Monday, October 28, 2013
The continuing question of whether a for-profit secular corporation can assert a religious belief against contraception sufficient to exempt it from the ACA's provision requiring an employer to include contraceptive coverage in its health care insurance was again addressed by the Sixth Circuit in its opinion in Eden Foods v. Sebelius.
Interestingly, a footnote in the opinion cast doubt on whether Eden Foods and its founder and sole shareholder Michael Potter could past the requirement of having a sincerely held religious belief:
Potter’s “deeply held religious beliefs,” see Complaint ¶ 83, more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed. Potter stated to Carmon [in an article in salon.com] “I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills.” Carmon then asked the Eden Foods chairman why he didn’t seem to care about birth control when he had taken the step to file a lawsuit over the contraceptive mandate. Potter responded, “Because I’m a man, number one[,] and it’s really none of my business what women do.” The article continued:
So, then, why bother suing? “Because I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” He added, “I’m not trying to get birth control out of Rite Aid or Wal-Mart, but don’t tell me I gotta pay for it.”
But the panel opinion rested on different grounds, following the decision of another panel of the circuit in Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, decided in September, that agreed with the divided panel of the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties that a for-profit secular corporation cannot assert a claim to religious freedom under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
This is contrary to the holding of the divided en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius presently before the United States Supreme Court on a petition for writ of certiorari filed by the Solicitor General on behalf of Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. In its response brief filed October 21, 2013, Hobby Lobby agrees that the Court should grant the writ and hear the case. With the split in the circuits, numerous district court cases in litigation, and both parties contending it is a matter of great public importance, odds are that the Court will grant certiorari for the current Term.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
This week in "dressing constitutionally" saw another NRA t-shirt student kerfuffle, this time in Orange County, California.
Here's the television segment that accompanied the LA Times article:
The incident seemingly ended with the school apologizing for asking the student to change her NRA shirt, a somewhat different result from the incident earlier this year in West Virginia, although the NRA seemed to be involved in each. The constitutional concerns at a public school will center on the "substantial disruption standard" of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which famously involved
the wearing of black armbands by school students in protest of the
Vietnam War. Decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1969, Tinker established
the substantial and material disruption standard for evaluating school
speech. While the Court actually uses the word “interfere” more often
than “disrupt,” and uses the terms synonymously, what has become known
as the Tinker disruption standard requires that in order to
curtail student speech, school authorities must show that the student
speech would materially and substantially interfere with appropriate
school discipline. In Tinker itself, the Court noted that “the
record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably have led
school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material
interference with school activities” because a few students wore black
The NRA shirt easily meets the threshold of being expressive, one that not all student wear satisfies. But also important is the actual school dress code. Courts - - - including notably the Fifth Circuit - - - has upheld a dress code that prohibited all (or almost all) speech on clothes, including the text of the First Amendment.
The incident seemingly ended with the school apologizing for asking the student to change her NRA shirt, a somewhat different result from the incident earlier this year in West Virginia, although the NRA seemed to be involved in each.
The constitutional concerns at a public school will center on the "substantial disruption standard" of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which famously involved the wearing of black armbands by school students in protest of the Vietnam War. Decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1969, Tinker established the substantial and material disruption standard for evaluating school speech. While the Court actually uses the word “interfere” more often than “disrupt,” and uses the terms synonymously, what has become known as the Tinker disruption standard requires that in order to curtail student speech, school authorities must show that the student speech would materially and substantially interfere with appropriate school discipline. In Tinker itself, the Court noted that “the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities” because a few students wore black armbands.
The NRA shirt easily meets the threshold of being expressive, one that not all student wear satisfies.
But also important is the actual school dress code. Courts - - - including notably the Fifth Circuit - - - has upheld a dress code that prohibited all (or almost all) speech on clothes, including the text of the First Amendment.
Friday, October 4, 2013
The Constitutional Court of South Africa's unanimous opinion in The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children and Another v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and Another rendered on October 3, declares two aspects of the statutory rape and statutory sexual assault crimes unconstitutional.
Before the Court was the criminal scheme in which two adolescents who had a sexual encounter with each other could both be guilty of having statutorily raped the other. A "close in age" defense, when the parties' age difference was less than two years, was available in the statutory sexual assault situation, but not in the statutory rape situation in which "penetration" is required.
Written by Justice Sisi Khampepe, the opinion concludes that the criminal scheme violates the inherent right to dignity protected by §10 of the South African Constitution and the right to privacy protected by protected by §59 of the Constitution. The Court's opinion also found that the criminal sanctions violated § 28(2) of the Constitution that provides that “[a] child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.” It added that it is "trite that section 28(2) is both a self-standing right and a guiding principle in all matters affecting children, and that the criminal sanctions "exacerbate harm and risk to adolescents by undermining support structures, preventing adolescents from seeking help and potentially driving adolescent sexual behaviour underground."
Writing for the Court, Justice Khampepe resolves the required "means chosen" analysis thusly:
In my view, there are clearly less restrictive means available for achieving the stated purposes of the impugned provisions. First, assuming criminalisation could be shown to be an appropriate response to deter consensual sexual acts which carry the risks of psychological harm, pregnancy or the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, a narrowly focussed provision would target only those acts where these are potential risks. I have already noted that sexual penetration as defined goes well beyond sexual intercourse. Similarly, most of the acts falling within the ambit of sexual violation are not carriers of the recited risks. Thus, in relation to the purposes of preventing adolescents from suffering psychological harm, contracting sexually transmitted diseases and becoming pregnant, the impugned provisions are clearly and impermissibly over-inclusive. In any event, I am highly doubtful that the introduction of criminal prohibitions could ever be shown to be a constitutionally sound means of preventing the occurrence of such risks as teenage pregnancy. Certainly the respondents have put forward neither argument nor evidence to convince me otherwise.
Additionally, the Court noted that criminalization included sex offender status and registration requirements.
Declaring the sections invalid "to the extent that they impose criminal liability on children under the age of 16 years," the Court then suspended the declaration for 18 months to allow Parliament to "correct the defects" in the legislation.
This is an important opinion for childrens' rights and sexual rights.
[image from The Teddy Bear Clinic via]
Friday, September 27, 2013
In a 55 page opinion today in Garden State Equality v. Dow, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs finding that NJ's same-sex marriage ban violated the state constitution. The judge held that New Jersey's civil union scheme, considered an acceptable remedy for any violation of the state's equal protection clause by the NJ Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris (2006), was no longer sufficient to satisfy state constitutional law given the United States Supreme Court's invalidation of DOMA last June in Windsor v. United States.
Judge Jacobson concluded:
Because plaintiffs, and all same-sex couplies in New jersey, cannot access many federal marital benefits as partners in civil unions, this court holds that New Jersey's denial of marriage to same-sex couples now violates Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris.
This is an interesting - - - but totally predictable - - - use of Windsor to undermine the very rationales of the state's highest court's determination that civil unions would satisfy equality concerns.
The judge admits that the doctrinal landscape is murky, but also that it is rapidly changing. For this judge, effectuating the holding of the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris that the state constitution required same-sex couples to be able to obtain all the same rights and benefits available to opposite sex couples compels the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.
In only a very few other states would similar reasoning be applicable: Illinois, Hawai'i, and Colorado have civil union laws but not same-sex marriage. Other states having civil unions also allow same-sex marriages or are "converting" civil unions to marriages.
As for New Jersey, odds are the state will appeal, although political considerations might weigh heavily.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, known as the "Baby Veronica" case, has been quite painful for the parties. Recall that the Court's 5-4 decision concluded that the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, would not be violated by the adoption of the child by a white couple. The constitutional issue of "racial classifications" (rather than Indian sovereignty) loomed, but was not directly engaged.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court dissolved the emergency stay of the adoption yesterday in Brown v. DeLapp. The majority's order is accompanied by two dissenting opinions, each of which describe the various proceedings and holdings, including the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision that did not remand for a "best interests of the child" determination, but decided to "remand this case to the Family Court for the prompt entry of an order approving and finalizing Adoptive Couple's adoption of Baby Girl."
Much of the press has been highly sympathetic to the adoptive parents, but also worth a read is an article from Indian Country Today Media Network.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The Sixth Circuit's succinct and unanimous opinion in Autocam Corporation v. Sebelius sided with the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties and against the en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby on the issue of whether a for-profit secular business has a free exercise of religion right (as a person) under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There is some intertwining of the First Amendment free exercise of religion claim, but the Autocam decision rests on RFRA.
Autocam, like Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby, and its owners, argue that the regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“ACA”) requiring employers cover contraceptive methods for their employees - - - often called the contraceptive mandate - - - infringes on their religious rights. Autocam, like the others, is a large corporation. And a quick look at Autocam's "mission" on its website indicates no expression of a religious purpose, but only providing superior products.
The Sixth Circuit interestingly found that while Autocam as a corporation had standing to assert its claims, the Kennedy family as members (owners?) of a "closely held corporation" did not have shareholder standing: "Generally, shareholders of a corporation cannot bring claims intended to redress injuries to a corporation, even when the corporation is closely held." The Kennedys argued that this rule should not apply in RFRA claims, but the court found nothing in RFRA to support their view. Further, the court rejected their claims they were individually harmed or that a "pass through" theory could be applied.
As to the merits of the corporation's assertion of personhood under RFRA, the court found that RFRA did not support such an interpretation, and moreover, "Reading the term “person” in the manner suggested by Autocam would lead to a significant expansion of the scope of the rights the Free Exercise Clause" protected prior to Employment Division v. Smith and the enactment of RFRA.
By affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction by the district judge, the Sixth Circuit panel has entered the fray of a circuit split on the issue. With its unamious opinion, it does tilt the "count" toward a nonrecognition of religious rights of secular for proft corporations (recall that the en banc Tenth Circuit opinion was closely divided and the Third Circuit panel opinion was also split; additionally earlier this month a senior district judge in the Tenth Circuit applied applied Hobby Lobby to a for-profit nursing home chain.) However, the Sixth Circuit opinion adds little new to the analysis of this issue increasingly ripe for Supreme Court review.
September 18, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, September 7, 2013
From an announcement:
19th Annual Mid-Atlantic People of Color
Legal Scholarship Conference 2014
Hosted by the University of Baltimore School of Law
January 23-25, 2014
– Conference Theme & Call for Papers –
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and Beyond:
The Historical and Contemporary Implications of Progressive Action and Human Fulfillment
Honoring and Critiquing the 50th Anniversary of Johnson’s Vision
In May 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson unveiled his revolutionary plans for the Great Society. As he explained it, Americans “have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. . . . The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice.”
According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, Johnson’s Great Society would be based on “progressive action” and the “possibilities for human fulfillment.” This action and fulfillment meant that regaining control of our society required us to end policies that threatened and degraded humanity.
Johnson’s Great Society reforms, included the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Equal Opportunity Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Social Security expansion, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Higher Education Act, Head Start, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965, and the Open Housing Act of 1968. These laws extended and expanded the Bill of Rights and continued and expanded the programs initiated in Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and Truman’s Fair Deal in the late 1940s and early 1050s. As a result of LBJ’s programs, America’s official poverty rate declined throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.2 percent in 1974, down from 19 percent in 1964, and most recently settling at 15.1 percent in 2010. According to Dylan Matthews, who wrote Poverty in the 50 Years Since ‘The Other America,’ in Five Charts, Johnson’s Great Society programs, which included the War on Poverty, “made a real and lasting difference.” Moreover, according to Demos, an estimated 40 million Americans avoided official poverty due to such programs as food stamps and Medicaid.
Unfortunately, what is also true is that the Vietnam War, which Johnson escalated and only at the end of his administration moved to end, crippled his domestic economic policies and undermined his goals for true racial equality. Despite the War on Poverty and dramatic changes in Civil Rights, racially concentrated poverty remains with us. Since the Johnson years, America has weathered the recessions of the 1980s and early 1990s, the late ‘90s dot com bubble, our current recession, the national security encroachment on civil liberties, the rise and fall of the Occupy Movement, the waning of the Arab Spring, and two middle east wars since 9-11.
It is clear that Johnson’s Great Society programs have saved millions of Americans from the depth of official poverty. It also true that Johnson’s vision, to which he was truly committed, staggered and failed when the civil rights movement dovetailed with political marginalization, economic inequality, pervasive racial discrimination, and imperialist policies. The Moynihan Report, the Watts Riots and urban unrests, and the emotional and financial suck of Vietnam prevented Johnson from deeply redressing America’s lingering poverty.
At MAPOC 2014, we intend to explore the furthest implications of President Johnson’s domestic and foreign policies, especially the impact of these policies on progressive action and human fulfillment, as we collectively explore and analyze the contemporary implications of Johnson’s Great Society. From these implications, the conference planning committee is seeking papers and panel proposals on the following substantive but not exhaustive subjects:
-- A Hand Up: The Meaningful Tension Between Formal Equality and Substantive Outcomes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964
-- Beyond Legislative Bogs and Dangerous Political Animals: President Obama’s Legislative Agenda and the Limits of Second-Term Progressivism
-- Endangered Citizens?: Rights and Remedies after State v. Zimmerman
-- Equality, Choice, and Happiness: the Rise and Fall of DOMA
-- Guns or Butter: Social Welfare Programs, Modern Problems of Central Banks, Debt Slavery, and Foreign Policies
-- Medicare, Healthcare, and Welfare: the Poor, the Elderly, and the Needy
-- Moynihan and the Contemporary (In)Stability of the Black Family
-- Racial (Dis)Harmony Then and Today
-- Voting Rights: Shelby County v. Holder and the Promise of One Citizen, One Vote
Paper submissions must include a working title, bios, abstract, and contact information.
Panel proposals must also include the foregoing information for each of the panel’s participants, and the organizer’s contact information, all of which must be submitted together only by the organizer.
Submit Papers and Panel Proposals by September 30, 2013 to: Reginald Leamon Robinson, Howard University, Conference Chair and Founder, MAPOC 2014: email@example.com.
[image: LBJ, National Portrait Gallery, via]
September 7, 2013 in Conferences, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Race, Recent Cases, Scholarship, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Ninth Circuit Upholds California Ban on Reparative (Sexual Orientatation Conversion)Therapy Against First Amendment Challenge
A panel of the Ninth Circuit today upheld the validity of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18.
In its 36 page opinion in the consolidated cases of Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown, the court reversed the senior district judge's opinion in Welch v. Brown enjoining the statute, and affirmed the opinion of a different district judge in Pickup v. Brown that had found the statute constitutional, and dissolved its own injunction pending appeal issued last December.
Judge Susan Graber, writing for the unanimous panel also consisting of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Morgan Christen, Judge Graber summarized the holding thusly:
SB 1172, as a regulation of professional conduct, does not violate the free speech rights of SOCE practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents’ fundamental rights.
(1) doctor-patient communications about medical treatment receive substantial First Amendment protection, but the government has more leeway to regulate the conduct necessary to administering treatment itself;
(2) psychotherapists are not entitled to special First Amendment protection merely because the mechanism used to deliver mental health treatment is the spoken word; and
(3) nevertheless, communication that occurs during psychotherapy does receive some constitutional protection, but it is not immune from regulation.
(emphasis in original). The panel concluded that there is a continuum between speech and conduct, and that SB 1172 landed toward conduct, "where the state's power is great, even though such regulation may have an incidental effect on speech." Applying a rational basis standard, the court rejected the claim that California legislature acted irrationally.
The court quickly dispatched the remaining arguments including that SB 1172 violated the right of "expressive association" as between counselors and clients, that SB 1172 was void for vagueness, that SB 1172 was overbroad, and that SB1172 violated the parents' fundamental due process rights over their children.
This is an important and well-reasoned decision likely to be persuasive to other courts, including the federal district judge deciding the constitutional challenge to New Jersey's similar statute.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
The Feminism and Legal Theory Project at 30: A Workshop on Sex and Reproduction: From Privacy and Choice to Resilience and Opportunity?
EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
November 15-16, 2013
more information here
Friday, November, 15th
3-4 pm RECEPTION IN MACMILLAN LAW LIBRARY (location TBA)
Celebrating the formal opening of the Catherine G. Roraback (pictured in watercolor left) Archive at Emory Law School .The workshop will be dedicated to Katie and her pioneering work on behalf of reproductive rights and justice.
Amy Kesselman (SUNY New Paltz), Vanessa King (Emory University School of Law)
4:30 - 6:30 pm History of Sex and Reproduction
Bleeding Across Time: First Principles of US Population Policy | Rickie Solinger
Women versus Connecticut: Insights from the Pre-Roe Abortion Battles | Amy Kesselman (SUNY New Paltz)
Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roe: Ammi Rogers and the Legal History of Anti-Abortion Norms | Lolita Buckner Inniss (Hamilton College, Cleveland Marshall College of Law)
6:30 - 8 pm DINNER
Saturday, November 16th
8:30 - 9:00 am CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST
9:00 - 11:30 am Discourses Surrounding Sex and Reproduction Issues: Law, Religion and Medicine
Medical, Scientific, and Public Health Evidence in Supreme Court Jurisprudence: Reimagining the Feminist Health Movement | Aziza Ahmed (Northeastern University School of Law)
Abortion Law and Medical Practices | Sheelagh McGuinness (School of Law, University of Birmingham) and Michael Thomson (School of Law, University of Leeds)
The Role of 'Nature' in Debates about Sex and Reproduction | Sean Coyle (School of Law, University of Birmingham)
Abortion Liberalization Policies around the World: Hidden Differences in the Diffusion Process | Elizabeth Heger Boyle (University of Minnesota), Minzee Kim (Ewha Women's University, South Korea), and Wesley Longhofer (Goizueta Business School, Emory University)
(University of Florida)
11:30 am - 12:30 pm LUNCH
12:30 - 2:45 pm Feminist Discourses: Sex, Reproduction and Choice
Infertility, Adoption, Alternative Reproduction, and Contemporary Legal Theory | April L. Cherry (Cleveland-Marshall School of Law)
Reproductive Rights and the Right to Reproduce: Is there a Place for the Non-Marital Mother? | Twila L. Perry (Rutgers University School of Law-Newark)
Choices Under the Shadow of Population Policy: Compuslory motherhood Challenged and Remade in Taiwan (1970s-2000s) | Chao-ju Chen (National Taiwan University)
Testing Sex: Non-invasive Prenatal Genetic Testing and Sex Selection | Rachel Rebouche (University of Florida, Levin College of Law)
3:00 - 5:15 pm Regulating Sex and Reproduction
Markets and Motives for Sex and Reproduction | Mary Ann Case (University of Chicago Law School)
A Fiduciary Theory of Health Entitlements | Margaux Hall (Columbia Law School)
Schrodinger's Child: Identity and Non-Identity in Reproductive Decision-Making | Jennifer S. Hendricks (University of Colorado Law School)
Procreative Pluralism | Kimberley Mutcherson (Rutgers Law School, Camden)
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
In its opinion in D.B. v. Kopp, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of an equal protection "class of one" claim against Grant County (Wisconsin) and certain officials because they "overzealously
The mother of the five year old twins was the adult who discovered the interaction and who "reported the incident to her sister-in-law, who happened to be the regional supervisor in charge of the state agency that administers family and children’s services." The father of the twins was a public official in the town. D.B. alleges that he was singled out, "charged" with sexual assault although the twins admitted their actions were the same, and that D.B. was "subjected to an overbearing investigation and unjustified court proceedings based on improper political favoritism."
In rejecting the claim, the Seventh Circuit found that the fact that the twins' mother witnessed D.B.'s actions was sufficient to support the state's actions. It reasoned that while
political connections may also plausibly explain why D.B. was targeted for investigation and the twins were not. But the test for rationality does not ask whether the benign justification was the actual justification. All it takes to defeat the plaintiffs’ claim is a conceivable rational basis for the difference in treatment.
(emphasis in original). The opinion added that:
We are not suggesting that this was a well-administered investigation, or a wise exercise of prosecutorial discretion, for that matter. Our decision today should not be understood as an endorsement of this use of state power, which strikes us (assuming the allegations are true) as a troubling overreaction to a situation that could and should have been handled informally. It’s easy to understand why the twins’ mother would be alarmed and upset, but it’s also reasonable to expect that the response by Grant County officials would be measured and proportionate. As the district court aptly put it, accusing a six-year-old boy of first-degree sexual assault shows “poor judgment at best.” But poor judgment does not violate the Constitution.
Surely, there might be cases in which "poor judgment" would "violate the Constitution," but the court finds this is not one of those cases.
[corrected: Seventh Circuit]
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
In a fifteen page opinion, federal district judge Timothy Black enjoined the application of Ohio's state DOMA provisions - - - both statutory and the state constitutional amendment - - - to a same-sex couple married out of state. In Obergefell v. Kasich, the judge adapted the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's June opinion in Court's United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA unconstitutional. Judge Black's opinion is part of the aftermath of Windsor that we most recently discussed here.
Judge Black's opinion has a succinct discussion of equal protection doctrine and concludes,
Under Supreme Court jurisprudence, states are free to determine conditions for valid marriages, but these restrictions must be supported by legitimate state purposes because they infringe on important liberty interests around marriage and intimate relations.
In derogation of law, the Ohio scheme has unjustifiably created two tiers of couples: (1) opposite-sex married couples legally married in other states; and (2) same-sex married couples legally married in other states. This lack of equal protection of law is fatal.
Judge Black's opinion has a brief explicit mention of "animus," but the concept permeates the opinion. For example, he notes that before the state enacted its DOMA provisions:
Longstanding Ohio law has been clear: a marriage solemnized outside of Ohio is valid in Ohio if it is valid where solemnized. This legal approach is firmly rooted in the longstanding legal principle of “lex loci contractus” -- i.e., the law of the place of the contracting controls. Ohio has adopted this legal approach from its inception as a State.
Thus, for example, under Ohio law, as declared by the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1958, out-of-state marriages between first cousins are recognized by Ohio, even though Ohio law does not authorize marriages between first cousins.
To be sure, the injunction is a limited one applicable to sympathetic facts. One of the partners is a hospice patient and the relief requested regards the martial status and surviving spouse to be recorded on the death certificate. Yet Judge Black's reasoning is not limited and opens the door to rulings that Ohio's DOMA provisions limiting state recognition of marriages to only opposite-sex marriages fails constitutional scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.
July 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
More on the Aftermath of Windsor (DOMA) and Perry (Prop 8) decisions: California, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina Litigation
The Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and Perry v. Hollingsworth, holding that the "proponents" of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a federal judge's declaration of Prop 8's unconstitutionality, have not settled the matter of the unconstitutionality of same-sex marriage restrictions.
In what promises to be a continuing series, here are a few highlights:
In California, the home of Proposition 8, the litigation centers on Prop 8's constitutional status given that the Supreme Court held that the proponents did not have standing to appeal the federal district judge's holding that Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause. The original injunction was stayed, and again stayed by the Ninth Circuit even as it affirmed the district judge, but after Perry, the Ninth Circuit dissolved the stay amid questions about the effect of Perry which we discussed here.
The proponents of Prop 8 have moved (back) to the state courts, filing Hollingsworth v. O'Connell on July 12 seeking a stay from the California Supreme Court. Their basic argument is that a single federal judge should not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional for the entire state and they seek a mandate forbidding county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. On July 16, the California Supreme Court declared - - - as a docket entry and without opinion - - - "The request for an immediate stay or injunctive relief is denied." It also granted the motions for counsel to proceed pro hac vice, so the case will presumably be moving forward.
In Pennsylvania, a complaint in Whitewood v. Corbett was filed July 9, as a new constitutional challenge to the state's "little DOMA" provisions passed the same year as the federal DOMA, 1996 - - - 23 Pa. Consolidated Statute §1102 (defining marriage as between one man and one woman) and 23 Pa. Consolidated Statutes §1704 (declaring one man-one woman marriage as the strong public policy of state and refusing to recognizing same-sex out of state marriages). The Complaint interestingly quotes and cites language from Windsor several times. For example:
¶10. The exclusion from marriage undermines the plaintiff couples' ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them "a dignity and status of immense import." United States v.Windsor, No.12-307, Slip Op., at 18 (U.S. June 26, 2013). Moreover, they and their children are stigmatized and relegated to a second class status by being barred from marriage. The exclusion "tells[same-sex couples and all the world- that their relationships are unworthy" of recognition. Id. at 22-23. And it "humiliates the ...children now being raised by same-sex couples" and "makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives." Id. at 23.
The Attorney General for Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, has reportedly declared she will not defend the constitutionality of the state statutes barring same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, the named defendant and a Republican, as well as the state legislature, are presumably studying the holding regarding BLAG's standing in Windsor.
In Arkansas, the complaint in Wright v. Arkansas was filed in state court on July 2. Arkansas has both a statute and constitutional amendment DOMA (the belt and suspenders approach). The 29 page complaint does not quote or cite Windsor, but does claim that the Arkansas prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of both the state and federal constitution, as well as violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause. First reports are that the state will defend the lawsuit.
In addition to new complaints filed post-Windsor (Perry), ongoing litigation will certainly be changed. For example, the North Carolina federal court complaint in Fisher-Borne v. Smith challenging North Carolina's failure to provide so-called second-parent adoption is being amended - - - reportedly with agreement of the state - - - to include a claim challenging the state's prohibition of same-sex marriage.
While one message of Windsor and even Perry could be understood as being that marriage, same-sex or otherwise, is a matter of state law, another message of Windsor is certainly that there are constitutional problems prohibiting same-sex marriage.
With a patchwork of state laws, this is a fertile landscape for continuing litigation.
[all images Wikimedia; final image here]
July 16, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
The Fourth Circuit en banc today issued its opinion in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore reversing the district court's granting of a preliminary injunction against the ordinance requiring a limited-service pregnancy center "provide its clients and potential clients with a disclaimer substantially to the effect that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services." Essentially, the city's concern is that certain pregnancy centers can be mistaken (or even masquerade as) reproductive medical centers but only offer specific counseling that women not terminate their pregnancies.
The challengers argued that the ordinance was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor. For the en banc majority, however, "the summary judgment decision was laden with error, in that the court denied the defendants essential discovery and otherwise disregarded basic rules of civil procedure."
The majority opinion, authored by Judge King, in which Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Motz, Duncan, Keenan, Wynn, Floyd, and Thacker joined, stressed that its conclusion was procedural and that it did not express a view on the ultimate merits. Nevertheless, as in most cases, the merits and procedural issues are intertwined. For example, one of the crucial issues here is whether the speech being regulated is commercial or not. As the majority stated,
The district court’s denial of discovery and failure to adhere to the summary judgment standard marred its assessment of, inter alia, the City’s contention that the Ordinance targets misleading commercial speech and thus is subject to rational basis (rather than strict) scrutiny. While the strict scrutiny standard generally applies to content-based regulations, including compelled speech, see Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 641-42 (1994), less-demanding standards apply where the speech at issue is commercial. Disclosure requirements aimed at misleading commercial speech need only survive rational basis scrutiny, by being “reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.” Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985) (explaining that, “because disclosure requirements trench much more narrowly on an advertiser’s interests than do flat prohibitions on speech, warnings or disclaimers might be appropriately required in order to dissipate the possibility of consumer confusion or deception” (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted)); accord Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A. v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1324, 1339-40 (2010).
There are two dissenting opinions. The first, by Judge Wilkinson, derides the majority for failing to acknowledge "the dangers of state-compelled speech." He notes that the Supreme Court "only recently reiterated" the importance of the doctrine in Agency for Int’l Development v. Alliance for Open Society Int’l, Inc., the prostitution pledge case. Wilkinson accuses the majority of being enchanted with "extended procedures" and argues that it only authorizes a "fishing expedition" against the plaintiffs. The second dissent, authored by Judge Niemeyer, and joined by Judges Shedd, and Agee, as well as Wilkinson, contends that the ordinance governs noncommercial speech, mandates specific speech, and should be subject to strict scrutiny.
The judges did agree - - - amongst themselves and with the district judge - - - that St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation Incorporated and Archbishop William E. Lori lacked standing to be co-plaintiffs, but this issue is a divisive one. Indeed, there is an overdue Second Circuit panel opinion in the appeal of a district judge's conclusion that NYC's similar Local Law 17 was unconstitutional.
Moreover, the First Amendment challenges to pregnancy center "disclosures" as compelled speech mirror the First Amendment challenges to abortion provider "disclosures" as compelled speech, as in statutes from Kansas and South Dakota. The government's interest in preventing "misleading" speech or in providing full disclosure is exceedingly similar in both situations.
For scholars (including student scholars) looking for a terrific topic combining the First Amendment and reproductive rights, theses cases offer much.
Friday, June 28, 2013
The order provides in full:
The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately.
Thus, as we discussed here, it looks as if Proposition 8 is unconstitutional in California and same-sex marriages are valid.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
The Court decided both cases presenting the issue of the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage.
In the DOMA - - - Defense of Marriage Act - - - case, the Court's 5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy in United States v. Windsor, argued in March, affirmed the Second Circuit's finding that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.
In its relatively brief opinion (26 pages), the majority first found that BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, had sufficient status to confer standing, or at least the case provided "sufficient adversarial presentation for the Court to decide to get to the merits." Recall that BLAG formed to defend the statute after the Obama Administration decided not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in February, 2011 and that the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to brief and argue BLAG's standing. Dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that the standing and merits decisions by the Court "both spring from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society," not referencing his position in yesterday's decision in Shelby County v. Holder holding a different act of Congress unconstitutional.
On the merits and holding section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, Kennedy articulates the federalism rationales so central to the First Circuit's holding that DOMA was unconstitutional.
The opinion then reaches the equal protection issue (under the Fifth Amendment given that DOMA is a federal statute) and concludes:
The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.
Importantly, the decision seems to be applying rational basis review, although it does little to provide a clear analytic framework or solve problematics of rational basis review. Indeed, it introduces a notion of "careful consideration" which is certainly not strict scrutiny, but likewise eschews the intermediate scrutiny favored by the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor and seems to apply to the "animus" aspect of rational basis with "bite."
In the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, also argued in March, and also reltively brief at 17 pages, the Court's opinion by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by - - - Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan - - - held that there was no standing for the "proponents" to appeal and thus vacates the Ninth Circuit panel opinion that held Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit, in a careful opinion, had affirmed the opinion of Judge Vaughn Walker who presided over an extensive trial in federal district court, after which he held Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause. (Recall that Judge Walker's own sexuality became an issue in the case, but both a district judge and the Ninth Circuit rejected claims of bias). Although the case attracted much scholarly attention, many commentators believed that standing was problematic.
The Court concluded:
We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.
The dissenting Justices - - - Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor - - - credited the California Supreme Court's opinion on standing (answering the certified query from the Ninth Circuit) and Kennedy's dissenting opinion noted that the initiative process made the "proponents" not mere private parties:
In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century.
The dissenters also noted the "irony" in the majority's position: "A prime purpose of justiciability is to ensure vigorous advocacy, yet the Court insists upon litigation conducted by state officials whose preference is to lose the case."
The familiar liberal/conservative split of Justices is not apparent in Perry, since the issue os resolved on standing, but dominates Windsor. Yet in both cases, sharp disagreements about the democratic process are apparent.
June 26, 2013 in Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
opinion by Justice Alito, a majority of the Court construed the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, as not violated by the adoption of "Baby Veronica" by a white couple although her father is Native American. The majority stated that it assumed that the biological father qualified as a "parent" under ICWA, but that the involuntary termination of his rights, if any, met ICWA. The majority opinion is relatively brief (19 pages), but there are multiple opinions: a concurring opinion by Thomas, a concurring opinion by Breyer, a dissenting opinion by Scalia, and a lengthy dissenting opinion by Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg and Kagan, and partially by Scalia.
From the perspective of constitutional law, the case is noteworthy for its application of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance and equal protection. At the end of the majority opinion, Justice Alito refers to the problem, noting that ICWA "was enacted to help preserve the cultural identity and heritage of Indian tribes, but" under the interpretation of the South Carolina Supreme Court that is being reversed, ICWA "would put certain vulnerable children at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor—even a remote one— was an Indian." Thus,
a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother—perhaps contributing to the mother’s decision to put the child up for adoption—and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests. If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA. Such an interpretation would raise equal protection concerns . . . .
The majority was thus seemingly convinced by the argument on behalf of the adoptive parents that such an interpretation of ICWA would be "basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." "
Sotomayor's opinion for the four dissenting Justices makes clear that the "majority does not rely on the theory pressed by petitioners and the guardian ad litem that the canon of constitutional avoidance compels the conclusion that ICWA is inapplicable here," but observes that the "majority nevertheless offers the suggestion that a contrary result would create an equal protection problem." Sotomayor's opinion also seeks to call the majority to account for the tenor of the opinion:
The majority’s repeated, analytically unnecessary references to the fact that Baby Girl is 3/256 Cherokee by ancestry do nothing to elucidate its intima tion that the statute may violate the Equal Protection Clause as applied here. See ante, at 1, 6; see also ante, at 16 (stating that ICWA “would put certain vulnerablechildren at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor—even a remote one—was an Indian” (emphasis added)). I see no ground for this Court to second-guess the membership requirements of federally recognized Indian tribes, which are independent political entities.
She later states,
The majority’s treatment of this issue, in the end, does no more than create a lingering mood of disapprobation of the criteria for membership adopted by the Cherokee Nation that, in turn, make Baby Girl an “Indian child” under the statute. Its hints at lurking constitutional problems are, by its own account, irrelevant to its statutory analysis, and accordingly need not detain us any longer.
It is Justice Thomas' concurring opinion, however, that most expansively engages with the doctrine of "constitutional avoidance," but his concern is not equal protection. Instead, Thomas' 12 page opinion is devoted to the question of Congressional power: "The threshold question, then, is whether the Constitution grants Congress power to override state custody law whenever an Indian is involved." For Thomas, ICWA's grounding in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I, §8, cl. 3, and “other constitutional authority” that give Congress with “plenary power over Indian affairs,” is constitutionally suspect.
Thomas balances the lack of Congressional authority with federalism concerns, and part of his rationale rests upon family law as being within the province of the states. It will be interesting to see how this concern is articulated in tomorrow's anticipated decision in United States v. Windsor involving the constitutionality of the federal "Defense of Marriage Act."
[image: Badolier bag of the Ojibwa via]
Friday, May 31, 2013
While for many Conlawprofs Loving v. Virginia is the "face" of love and marriage across racial divides, looking both backward and forward from the 1967 case can add depth to teaching and scholarship about the issue. (And if it seems not to be an issue any longer, a quick look at the "controversy" caused by a cereal advertisement featuring an interracial couple and their child is worth considering).
Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig's new book, According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family, just published by Yale University Press, provides that depth.
Her exploration focuses on Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, a case that did not involve a constitutional issue, except to the extent that racial categorizations always implicate issues of constitutionalism and equality. As Onwuachi-Willig describes in a piece in the UC Davis Law Review,
Alice Beatrice Jones was a working-class woman, who met Leonard Kip Rhinelander, a wealthy white male descendant of the Huguenots and heir to millions of dollars, in the fall of 1921. . . . [They married in a private ceremony and] Just two weeks later, on November 26, 1924, Leonard filed for annulment of his marriage to Alice. He argued that Alice had lied to him about her race. Leonard claimed that Alice had committed fraud that made their marriage void by telling him that she was white and by failing to inform him that she was of “colored blood.”
Rather than litigate her whiteness as many expected, she argued that he knew her racial status.
The trial of the Rhinelanders proved to be shocking on many fronts. It involved racy love letters, tales of pre-marital lust and sex, and the exhibition of Alice’s breasts, legs, and arms in the courtroom to prove that Leonard, who had seen her naked before marriage, would have known that she was colored at the time of their nuptials. What was most scandalous about the Rhinelander case, however, was the trial’s end. The jury returned a verdict for Alice, determining that Leonard knew her racial background before marriage yet married her anyway.
Onwuachi-Willig's book also provides contemporary arguments that current law fails to protect interracial couples, especially given the privileges that continue to be accorded on the basis of marriage.
As we wait for both Fisher v. UT and the same-sex marriage cases of Perry and Windsor, or as we contemplate their meanings once the opinions are rendered, Onwuachi-Willig's book is an important and pleasurable read.
Friday, April 26, 2013
In an interesting advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the ability of same-sex couples married under state law to make political contributions similar to opposite-sex married couples is thwarted by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Recall that the United States Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor, argued last month.
The advisory opinion explained the underlying regulatory scheme:
Notwithstanding the prohibition on contributions in the name of another, a Commission regulation governing “[c]ontributions by spouses” provides that “limitations on contributions . . . shall apply separately to contributions made by each spouse even if only one spouse has income.” 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i). Thus, under Section 110.1(i), a spouse with no separate income may make a contribution in his or her own name “through the checking account of the other spouse.”
It concluded that "so long as the relevant provisions of DOMA remain in effect, the Committee may not apply 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i) to contributions from same-sex couples married under state law," although the Commission recognized that DOMA was currently under review.
In a separately issued concurring statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub (pictured) emphasized that her "vote today was in no way intended to endorse the discriminatory, irrational burden that DOMA places on political participation by individuals in same sex."
If DOMA is not declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on the basis of equal protection, the FEC's opinion might be fertile ground on which to grow a First Amendment challenge.
[image of Ellen Weintraub via]
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Today's oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which we previewed yesterday, were indeed a mix of statutory interpretation and application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and constitutional issues, with a dose of family law.
Arguing for the adoptive couple, Lisa Blatt described the biological father as equivalent to "a sperm donor," causing Justice Scalia to counter with an assertion of fatherhood ("He's the father. He's the father.") to which Blatt replied, "And so is a sperm donor under your definition. He's a biological father and nothing else in the eyes of State law." By this description, Blatt not only argued that the biological father was not a parent under ICWA, but also tended to erode any constitutional rights that the father might have. Blatt also took on the constitutional argument more directly, arguing that ICWA would "raise grave constitutional concerns" if "Congress presumptively presumed that a non-Indian parent was unfit to raise any child with any amount of Indian blood."
The "amount of Indian blood" was an issue that attracted the attention of Chief Justice Roberts, who has been attentive racial identities in the affirmative action cases, including Fisher argued earlier this Term. During Charles Rothfeld's argument on behalf of the biological father, Roberts posed a "hypothetical" about an Indian tribe that had a "zero percent blood requirement" and enrolled members who "think culturally they're a Cherokee." Justice Ginsburg objected that this was not the ICWA definition and Justice Scalia agreed that Roberts' hypothetical would be a "null set," but Roberts posed the query again. Rothfeld replied that such "wild hypotheticals" would "present political questions to be addressed by Congress or addressed by the executive branch."
Arguing between Blatt and Rothfeld, Paul Clement, on behalf of the child's law guardian - - - asserting the child's best interests as assumed by the guardian - - - also contended that ICWA was constitutionally suspect. The "Indian child" is a racial classification:
And as a result of that her whole world changes and this whole inquiry changes. It goes from an inquiry focused on her best interests and it changes to a focus on the birth father and whether or not beyond a reasonable doubt there is a clear and present danger.
Clement's characterization of ICWA's standard was somewhat hyperbolic, although the statute does require the high standard and does have a "substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger" exemption. This resonated with Blatt's rebuttal, expressing the dangers of a Court affirmance of the South Carolina Supreme Court's opinion in favor of the biological father:
And you're basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." This case is going to affect any interracial adoption of children.It is highly unlikely that the Court will address the lurking equal protection racial classification issue, however its importance was revealed in Paul Clement's colloquy with Justice Kennedy about "constitutional avoidance." Justice Breyer essentially asked Clement how to remedy the situation and Clement responded that because ICWA provides "extraordinary" protections that "it only makes sense to prove something more than bare paternity."
It is more likely that the Court's usual conservative/liberal dichotomy will not be apparent in the ultimate opinions.
Monday, April 15, 2013
The oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, on certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court will be held on April 16. The case, also known as “Baby Veronica,” is an emotional struggle over custody of a small child.On one view, the Court’s task is a relatively simple one of statutory interpretation, including the definition of “parent” in the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA. The petitioners, the adoptive couple, articulate the questions presented as:
(1) Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.
(2) Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.
The questions presented by the respondent birth father, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and by the respondent Cherokee Nation, and by the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent, all likewise focus on ICWA, albeit with a different persuasive cadence. These articulations stress the positive acts of the biological father. For example, as the biological father phrases the parenting definition question:
Whether an Indian child’s biological father who has expressly acknowledged that he is the child’s father and has established that he is the father through DNA testing is the child’s “parent” within the meaning [of ICWA].
The Brief of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent father and tribe has a similar issue statement, asking whether the state courts properly applied ICWA
to award custody of an Indian child to her biological father over an adoptive couple, where the father acknowledged and established his paternity and no remedial measures had been taken to avoid termination of his parental rights.
However, the case is not merely one of statutory interpretation, but raises important, if not always obvious, constitutional issues.
First, Congressional intervention in child welfare must rely on a particularly enumerated power of Congress, the usual one being the Spending Clause. For Native Americans, however, Congressional power is often labeled “plenary,” although it is grounded most specifically in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I §3 cl. 8. ICWA was intended to prevent the removal of Native children from their parents - - - as well as their tribes - - - a history that many of the amicus briefs discuss in depth.
Second, and relatedly, this Congressional power over Native children raises federalism issues, especially given that child custody and adoption are generally within the state’s police powers. In the case of Baby Veronica, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s application of ICWA to deny the adoption and award custody to the Native father. Yet the very existence of ICWA arguably intrudes upon state police powers.
Third, and most stealthily, the case may present issues of due process and equal protection. In the brief on behalf of Baby Veronica through her Guardian ad Litem authored by Paul Clement, the arguably “erroneous interpretation” of ICWA “raises serious constitutional issues.” In this argument, the best interests of the child standard - - - the usual touchstone in child adoption and custody - - - aspires to a constitutional right of the child. Moreover, the state court’s decision violated the baby’s equal protection and due process rights.
For example, the brief analogizes to the equal protection case of Palmore v. Sidoti:
In Palmore, this Court struck down the use of racial classifications to remove a child from an appropriate custody placement. This case is no different. Baby Girl’s Indian blood quantum was the sole reason the lower court ordered her removed from the loving, stable home she had lived in since birth and placed with a biological father whose failure to timely care for her extinguished any parental rights he might otherwise have had under state law or the Constitution.
Less successfully, the brief attempts to articulate a liberty interest of the child:
And “to the extent parents and families have fundamental liberty interests in preserving such intimate relationships, so, too, do children have these interests, and so, too, must their interests be balanced in the equation.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 88 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting).
Yet ultimately, the brief argues that there is an (unconstitutional) racial classification if ICWA is applied too broadly. Clement argues that ICWA should be interpreted to limit "its application to adoption and custody proceedings involving children who are either domiciled on a reservation or have some other tribal connection beyond biology."
These limitations are crucial to preserving the Act’s constitutionality, ensuring that the Act’s differential treatment of Indians operates only to promote tribal sovereignty and the unique interests of Indians as tribal citizens, and not as invidious racial discrimination that arbitrarily trumps Baby Girl’s liberty interests. [ICWA's] definition of parent, properly interpreted, avoids these difficulties by declining to give an unwed Indian father rights based on biology alone that no non-Indian unwed father enjoys.
Moreover, ICWA's constitutional interpretation rests upon limiting its "application to children in the pre-existing custody of an Indian parent or other circumstances in which there is a distinct connection to tribal interests."
Clement - - who so recently represented BLAG supporting the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor - - - here has quite a different view of equality and federal power.
While it is unlikely that these constitutional arguments assume center stage, they may infuse the statutory interpretation of ICWA so squarely before the Court.
[image circa 1890 via]
April 15, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, History, Interpretation, Race, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)