell the lawless agitators, could subject them to liability.

That both the district judge and a previous panel of the Sixth Circuit had found that law enforcement's actions were constitutional, this seems a harsh conclusion - - - and is inconsistent with recent qualified immunity in First Amendment cases.  (For example, recall the unanimous Supreme Court 2014 opinion in Lane v. Franks, not cited in the Sixth Circuit opinions).

On the whole, the Sixth Circuit opinion validates the First Amendment right of provocative, offensive, and "challenging speech" - - - including symbolic speech such as marching with a pig's head on a stick - - - and requires law enforcement to protect such speech against (physically) hostile reactions by directing their efforts against those who are hostile rather than the speakers.   As Judge John Rogers, dissenting, suggested, one way to view the underlying controversy was that the "Bible Believers were hecklers seeking to disrupt the cultural fair" being held by the Arab-American community as an expressive enterprise.  The en banc majority clearly rejected that view - - - and held that the government should be liable for damages.

October 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ninth Circuit on Unconscious Bias, Equal Protection, and Batson

A divided Ninth Circuit panel has affirmed the district judge in granting habeas corpus and vacating a death sentence in its opinion in Crittenden v. Chappell.

Crittenden's claimed the prosecutor at trial excluded an African-American prospective juror on account of her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The Ninth Circuit had previously clarified that the peremptory challenge at issue need not be motivated solely by race, but only “motivated in substantial part” by race, “regardless of whether the strike would have issued if race had played no role.” On remand, the district judge found that the prosecutor was substantially motivated by race.

Lady-justice-juryWhile there are several issues in the case, including deference, appellate procedure, and retroactivity, the issue of "intent" under equal protection doctrine in the Batson context was central. The district judge's opinion engaged in specific comparisons regarding jurors and also stated "[t]he [side-by-side juror] comparisons demonstrate that . . . [the prosecutor] was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race."   The relevance of "unconsciously" was a division among the Circuit judges.  For the majority, this was a "passing comment" in the district judge's opinion, and "all the court meant was, whatever the explanation for the prosecutor’s racial motive, that motive was a substantial reason for his use of a peremptory strike." (emphasis in original).  The majority added, "In other words, why the prosecutor had a conscious racial motive to strike [the potential juror] Casey in the first place – whether or not 'unconscious racism' partly explained that motive – was simply irrelevant to the Batson inquiry."  It interestingly added this footnote:

It was relevant, of course, to the prosecutor’s reputation. The district court’s reference to “unconscious racism” spared him from being found a racist. By suggesting the prosecutor may have had more benign racial motives for the strike, or that his racial motive may have been influenced by unconscious racism, the court hoped to shield the prosecutor from possible disrepute. As the court made clear, however, this effort was not designed to – and did not – detract from the court’s key finding that the strike was consciously motivated by race.

Thus, because the majority upheld the district court’s finding of a conscious racial motive, "we do not – and need not – address whether unconscious bias can establish a Batson violation."

Judge Margaret McKeown dissented from the opinion authored by Judge Raymond Fisher and joined by Judge Marsha Berzon, arguing that there needed to be a clearer indication of discriminatory purpose:

The remaining question is whether, in striking [the potential juror] Casey, the prosecutor had a discriminatory purpose. “‘Discriminatory purpose’ . . . implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected . . . a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Hernandez v. New York (1991) (plurality) (quoting Person. Admin. of Mass. v. Feeney,  (1979)). The touchstone, as described in our caselaw, is whether race was a “substantial motivating factor” in the prosecutor’s decision to strike Casey.

(ellipses in original).  For dissenting judge McKeown, the burden was on the defendant to prove purposeful discrimination and he failed to do so. She added,

This case calls to mind Justice Breyer’s observation that the Batson inquiry can be an “awkward, sometime hopeless, task of second-guessing a prosecutor’s instinctive judgment—the underlying basis for which may be invisible even to the prosecutor exercising the challenge.” Miller-El v. Dretke (2005) (Breyer, J., concurring). In view of the record of what actually happened, the trial judge’s findings and the ultimate composition of the jury, our retrospective parsing simply cannot elevate ambiguous, speculative foundation to proof that the prosecutor was motivated in substantial part by racism.

The problem of the degree of proof of intent in equal protection claims generally and Batson specifically has vexed the courts.  Recall that the United States Supreme Court will be taking another look at equal protection doctrine under Batson this term in Foster v. Humphrey; the lower court had held that  merely because the prosecutor's notes and records revealed "that the race" - - - meaning Black - - - "of prospective jurors was either circled, highlighted or otherwise noted on various lists" did not establish purposeful discrimination. 

October 27, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)