Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Judge Eric Melgren (D. Kansas) today ordered the federal Election Assistance Commission to add language to state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form for Arizona and Kansas that would require voter registration applicants to show proof of citizenship.
Arizona and Kansas previously announced that they would adopt a two-tier registration system, one for state elections and one for federal elections, in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. Recall that in that case the Court ruled that the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to "accept and use" a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections, preempted an Arizona law that required state officials to reject any application for registration that wasn't accompanied by proof of citizenship. The NVRA federal form simply required applicants to aver, under penalty of perjury, that they satisfy state requirements for voter registration. The Court said that Arizona impermissibly required more.
Arizona and Kansas announced, in response to Inter Tribal Council, that they'd simply adopt a two-tiered system. That is, they'd continue to "accept and use" the federal form (without additional proof of citizenship) for registration for federal elections, and they'd use their own state form (with an additional requirement for documentary proof of citizenship) for state elections.
That seemed inefficient (among other things), to say the least.
Now, Judge Melgren's ruling, if upheld, might mean that Arizona and Kansas would ditch their efforts to create the two-tiered system, because they'd get what they want on the federal form--proof of each applicant's citizenship.
The ruling, if upheld, also invites other states to follow suit and get their own state-specific instructions on the NVRA federal form that would require additional documentary proof of citizenship. This could create hassles for registration through the federal form, even though a primary goal of that form was to make registration simpler. If many states did this, they could undermine the ease of registration that the NVRA was designed to promote.
The case, Kobach v. USEAC, grew out of Arizona's and Kansas's requests to the EAC to include state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form that would require voter registration applicants in those states to show proof of citizenship. The states' requests came on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
The Court said that the NVRA preempted Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement, but it also said that a state could ask the EAC to add a proof-of-citizenship requirement on the state-specific instructions that accompany the NVRA federal form.
That's exactly what Kansas and Arizona did. The EAC declined, and the states sued, arguing that the EAC's decision violated the Administrative Procedures Act, among other things.
Judge Melgren agreed. He ruled that the adding the state-specific instructions on the NVRA federal form (to provide proof of citizenship) could be harmonized with the NVRA (and that the NVRA didn't preempt state law on this point):
But the NVRA does not include a similar clear and manifest prohibition against a state requiring documentary proof of citizenship. In fact, the NVRA does not address documentary proof of citizenship at all, neither allowing it nor prohibiting it. Therefore, the Court must find that the NVRA is silent on the subject. Because Congress has not addressed the same subject as the state law, there is no basis to determine that the NVRA has preempted Arizona or Kansas law on the subject of documentary proof of citizenship.
Moreover, Judge Melgren said that not allowing Kansas's and Arizona's requested instructions would raise serious constitutional questions--that is, whether the NVRA intrudes too much on state authority to set the qualifications of voters for state and federal elections under the Elections Clause. Judge Melgren wrote that requiring the EAC to include the requested state-specific instructions would avoid this question.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Garrett Epps (U. Balt.) asked last week in The Atlantic: Can the U.S. Government Declare a State Constitution "Un-Republican"?
Epps's question comes on the heels of the Tenth Circuit ruling last week in Kerr v. Hickenlooper. The Tenth Circuit ruled that a group of elected state office-holders have standing to challenge the state constitutional Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, under the Guaranty Clause, and that the suit isn't a political question. Unless and until it's appealed, the ruling means that the plaintiffs' case can go forward.
TABOR is a Colorado state constitutional provision, adopted by popular initiative in 1992, that says that no governmental unit can raise taxes or approve a new tax without a vote of the people. State office-holders argued in Kerr that this provision violates the U.S. constitutional provision, the Guaranty Clause, that says that the federal government "shall guaranty to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." The governor, defendant in the case, argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the case posed a non-justiciable political question. A three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit disagreed.
Epps's interest goes beyond the case, however. He argues in his piece that the Guaranty Clause poses a "puzzle" for states' righters:
That clause, like a dormant volcano, rumbled last week in a courtroom in Denver [in the Kerr case]. The sound should worry those who think state prerogatives trump those of the nation.
. . .
The sobering implication [of the Guaranty Clause] is that Congress could decide at any point that a state's constitution was not "republican," expel its members from Congress, and require its people to draft a new constitution.
It's kind of hard to square that power with the claim that the state's are "co-sovereigns" with the federal government. It's an odd kind of "co-sovereign" that exists by grace of its "peer."
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The Florida Supreme Court last week ruled that the state bar can deny a law license to undocumented immigrants. The ruling means that FSU law school graduate Jose Godinez-Samperio, and other undocumented immigrants, cannot be admitted to the Florida bar--at least for now.
At the same time, concurring justices called on the state legislature to change Florida law to allow admission of certain unauthorized aliens, following California's recent lead. See In re Garcia.
The question came to the court by way of a certified question of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners on the application of Gordinez-Samperio. Gordinez-Samperio came to the U.S. when he was nine years old with his parents, who overstayed their visas. He learned English, became an Eagle Scout, was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, and attended New College of FSU. But he's undocumented.
The court cited federal law that states that aliens are not "eligible for any State . . . public benefit," including "any . . . professional license," unless they are "qualified alien[s]," nonimmigrant aliens, or aliens who are "paroled" into the United States for less than one year. Federal law also allows states to override this provision, but only "through the enactment of a State law after August 22, 1996, which affirmatively provides for such eligibility."
The court said that there was no such state law.
It also rejected the argument that applicants who have been granted status under the deferred action program, DACA, announced by President Obama in June 2012, were not exempt from the bar on state professional licenses. The court, quoting DACA, said that DACA is "an act of prosecutorial discretion . . . [and] [d]eferred action does not provide an individual with lawful status."
Gordinez-Samperio and other undocumented immigrants can still get bar membership, if the state legislature allows for it--as California did in the Garcia case.
Monday, March 3, 2014
The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Holt [Muhammad] v. Hobbs, later issuing a clarifying order:
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: “whether the Arkansas Department of Correction’s grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U. S. C. §2000cc et seq., to the extent that it prohibits petitioner from growing a one—half—inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.”
Recall that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act - - - RLUIPA - - - essentially reinstates the "strict scrutiny" standard of the pre-Smith [Employment Div. Dep't of Human Resources v. Smith] cases to a more limited set of circumstances than Congress did with RFRA, held unconstitutional as applied to the states as exceeding §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in City of Boerne v. Flores. RLUIPA arguably gives prisoners more free exercise of religion protection than the general public, though in cases, prison security often provides a sufficient compelling governmental interest that is being further by the least restrictive means and thus overcome a prisoner's religious freedom.
Many RLUIPA claims concern grooming as I discuss in Dressing Constitutionally. For Muslim male inmates, the question of facial hair has been prominent. While some circuits have rejected RLUIPA claims, crediting the administrative costs of special scissors necessary to not completely shave prisoners, other courts have upheld RLUIPA claims, finding that prison officials did not satisfy the compelling government standard achieved by the least restrictive means.
The Eighth Circuit's opinion in Holt v. Hobbs is typically cursory at three pages. Here's the court's analysis:
we conclude that defendants met their burden under RLUIPA of establishing that ADC’s grooming policy was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling penological interest, see Fegans v. Norris, 537 F.3d 897, 903 (8th Cir. 2008) (absent substantial evidence in record indicating that response of prison officials to security concerns is exaggerated, courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters), notwithstanding Mr. Holt’s citation to cases indicating that prisons in other jurisdictions have been able to meet their security needs while allowing inmates to maintain facial hair, see id. at 905 (although prison policies from other jurisdictions provide some evidence as to feasibility of implementing less restrictive means of achieving prison safety and security, it does not outweigh deference owed to expert judgment of prison officials who are more familiar with their own institutions).
The court's reliance on Fegans v. Norris, involving the Arkansas Department of Corrections restriction on hair length for male (but not female) inmates, is not surprising. Fegans is a particularly deferential decision by the Eighth Circuit - - - it almost seems as if the court applied rational basis rather than the strict scrutiny required by RLUIPA.
The Court's grant of certiorari in Holt v. Hobbs might bring some clarity to the religious freedom for prisoners in the grooming context.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Judge Orlando Garcia's opinion in DeLeon v. Perry issuing a preliminary injunction against a state constitutional same-sex marriage ban because it is most likely unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment today marks the sixth time in recent weeks that a federal judge has reached such a conclusion.
Indeed, Judge Garcia's opinion relies upon these previous opinions in Bostic v. Rainey from the Eastern District of Virginia, Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky; Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah, as well as upon the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional.
Judge Garcia's 38 page opinion begins with an extensive discussion of the parties, the statutory and state constitutional scheme in Texas barring same sex marriage, and even a discussion of the "national debate on same sex marriage beginning with the Hawai'i Supreme Court's 1993 decision in Baehr v. Lewin. As a preliminary matter, he not only analyzes the standing issue, but also the United States Supreme Court's summary disposition in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), which would seem to have been rendered irrelevant by Windsor.
On the merits - - - or more properly, on the "likelihood to succeed on the merits" prong of the preliminary judgment analysis - - - Judge Garcia's analysis is well-crafted and closely reasoned.
Regarding equal protection, his analysis of the contention that sexual orientation merits heightened scrutiny is well-done, although he ultimately concludes that it is unnecessary to apply heightened scrutiny because "Texas' ban on same-sex marriage fails even under the most deferential rational basis level of review." He concludes that the two government interests that the State proffers as supporting the same sex marriage ban as failing rational basis review. First, the state's desire "to increase the likelihood that a mother and a father will be in charge of childrearing" is reinterpreted simply as childrearing. As such, while the interest may be legitimate, it is not rationally served by banning same-sex marriage. Second, the state's desire "to encourage stable family environments for responsible procreation" is similarly not served. Third, Judge Garcia discusses "tradition," that while it was not explicitly advanced by the State, undergirds many of the State's arguments. Here Judge Garcia finds that the interest is not legitmate.
In his analysis of due process, Judge Garcia, like Judge Allen in Bostic, finds marriage to be a fundamental right. Judge Garcia marshalls the Supreme Court precedent thusly:
The State does not dispute that the right to marry is one of the fundamental rights protected by the United States Constitution. Oral Arg. Tr. p. 37 (arguing Texas marriage law does not violate Plaintiffs' "fundamental" right to marry). See, e.g., Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978) ("[D]ecisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."); United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 446 (1973) (concluding the Court has come to regard marriage as fundamental); Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) ( The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."); Skinner v. Okla. ex. rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942) (noting marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man fundamental to our existence and survival); Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 205, 211 (1888) (characterizing marriage as "the most important relation in life" and as "the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.").
He thus applies strict scrutiny and the same-sex marriage ban fails.
Judge Garcia also considers the failure to recognize an out of state same-sex marriage, as required by Texas law, and subjects this to rational basis, and analogizing to Windsor, finds this also easily fails.The opinion does seemingly address a popular audience, but even here Judge Garcia grounds his rhetoric in precedent:
Today's Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United States Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution. Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation bom out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor).
Judge Garcia stayed his opinion, mindful of the stay in Herbert v. Kitchen. Thus until the Fifth Circuit hears the case - - - or another decision - - - same sex marriages will not be occurring in Texas.
[image: map of Texas circa 1866 via]
February 26, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, February 14, 2014
Judge Arenda Wright Allen's opinion in Bostic v. Rainey concludes that Virginia's statutory and state constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriages or their recognition violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.
Judge Allen's due process analysis begins by declaring that there "can be no serious doubt that in America the right to marry is a rigorously protected fundamental right" and she therefore subjects Virginia's marriage laws to strict scrutiny. Given this formulation, she easily concludes that the state's proferred interests of tradition, federalism, and "responsible procreation" coupled with "optimal child rearing" are not satisfactory. The analysis often reverts to the language of lesser scrutiny, including this explicit statement regarding the procreation/child-rearing interest:
This rationale fails under the applicable strict scrutiny test as well as a rational-basis review. Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest. However, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.
Virginia’s Marriage Laws fail to display a rational relationship to a legitimate purpose, and so must be viewed as constitutionally infirm under even the least onerous level of scrutiny. . . .
The legitimate purposes proffered by the Proponents for the challenged laws—to promote conformity to the traditions and heritage of a majority of Virginia’s citizens, to perpetuate a generally-recognized deference to the state’s will pertaining to domestic relations laws, and, finally, to endorse "responsible procreation"—share no rational link with Virginia Marriage Laws being challenged. The goal and the result of this legislation is to deprive Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens of the opportunity and right to choose to celebrate, in marriage, a loving, rewarding, monogamous relationship with a partner to whom they are committed for life. These results occur without furthering any legitimate state purpose.
Judge Allen's opinion may be criticized as being longer on rhetoric than on exemplary legal analysis - - - a charge similar to that leveled against Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court in United States v. Windsor declaring §3 of DOMA unconstitutional, upon which Judge Allen rightly relies. Judge Allen's numerous of invocations of Loving v. Virginia - - - including beginning the opinion with an extensive quote from Mildred Loving - - - have special resonance in Virginia. Yet at times, lofty language veers toward inaccuracy, as when the opinion states that "Our Constitution declares that 'all men' are created equal." (That's the wording of the Declaration of Independence not the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause). Others may contest that there can be "no serious doubt" that marriage is a fundamental right.
Nevertheless, Judge Allen's opinion follows on the heels of four other opinions by federal district judges reaching the same conclusion about their respective state laws and constitutional provisions: Bourke v. Beshear from the Western District of Kentucky; Bishop v. United States from the Northern District of Oklahoma, Obergefell v. Wymyslo from the Southern District of Ohio, and Kitchen v. Herbert, from the District of Utah (now stayed).
Judge Allen stayed the injunction against enforcement of the Virginia same-sex marriage ban, pending resolution by the Fourth Circuit.
But recall that the Virginia Attorney General has declared that he will not defend Virginia's same-sex marriage ban, a position that might mean that Judge Allen's opinion never reaches the Fourth Circuit as we analyzed here.
[image: 1848 map of Virginia via]
February 14, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Race, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, February 10, 2014
The Michigan Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld Michigan's medical marijuana law, and struck a Michigan town's ordinance that purported to apply the federal Controlled Substances Act against it, in a two-step, federal-state-local preemption ruling. The net result: Michigan's medical marijuana law stays on the books exactly as is, and the City of Wyoming's ordinance against it is struck. And of course: Michigan medical marijuana users could still be prosecuted by federal authorities under the Controlled Substances Act.
The case, Ter Beek v. City of Wyoming, involved a challenge to Wyoming's ordinance that was adopted to allow city authorities to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act (the "CSA") against Michigan's medical marijuana law. Wyoming's ordinance read:
Uses not expressly permitted under this article are prohibited in all districts. Uses that are contrary to federal law, state law or local ordinance are prohibited.
That last sentence would ban marijuana that violates the CSA in the city.
But a city resident challenged it as preempted by the Michigan medical marijuana law under the Michigan Constitution. The city argued in reply that Michigan's medical marijuana law was itself preempted--by the CSA under the federal Constitution.
The court ruled first that the CSA did not preempt the Michigan medical marijuana law. The reason is simple: nothing in the Michigan law prohibits federal enforcement of the CSA. There's no conflict preemption and no obstacle preemption. Moreover, the CSA "explicitly contemplates a role for the States" in regulating medical marijuana.
The court held next that the Michigan medical marijuana law did preempt Wyoming's ordinance. Again, the reason is simple: the ordinance, by allowing enforcement of the terms of the CSA by local officials, conflicts with the Michigan law. The Michigan Constitution says that the City's "power to adopt resolutions and ordinances relating to its municipal concerns" is "subject to the constitution and the law." Art. 7, Sec. 22. That means that local laws can't conflict with state laws. And the court said that Wyoming's did.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
The Fourth Circuit ruled this week in Montgomery County, Maryland v. Federal National Mortgage Association that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac enjoy statutory immunity certain state and local taxes--and that this congressionally granted immunity is not unconstitutional.
The ruling is a rejection of some of the more aggressive states'-rights theories that we've heard in other contexts. It underscores federal supremacy, even in the area of state and local taxes. It's not a surprising ruling, but the court's flat rejection of certain of the plaintiffs' states-rights arguments is notable.
The case arose out of Fannie's and Freddie's refusal to pay state and local transfer and recording taxes on foreclosed properties that they sought to sell. Fannie and Freddie cited their federal statutory exemption, which exempts Fannie and Freddie generally from state and local taxes, "except that any real property of [either entity] shall be subject to State, territorial, county, municipal, or local taxation to the same extent as other real property is taxed."
The court distinguished between property taxes (not exempt under the statute) and transfer taxes (exempt) and ruled that Fannie and Freddie were exempt under the plain language.
But that's not the interesting part. The court also ruled that Congress had authority to grant the exemption, and that it didn't run afoul of federalism principles.
The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that Fannie's and Freddie's property sales were local in nature, and therefore outside Congress's Commerce Clause authority. "In this case, the overall statutory schemes establishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are clearly directed at the regulation of interstate economic activity." The court also rejected the novel contention that the sweep of congressional authority here should be judged under a strict scrutiny standard (and not traditional rational basis review), because the exemption intruded into an area of state sovereignty. "The Counties' analogy to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments fails because there is not independent constitutional protection for the States' right to tax."
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' contentions that the exemption violated federalism principles. The court said that the exemption didn't commandeer states or state officials, that it didn't violate the Tenth Amendment (because Congress acted within its Commerce Clause authority), and that Congress can exempt non-government entities like Fannie and Freddie.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Can the Virginia Attorney General (Not) Do That? Analysis of the Virginia AG's decision not to defend the state same-sex marriage ban
The Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, representing Janet M. Rainey, in her official capacity as State Registrar of Vital Records, has filed a Notice of Change of Position (and Memorandum in Support) in Bostick v. Rainey, a case challenging the constitutionality of Virginia's same-sex marriage ban in federal district court.
The Complaint in Bostick, filed in September 2013, challenges both the Virginia Statute § 20-45.2. prohibiting marriages between persons of the same-sex (adopted in 1975) and the constitutional amendment, Article I, §15A, prohibiting not only marriages but other forms of relationship recognition, passed by ballot initiative in 2006.
The change of the state's position by Mark Herring, the newly elected Attorney General (pictured right) may have been unexpected in some quarters, but it replicates the United States Attorney General's decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as well as California Attorney General Jerry Brown's decision not to defend the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Recall that in the Proposition 8 trial, Perry v. Schwarzenneger, the constitutionality of Proposition 8 was defended by intervenors including protectmarriage.com, who the trial judge described as the “proponents” of Proposition 8. When district judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, an appeal ensued, followed by questions about whether the "proponents" has standing to appeal. Importantly, an attempt to obtain a writ of mandamus to mandate Governor Schwarzenegger appeal was unsuccessful. And also importantly, the United States Supreme Court, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, decided that the "proponents" did not have standing to appeal, thus ultimately leaving the district judge's opinion valid.
The Proposition 8 litigation is thus an object lesson in the perils of the government not defending the constitutionality of the state laws at trial - - - it might insulate a district judge's finding of unconstitutionality from appeal.
On the other hand, the United States Supreme Court did find that there was standing to appeal in the Defense of Marriage case, United States v. Windsor, despite the fact that the United States was not actually defending the constitutionality of the DOMA statute. The Court narrowly found that BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives who had taken up the defense of DOMA, at a substantial cost to taxpayers, 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 the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to brief and argue BLAG's standing).
Thus. should some parties in Virginia seek to defend the state statutory and constitutional scheme, they should seek to approximate BLAG rather than a more private proponent, even if one could find some proponent for the 1976 statute.
Barring any state laws to the contrary, the Virginia AG surely has the power to make a determination that the state action is unconstitutional and thus decline to defend it. But it could prove a risky business when it comes to any party having standing on appeal should the district judge agree with the plaintiffs and with the state that the state scheme prohibiting same sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
As we discussed yesterday, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance, as a response the the Court's holding in Shelby v. Holder that section 4(b) of the VRA was unconstitutional.
Tolson argues that while
there are some aspects of the legislation that may displease civil rights organizations, particularly the exemption of voter identification laws from coverage under the new formula, the proposal is a strong start to address the gaping hole in the preclearance regime created by the Court's decision in Shelby County.
But in some respects, she contends, the proposed legislation may go too far.
She argues that the proposed amendments to section 3(c) of the VRA are "alarming because they place a bull's eye squarely on the back of section 3(c)" as well as section 2. She notes that section 3(c) of the VRA is constitutional precisely "because its intentional discrimination requirement is identical to the constitutional standard for establishing violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments."
She concludes that the "legislative focus should be limited to replacing the coverage formula and leaving section 3(c) alone."
Worth a read for anyone considering the proposed amendments to the VRA and the legacy of Shelby v. Holder.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation last week that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance. The legislation responds to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Shelby County v. Holder, striking Section 4(b) of the VRA, the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement. That ruling left Section 5 preclearance nearly a dead letter (although litigants could still seek to have a court order a jurisdiction to bail-in to preclearance under Section 3).
The bills would update the coverage formula to include states that have 5 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years and political subdivisions that have 3 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years. (Coverage would continue for 10 years, unless the jurisdiction gets a court order releasing it.) This new formula would cover Georgia, Louisiana, Misissippi, and Texas, but not Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
The bills also contain a number of other provisions, perhaps most notably expanding Section 3 bail-in so that litigants can ask a court to bail-in a jurisdiction when that jurisdiction has intentionally discriminated (as now) and for any other violation of the VRA. Ari Berman over at The Nation has a nice summary.
The new provisions will undoubtedly be challenged when and if they're enacted. On the one hand, they address a major concern of the Court in Shelby County: they update the coverage formula to use more current violations as the basis for coverage. But on the other hand, they still treat states differently (and potentially run afoul of the Court's new-found "equal sovereignty" doctrine), and the state-wide formula does not account for actual voter turn-out (although the political subdivision formula does) and neither formula addresses the number of elected officials--data that the Court found at least relevant in its ruling.
January 22, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Julie Ebenstein of the ACLU writes on Jurist.org that the dual system of voter registration in Kansas unlawfully denies citizens the right to vote. Ebenstein outlines the Kansas case challenging the dual system under state constitutional provisions, filed last November and now pending in state court.
As we wrote, two states, Arizona and Kansas, adopted a dual system of voter registration in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. In that case, the Court held that the requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. (The NVRA form requires applicants simply to attest to their citizenship, not to provide additional documentation.)
Arizona and Kansas then announced that they would require voters to register separately for state and federal elections. This created a dual system of voter registration: NVRA and state-form registrants before January 1, 2013, can vote in both state and federal elections; but NVRA registrants after January 1, 2013, can vote in only federal elections. (NVRA registrants after that date also can't sign petitions.) Now only state-form registrants who provide the additional proof of citizenship can vote in state elections. State-form registrants who fail to provide the additional proof of citizenship cannot vote at all.
The ACLU and ACLU of Kansas filed suit last November challenging the dual registration system. The complaint, filed in state court, alleges that the system violates state constitutional equal protection by distinguishing between classes of voters in the state, that state officials exceeded their state constitutional authority, and that the system wasn't properly promulgated as a rule or regulation under Kansas law.
January 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Preemption, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
In a lengthy opinion today in Bishop v. United States (Smith), Judge Terence Kern of the Northern District of Oklahoma found unconstitutional the state constitutional amendment, article 2, §35 that defines marriage as consisting "only of the union of one man and one woman," and further that no law "shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2004 soon after the state constitutional amendment, also challenged the federal DOMA, as well as other portions of the state "little DOMA" and includes several plaintiffs. As to these challenges, the judge found a lack of standing. However, as to the definitional section of article 2, §35 (above), known as "Part A" of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment, the judge found that the "Bishop couple" had standing - - - and that the provision violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As to the Equal Protection claim, the judge rejected the argument by Smith, the Oklahoma county clerk, that Baker v. Nelson (1972) was binding precedent. More interestingly, the judge also rejected the argument that last Term's decision in Windsor v. United States, holding section 3 of the federal DOMA unconstitutional was determinative: "Both parties argue that Windsor supports their position, and both are right."
Judge Kern correctly observed:
The Windsor Court did not apply the familiar equal protection framework, which inquires as to the applicable level of scrutiny and then analyzes the law’s justifications. Instead, the Windsor Court based its conclusion on the law’s blatant improper purpose and animus. See id. at 2693. The Court reasoned that DOMA’s “unusual deviation” from the tradition of “accepting state definitions of marriage” was “strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of the class.” Id. The Court concluded, based upon DOMA’s text and legislative history, that DOMA’s principal purpose “was to impose inequality.” Id. Thus, Windsor does not answer whether a state may prohibit same-sex marriage in the first instance. Nor does Windsor declare homosexuals a suspect class or discuss whether DOMA impacted a fundamental right, which would have provided this Court with a clear test for reviewing Part A [of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment].
The judge then applied the Tenth Circuit's framework for analyzing equal protection questions:
First, the Court asks “whether the challenged state action intentionally discriminates between groups of persons.” Second, after an act of intentional discrimination is identified, the Court must ask “whether the state’s intentional decision to discriminate can be justified by reference to some upright government purpose.”
By examining the legislative actions - - - including a press release - - - the judge found that the exclusion of the defined class was not a "hidden or ulterior motive," but was "consistently communicated to Oklahoma citizens as a justification" for the amendment.
For the next line of inquiry focusing on the justification for the discrimination, the judge rejected the argument that it was gender discrimination (relying on "common sense"), and concluded it could be best described as "sexual-orientation discrimination." The judge applied the familiar "rationality" standard, but rejected the "morality" government interest originally proffered, as well as the "negative impact on marriage" interest. While he did not use the label of "animus" for these interests, the import of the analysis is sympathetic to such a reading.
He similarly rejected the interests of "Encouraging Responsible Procreation/Steering Naturally Procreative Couples to Marriage," and "Promoting the “Optimal” Child-Rearing Environment," finding that while these interests might be legitimate, they were not being rationally served by the means chosen of prohibiting same-sex couples from marriage.
The judge concluded:
The Court permanently enjoins enforcement of Part A against same-sex couples seeking a marriage license. In accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuance of a stay in a nearly identical case on appeal from the District Court of Utah to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, see Herbert v. Kitchen, U.S. Supreme Court Order in Pending Case 13A687 (Jan. 6, 2014), the Court stays execution of this injunction pending the final disposition of any appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Thus, same-sex marriages will not occur in Oklahoma as they did in Utah while the state government sought stays. Instead, the Tenth Circuit's expedited appeal in Herbert v. Kitchen is now also determinative of Oklahoma.
Monday, January 13, 2014
The United States Supreme Court in Zablocki v. Redhail (1978) held unconstitutional a Wisconsin state statute requiring judicial permission for a marriage license for any person who had a support order for a minor.
The opinion, authored by Justice Marshall, considers the case as one of equal protection and opines that
our past decisions make clear that the right to marry is of fundamental importance, and since the classification at issue here significantly interferes with the exercise of that right, we believe that "critical examination" of the state interests advanced in support of the classification is required.
The Court also states that more recent decisions "have established that the right to marry is part of the fundamental "right of privacy" implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause," citing Griswold v. Connecticut.
Thus, although not as famous as Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail is also frequently cited in any argument that marriage is a fundamental right, notwithstanding the Court's qualification in Zablocki that "not every state regulation which relates in any way to the incidents of or prerequisites for marriage must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny," but only ones that interfere directly and substantially with the right to marry.
In a new essay, Chronicle of a Debt Foretold: Zablocki v. Red Hail, by Tonya L. Brito, R. Kirk Anderson and Monica Wedgewood, forthcoming in The Poverty Law Canon and available on ssrn, the authors revive the importance of the wealth inequality relevance of the case and also reveal a racial aspect. Redhail, whose name is actually Roger Red Hail, is a Native American man, now in his late 50s, who still owes child support for the child he fathered when he was 16. Although the "child" is now in her 40s, he owes the money to state (with interest) and the state continues to garnish his wages.
There is a possibility that Red Hail's pending child support cases now under the jurisdiction of Milwaukee County would be transferred to the Oneida Tribal Judicial System.
The essay is a must-read for anyone considering the constitutional ramifications of equality or marriage.
January 13, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 23, 2013
In an opinion today in Obergefell v. Kasich, federal Judge Timothy Black (pictured) of the Southern District of Ohio issued a permanent injunction against a particular enforcement of Ohio's limitation of marriage to opposite sex couples.
Recall that in July, less than a month after the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor declaring DOMA unconstitutional, Judge Black enjoined Ohio's DOMA-type provisions (both statutory and in the state constitution) involving the recognition of a marriage that occurred out of state in an especially sympathetic situation involving a dying person.
In today's opinion, Judge Black - - - as he did in his previous opinion and as Judge Robert Shelby did in his opinion declaring Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional - - - used Justice Scalia's dissent in Windsor as support:
In a vigorous dissent to the Windsor ruling, Justice Scalia predicted that the question whether states could refuse to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages would come quickly, and that the majority’s opinion spelled defeat for any state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages authorized by a co-equal state. As Justice Scalia predicted: “no one should be fooled [by this decision] ... the majority arms well any challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition ... it’s just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe [to drop].” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2710 (Scalia, J., dissenting).
The challenge before Judge Black is an as-applied-one relating to a specific couple, a death certificate, and an out of state marriage.
On the due process challenge, Judge Black concluded that "Ohio’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states violates the substantive due process rights of the parties to those marriages because it deprives them of their significant liberty interest in remaining married absent a sufficient articulated state interest for doing so or any due process procedural protection whatsoever."
On the equal protection challenge, Judge Black used a Carolene-type analysis to conclude that sexual orientation classifications merited heightened scrutiny. However, he also decided that the Ohio marriage ban failed to satisfy even rational basis, both because animus was not a legitimate interest and because the non-animus legitimate interests asserted had no rational connection to Ohio's marriage recognition ban of same-sex couples.
Although the final injunction is limited to this particular couple and relates to the death of one of the partners, its reasoning could undoubtedly apply in a facial challenge.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
In a 91 page opinion in Brown v. Buhman, federal district judge Clark Waddoups has concluded that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional.
The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:
- (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
- (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
- (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.
The challengers to the statute, the Browns, are famous from the reality program Sister Wives and the accompanying book ) and are represented by Professor Jonathan Turley, who blogs about the case here.
The judge's scholarly opinion includes a discussion of Edward Said's groundbreaking book Orientalism as a critique of the well-known passage in the United States Supreme Court’s 1879 decision in Reynolds v. United States upholding the criminalization of polygamy by reasoning, in part, that "Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people."
Judge Waddoups considers both the due process challenge (applying Washington v. Glucksberg) and the free exercise challenge (applying Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah).
In the due process analysis, the judge specifically found
there is no “fundamental right” to polygamy under Glucksberg. To phrase it with a “careful description” of the asserted right [citations omitted], no “fundamental right” exists to have official State recognition or legitimation of individuals’ “purported” polygamous marriages—relationships entered into knowing that one of the parties to such a plural marriage is already legally married in the eyes of the State. The fundamental right or liberty interest that was under consideration in Glucksberg is instructive for the analysis of whether the asserted right to polygamy is “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.”
The judge also found that the criminalization of what it called the "religious cohabitation" portion of the statute did not rise to the level of a fundamental right, extensively discussing Lawrence v. Texas and the Tenth Circuit's limiting interpretation of Lawrence.
However, the judge did find that "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis." This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:
Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.
Complementing this conclusion regarding discriminatory enforcement, the judge's free exercise of religion analysis concludes that while the Utah statute may be facially neutral, the cohabitation prong is not "operationally neutral" and not of general applicability. The judge therefore applied strict scrutiny to the cohabitation prong and easily concluded the statute failed.
As an alternative free exercise analysis, the judge reasoned that the cohabitation prong also merited strict scrutiny because it involved a "hybrid rights" analysis under Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990), given the claims of due process, but also claims that the judge did not extensively analyzes such as free association, free speech, establishment, and equal protection.
Thus, the judge concluded the cohabitation prong of the statute is "unconstitutional on numerous grounds." However, the court explicitly narrowed the constructions of “marry” and “purports to marry" in the statute, so that the Utah statute continues to "remain in force as prohibiting bigamy in the literal sense—the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage." Not surprisingly then, the judge's opinion does not cite the Supreme Court's opinion last term in United States v. Windsor involving DOMA and same-sex marriage, in which Justice Scalia, dissenting, invoked the effect the decision would have on polygamy. [I've previously discussed the similarities of same-sex marriage and polygamy claims here].
Given the district judge's narrowing construction and the clear constitutional issues with the Utah statute's breadth, it might be possible that the state does not appeal.
December 14, 2013 in Books, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, have set off a new wave of challenges to the Act, according to today's NYT. Among these: the religious challenges to the contraception mandate; cases challenging President Obama's extension of the employer mandate deadline; and challenges to the IRS rule providing a subsidy to purchasers of health insurance on the federal exchange.
As to that last one: plaintiffs in a spate of cases argue that Section 1401(a) of the ACA provides that purchasers of health insurance on a state exchange, but not the federal exchange, get a federal subsidy; yet the IRS issued a rule that extends the federal subsidy (in the form of a tax credit) to purchasers on the federal exchange. This, they say, violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the Tenth Amendment.
Why the Tenth Amendment? Opponents say that under the ACA an employer who declines to extend coverage has to pay a penalty if and when the federal government gives the employer's employees a subsidy for purchasing health insurance on a state exchange. Opponents say that the IRS rule extends this federal subsidy, and also the employer penalty, when the employer's employees purchase health insurance on the federal exchange. According to opponents, that undermines the state's policy decision not to open a state exchange in the first place. Or, as Indiana put it in paragraph 10 of its complaint in State of Indiana v. IRS:
[The IRS rule] contravenes the text of the ACA, thwarts Indiana's ability to execute State policy sparing employers from Employer Mandate penalties, induces Plaintiffs to reduce the hours of certain employees, including part-time and intermittent employees, to avoid having to provide all such employees with minimum essential coverage, and requires Plaintiffs to file onerous reports with the IRS detailing insurance coverage decisions. It thereby violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Tenth Amendment, and the Court should permanently enjoin Defendants from putting it into effect.
Later, in paragraph 17, it says:
In light of the IRS Rule, the State will be forced to reduce the hours of several part-time or intermittent employees in order to avoid the "assessable payment" or employer penalty of the ACA.
According to the Notice of Final Rulemaking, the IRS considered and rejected claims that the ACA itself limits subsidies to purchasers on state exchanges when it took comments on the proposed rule. The IRS said:
The statutory language of section 36B and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act support the interpretation that credits are available to taxpayers who obtain coverage through a State Exchange, regional Exchange, subsidiary Exchange, and the Federally-facilitated Exchange. Moreover, the relevant legislative history does not demonstrate that Congress intended to limit the premium tax credit to State Exchanges.
The Supreme Court heard arguments today in Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, the case testing whether the Airline Deregulation Act preempts a state-law claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising out of an airline's termination of a customer's membership in its frequent flyer program. Our argument preview is here.
Given that the Court has ruled in Wolens that the ADA does not preempt an ordinary breach-of-contract claim, arguments today turned on whether the claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is simply an incorporated contract requirement or a rule of contract interpretation (so that it's actually part of the contract, and thus not preempted), or whether it's an additional state-imposed obligation on top of the plain terms of the contract (and thus preempted). This question is informed by the deregulatory purpose of the ADA. Justice Breyer framed the issue this way:
I absolutely agree wtih you that--that a free market in price is at the heart of the Deregulation Act. Given.
I also think frequent flyer programs are simply price discounts. Given.
I also think that if you don't have contracts, you can't have free markets. Given.
But I also think the State cannot, under the guise of contract law, regulate the prices of airlines. If you allow that, you're going to have worse than we ever had. It'll be 50 different systems, all right?
Justice Kagan framed it this way, suggesting a solution that would preserve the implied covenant claim:
I guess what I'm suggesting is that the implied covenant here, it's just an interpretive tool. It says that there are certain kinds of provisions that are written very broadly or very vaguely, and an implied covenant comes in to help us interpret those kinds of provisions. And viewed in that way, it's just a contractual device that in light of Wolens ought to be permitted.
Justice Sotomayor said it this way, and proposed a standard for distinguishing between ordinary breach-of-contract claims and implied covenant claims:
My simpler standard comes from quoting Hennepin: "Does the implied covenant claim extend to actions beyond the scope of the underlying contract, or can it override the express terms of the agreement? If the answer is no, it's not preempted."
The question is complicated by the fact that the frequent flyer program in this case gave Northwest the "sole discretion" to terminate. So: Is an implied covenant part of that contract, or is it an additional state-law requirement? And what's the standard for sorting that out?
As an initial matter, any standard may not answer the preemption question categorically. That's because different states interpret their implied covenant laws differently. This gave the Court another problem: Does it have to sort out the particular state law on implied covenants in order to determine whether a claim in a particular state is preempted? And might the answer change depending on the state, leading to inconsistent results and undermining the deregulatory purpose of the ADA? Justice Scalia put this point on it:
Wow, somebody's really been given a raw deal. You know, that's still going to be possible even if we rule for [Ginsberg] here. It depends on what State he's from, right?
Complicating things yet more, the answer may turn on the implied covenant's waivability. Justice Kagan made this point:
But if it can't be waived, it sure seems as though it is operating independently of the parties' reasonable expectations.
It may also turn on the fact that frequent flyer programs work for airline miles, but also for other goods and services--and thus state regulation of them may not amount to a regulation of airline price, in violation of the ADA. Justice Alito put it this way:
I don't want to take up your rebuttal time, but if the facts were that under a particular program 90 percent of the miles were earned by purchasing things other than flying and 90 percent of the miles were spent on things other than flying, wouldn't that be very different?
This could give the Court a way out of the problem, by ruling that state implied-covenant claims based on frequent flyer programs aren't preempted because they don't regulate the price of airline tickets. This seems unlikely, though: even if frequent flyer programs work for other goods and services, they still also work for airline tickets.
Finally, there's the presumption against preemption--and whether it has any bearing on this case. Chief Justice Roberts seemed to think so:
I do agree, it seems pretty inconsistent with the normal presumption against preemption that we apply out of respect for the State legal regimes to say we're going to adopt a broad prophylactic rule.
But Justice Scalia thought not:
But the whole purpose of the ADA was to preempt State laws. I mean, I can understand applying that presumption to other statutes which say nothing about preemption. The whole purpose of the ADA was to deregulate airlines, was to say there was going to be no Federal regulation. Let the free market handle it and there will be no State regulation.
On the one hand, a narrow ruling in this case--one that address Ginsberg's particular claim, under Minnesota law, recognizing that this particular program gave the airline "sole discretion" to terminate--seems both likely and appropriate, especially given the particularities of this case. But on the other hand, as at least some on the Court suggested, an overly narrow ruling, without a broader standard, leaves open the possibility (or even probability) that this very same issue, or one like it, could give the lower courts a headache in the 49 other states (where implied covenant claims might work differently).
If Ginsberg loses, and his claim is preempted, the U.S. Department of Transportation can still investigate Northwest's frequent flyer program. But that remedy doesn't do anything for Ginsberg.
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, the case testing wether the federal Airline Deregulation Act preempts a state-law claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising out of an airline's termination of a customer's membership in its frequent flyer program. Here's my preview of the oral argument from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court cases, with permission:
S. Binyomin Ginsberg was an active member of WorldPerks, the Northwest Airline’s frequent flyer program, since 1999. Ginsberg, an expert in education and administration, travelled frequently on Northwest to give lectures, conduct seminars and workshops, and advise other educators and administrators. In 2005, Ginsberg earned Platinum Elite Status in the WorkPerks program, the highest level of benefits available.
But in June 2008, Northwest revoked Ginsberg’s WorldPerks membership. A Northwest representative explained by phone that Northwest was revoking his membership because he had abused the program by complaining too many times and strategically booking himself on full flights in order to get bumped. A Northwest Customer Care Coordinator later sent Ginsberg an e-mail citing Paragraph 7 of the WorldPerks General Terms and Conditions and saying that “[a]buse of the WorldPerks program . . . may result in cancellation of the member’s account and future disqualification from program participation, forfeiture of all mileage accrued and cancellation of previously issued but unused awards.” The e-mail also said that Northwest may determine “in its sole judgment” whether a passenger has abused the program. The e-mail did not give any specific information about how Ginsberg had abused the program.
Ginsberg filed suit on January 8, 2009, asserting four causes of action: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) negligent misrepresentation; and (4) intentional misrepresentation. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that Ginsberg failed to show sufficient facts to support his breach-of-contract claim, and that the federal Airline Deregulation Act preempted Ginsberg’s other three claims.
Ginsberg appealed, but only as to his claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, and this appeal followed.
Congress enacted the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) in 1978, concluding that “maximum reliance on competitive market forces” would best further “efficiency, innovation, and low prices” as well as “variety [and] quality . . . of air transportation services.” As part of the Act, and in order to ensure that states would not frustrate deregulation by enacting their own regulations, Congress included a preemption provision barring any state from “enact[ing] or enforce[ing] a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” At the same time, Congress retained the Act’s already-existing “savings clause,” which preserved common law and statutory remedies.
The Supreme Court addressed the ADA’s preemption clause in two important cases. In the first case, Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374 (1992), the Court ruled that the ADA preempted state regulation of airlines’ fare advertisements. The Court held that the preemption clause’s phrase “related to” was quite broad, and that the ADA sought to preempt any state enforcement actions “having a connection with or reference to airline ‘rates, routes, or services’ . . . .” The Court had little trouble concluding that state regulation of airlines’ fare advertisements fell comfortably within that definition.
In the second case, American Airlines, Inc. v. Wolens, 513 U.S. 219 (1995), a case very similar to Ginsberg’s, the Court ruled that the ADA preempted state enforcement suits against an airline arising under state-imposed obligations (as in a state law regulating an airline), but not under an airline’s breach of its own, self-imposed obligations (as in the airline’s own contract with its customers). According to the Court, “[a] remedy confined to a contract’s terms simply holds parties to their agreement,” and does not impose additional obligations related to a price, route, or service. Wolens sued American Airlines for making retroactive changes to the terms and conditions of its frequent flyer program. The Court held that the ADA preempted Wolens’s claim under the state Consumer Fraud Act, but that it did not preempt Wolens’s claim for routine breach of contract.
Considering the broad reading of the preemption clause in Morales, the parties here argue whether Ginsberg’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing looks like more a state-imposed obligation or whether it looks more like an airline-imposed obligation under Wolens.
Northwest argues first that the plain language of the ADA preempts Ginsberg’s claim. It says that Ginsberg’s suit, which seeks reinstatement of program membership and renewed access to the reduced prices and enhanced services that come with it, is plainly “related to” Northwest’s prices, routes, and services, especially given the Court’s broad approach to the ADA’s preemption provision. Moreover, Northwest contends that Ginsberg’s claim seeks to enlarge the program’s General Terms and Conditions, a voluntary agreement between the parties, by invoking state law that is external to the agreement. In other words, Northwest says that Ginsberg’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim is no ordinary breach-of-contract claim, designed simply to enforce the terms of the agreement between the parties. Instead, it says that Ginsberg’s claim goes above-and-beyond simple enforcement of the agreement and, if allowed, would enforce state policies outside the four corners of the agreement, external to the contract. Northwest argues that this violates the Court’s rule in Wolens.
Next, Northwest argues that preemption of Ginsberg’s claim is consistent with the policies underlying the ADA. Northwest contends that Ginsberg’s implied covenant claim is amorphous and subject to different interpretations, and, if enforced here and elsewhere, would lead to a patchwork of state regulations over agreements like this. (In contrast, Northwest says that simple breach-of-contract claims are uniform enough across jurisdictions to avoid a patchwork result.) Moreover, Northwest argues that Ginsberg’s claim, if recognized, would create a risk of state interference with competition and commercial activity in the airline industry by substituting state law for market forces. Northwest claims that the patchwork result and state interference are both inconsistent with the goals of the ADA, to further “efficiency, innovation, and low prices” in the airline industry through “maximum reliance on competitive market forces.” (Northwest also notes that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has authority to investigate unfair practices in frequent flyer programs, so that Ginsberg and others like him may seek federal administrative relief.)
The federal government weighed in to support Northwest. Like Northwest, the government argues that the ADA preempts Ginsberg’s claim, because Ginsberg’s claim is external to his contract with Northwest. The government contends that because the district court rejected Ginsberg’s breach-of-written-contract claim on the basis that it gave Northwest complete discretion to determine Ginsberg’s status in the program, and because Ginsberg did not appeal that portion of the ruling, Ginsberg’s implied-covenant claim necessarily seeks to impose an additional, non-contractual obligation on Northwest. The government says that under Wolens this claim is preempted. But unlike Northwest the government does not argue for a categorical rule that all implied-covenant claims are preempted by the ADA, because, it says, some implied-covenant claims may require only adjudication of routine breach-of-contract claims, consistent with Wolens. The government says that only those implied-covenant claims that seek to enforce policies outside the contract, like Ginsberg’s, are preempted.
Ginsberg argues first that his implied covenant of good faith claim is not preempted under Wolens. Ginsberg says that his claim does not look outside the contract; instead, it stays within the contract. According to Ginsberg, that’s because a contract includes both express and implied terms, and his claim simply seeks to put an implied-obligation-of-good-faith gloss on the contract language that gives Northwest “sole judgment” to determine whether he abused the program. Ginsberg claims that this gloss is no extra-contractual obligation; rather, it is part-and-parcel of the contract itself. He says that courts read in an implied covenant of good faith to a contract in order to protect the contract’s express terms, and not to add an additional or external obligation or policy. Moreover, Ginsburg contends that his decision not to appeal the dismissal of his claim for a breach of the written contract does not transform his implied covenant of good faith claim into one based on extra-contractual policies, as argued by the federal government. Again, he says that the contract includes both express and implied terms, and his implied claim simply seeks to enforce the contract itself. Ginsberg says that holding Northwest to implied terms furthers the aims of the ADA, because enforcement in good faith increases the stability of contracts and reduces the costs of entering into them. Ginsberg claims that DOT enforcement does not replace the role of the courts in resolving contract disputes, whether they involve express or implied terms of a contract.
Ginsberg argues next that his claim is not preempted because it does not seek to “enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision.” Ginsberg says that the Court unanimously held that a statutory provision in the Federal Boat Safety Act that preempts enforcement of “a law or regulation” does not preempt common-law claims. For the same reasons that that provision did not preempt, Ginsberg contends that the ADA should not preempt. He also says that the word “provision” does not extend to common-law duties. As a result, Ginsberg contends that the ADA’s preemption clause does not apply, even aside from his Wolens argument.
Finally, Ginsberg argues that his claim is not preempted because it does not relate to airline prices, routes, or services. He says that his claim, unlike the claim in Wolens, does not challenge access to flights and upgrades or the number of miles needed to obtain a ticket. Instead, Ginsberg argues that his claim goes only to the termination of his WorldPerks membership. He says that this claim does not reference, does not seek to regulate, and will not affect the price, route, or service of air transportation. (Ginsberg argues that the WorldPerks program is not a “service” within the meaning of the ADA.) Ginsberg underscores this point by noting that frequent flyer miles can be earned and spent on many things other than air transportation, and that consumers can participate in a frequent flyer program without buying a single airline ticket. Finally, Ginsberg says that the DOT advises consumers to “consider legal action through the appropriate civil court” if they are unhappy with the way a frequent flyer program is administered. He says that is exactly what he did here.
On one level, this case simply addresses a claim that falls between the cracks of the sharp distinction between contract-based claims and extra-contractual claims that the Court drew in Wolens. By this reckoning, the case is only another opportunity for the Court to round out its analysis of ADA preemption and to give guidance to lower courts and litigants for the next round of claims against the airlines. The case is significant, but only insofar as it deals with ADA preemption of a particular kind of claim. The parties do not argue that the Court should overturn Wolens, and they do not argue that the ADA does not preempt an ordinary breach-of-contract claim. Thus, whatever the Court likely rules in this case, Ginsberg and plaintiffs like him will continue to be able to assert an ordinary breach-of-contract claim against an airline, even if they cannot assert more. (The fact that Ginsberg appealed his implied covenant claim, but not his breach-of-contract claim, says that the implied covenant claim sweeps more broadly, and could be easier to prove, than the breach-of-contract claim. If so, a ruling favoring preemption could mean that plaintiffs would lose a broader class of claims (implied covenant claims), even if they would retain a basic breach-of-contract claim.)
On another level, the case, like many preemption cases, pits significant considerations of federal-state relations against an individual plaintiff’s ability to seek redress for injuries under state law against a corporation. In this way, the case is significant for how it balances federalism against state law remedies against corporations. To put a finer point on it, this case, like some other recent federalism cases, is likely to be seen in pro-corporation or pro-plaintiff terms, depending on the outcome.
These cases involving federalism and individual state-law remedies sometimes come down with surprising alliances among the justices. In Wolens, for example, Justice Ginsberg wrote the Court’s opinion; it was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer. But the composition of the Court has changed in critical ways since Wolens, making predictions here even more difficult than usual. Look to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as the likely pivotal votes.
Monday, December 2, 2013
That's the question before the Supreme Court today in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community. More particularly, the case asks whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to hear a state's claim that a Native American tribe's off-reservation casino violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and whether the tribe enjoys immunity from such a suit.
With the rapid proliferation of tribal gaming, including off-reservation gaming, the case could make an important statement about the regulatory authority of the tribe, the state, and the federal government over off-reservation gaming. It could also make an important statement about federal court jurisdiction over a state's claim that a tribe's off-reservation gaming violates federal law, and about tribal immunity for such gaming.
Here's my oral argument preview of the case, republished, with permission, from the ABA Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases:
Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) in order to regulate gaming activities on “Indian lands.” The IGRA divides gaming into three separate classes and specifies how each class is regulated. Class I gaming includes social games and traditional tribal games; it is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the tribe. Class II gaming includes bingo and certain card games like poker; it is primarily within the jurisdiction of the tribe but subject to federal oversight.
Class III gaming, the class at issue here, includes everything else, such as slot machines and casino-style games. Class III gaming is not regulated by a uniform structure. Instead, an Indian tribe wishing to conduct Class III gaming has to adopt a gaming ordinance that is approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), a federal agency. The tribe also has to negotiate with the state where it is located and enter into a compact that will govern the gambling.
The Bay Mills Indian Community, a federally-recognized Indian tribe with a reservation in Michigan’s northern peninsula, entered into a compact with Michigan in 1993. Soon after the compact was finalized, the NIGC approved Bay Mills’s gaming ordinance. Bay Mills then proceeded to establish its own Gaming Commission. Bay Mills has continuously operated one or more gaming facilities on its reservation ever since.
In 1997, Congress passed the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. The Act appropriated funds to Bay Mills and other Michigan Indian tribes to satisfy judgments that the Indian Claims Commission had entered in favor of the tribes. The Settlement Act directed that 20 percent of the funds awarded to Bay Mills be deposited in a “Land Trust” and required that earnings from the Trust “be used exclusively for improvements on tribal land or the consolidation and enhancement of tribal landholdings through purchase and exchange.” It also said that “[a]ny land acquired with funds from the Land Trust shall be held as Indian lands are held.”
In August 2010, Bay Mills used the funds from the Settlement Act land trust to purchase approximately 40 acres of land in Vanderbilt, Michigan, about 100 miles from the Tribe’s reservation. Bay Mills constructed a small casino on the property (initially with 38 electronic gaming machines, but later expanded to 84 machines) and began operating it on November 3, 2010. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the NIGC later issued letters concluding that the Vanderbilt casino was not located on “Indian lands” as defined by the IGRA, that it was therefore not eligible for gaming under the IGRA, and that the NIGC had no jurisdiction over it.
The state filed suit against Bay Mills in federal court. The state’s counts I and II alleged that the Vanderbilt land did not constitute “Indian lands” under the IGRA, and that Bay Mills therefore violated the compact. The state’s count III alleged that Bay Mills violated the IGRA by conducting gaming outside of Indian lands and that even if the Vanderbilt land constituted “Indian lands,” Bay Mills violated 25 U.S.C. § 2719 (and therefore the compact’s requirement that gaming comply with federal law) by operating a gaming facility on land acquired after October 17, 1988, that does not satisfy any statutory exception. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which operated a competing casino about 40 miles away, filed a separate suit with similar claims the next day.
The district court consolidated the cases and entered a preliminary injunction halting the Bay Mills casino. Bay Mills appealed and moved for a stay of the injunction; the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit both denied a stay.
While Bay Mills’s appeal was pending, the state amended its complaint to add three additional claims. Count IV alleged that Bay Mills violated federal common law by operating a casino that exceeds the scope of its authority. Count V alleged that Bay Mills failed to obtain a state license for a gaming facility in violation of Michigan law. Count VI alleged that the casino was a public nuisance under state law. The state also added several defendants—the Bay Mills Tribal Gaming Commission, the Commission’s members in their official capacities, and the members of the Bay Mills Executive Council in their official capacities.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed and vacated the preliminary injunction. The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction as to counts I, II, and III. The court held that the district court had jurisdiction as to counts IV, V, and VI against Bay Mills, but that those counts were barred by tribal sovereign immunity. The court remanded the case to the district court to address the state’s counts IV-VI against the additional individual defendants.
The state brought this appeal. Little Traverse is not a party to it; neither are the individuals named in the state’s amended complaint.
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. This means that their jurisdiction must be defined by statute. One common source of federal jurisdiction is found in 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which creates the so-called “federal question” jurisdiction. Under § 1331, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”
Another source of federal jurisdiction—one that goes particularly to gaming on Indian lands—is found in 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), part of the NIGC. That provision says that federal district courts have jurisdiction over “any cause of action initiated by a State or Indian tribe to enjoin a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands and conducted in violation of any Tribal-State compact . . . .”
The parties here dispute whether the federal courts have jurisdiction over the state’s claims. In particular, they dispute whether the state’s claims arising out of the Bay Mills’s alleged violation of the compact fall under § 1331 (because these claims might amount to a violation of the IGRA, a federal statute), and whether the Vanderbilt casino is “a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands” under § 2710.
But even if a federal court has jurisdiction (under §§ 1331, 2710, or some other federal statute), certain parties, like Indian tribes, enjoy immunity from suit. The Supreme Court has recognized tribal sovereign immunity, and both parties agree that “the doctrine is now part of this Court’s settled precedent . . . .” But they disagree sharply over the extent of that immunity.
The state argues first that the district court has jurisdiction over its suit pursuant to § 2710. The state says that the Vanderbilt casino is “a class III gaming activity located on Indian lands,” because Bay Mills authorized, licensed, and operated the casino from its reservation. More particularly, it contends that § 2710 extends federal court jurisdiction to the gaming itself, but also to the gaming activity, which, the state argues, includes authorizing, licensing, and operating the casino. The state claims that its interpretation of the text is consistent with the congressional intent.
The state argues next that the district court has jurisdiction over its federal claims pursuant to § 1331. The state says that it alleged a violation of the IGRA, a federal statute, when it claimed that Bay Mills violated the compact (in counts I, II, and III). It also says that nothing in the IGRA limits the federal courts’ federal question jurisdiction under § 1331.
The state argues that tribal sovereign immunity does not bar its suit for two independent reasons. First, the state contends that the IGRA abrogated tribal sovereign immunity. The state says that the Court uses a “more holistic approach” in determining whether a federal statute abrogates tribal sovereign immunity, and that the IGRA viewed as a whole (and not just § 2710) makes clear that Congress intended that a state could enforce its gaming laws in federal court against an Indian tribe engaged in off-reservation gaming. The state claims that the opposite rule would lead to an absurd result—that the state could obtain a federal court injunction to stop illegal gaming on Indian lands, but not on its own sovereign state lands. The state says that Congress could not have intended this result.
Second, the state argues that even if the IGRA does not abrogate tribal sovereign immunity, the Court should decline to extend immunity here. The state says that the Court has never expressly extended tribal immunity to a tribe’s off-reservation commercial activities, and, especially given tribal immunity’s “dubious foundation,” the Court should decline to extend it to those activities in this case.
In response, Bay Mills first argues that the state cannot claim that the Vanderbilt casino is “on Indian lands,” as it does in its first point. Bay Mills says that that argument falls outside the questions presented, which speak solely to gaming activities “outside of Indian lands.” But even if this argument were properly before the Court, Bay Mills contends that the state is wrong: the IGRA itself says that a tribe’s decision to open a gaming facility is not a “class III gaming activity.”
Next, Bay Mills argues that it is immune from Michigan’s suit under § 1710. Bay Mills claims that § 1710 only abrogates tribal sovereign immunity “on Indian lands,” and that the whole premise of the state’s claim is that the Vanderbilt casino is off Indian lands. Bay Mills says that under the plain language of § 1710, “Michigan has simply pled itself out of court.”
To the extent that Michigan and its amici argue for a Court-created exception to tribal sovereign immunity, Bay Mills argues that the Court has already rejected the proposed exceptions. Bay Mills also says that the Court has rejected pleas to overrule its tribal sovereignty immunity precedents. Bay Mills contends that it is Congress’s prerogative, not the Court’s, to alter the scope of tribal sovereign immunity, and that Congress has only reaffirmed it. Bay Mills claims that tribal sovereign immunity “has deep roots in this country’s jurisprudence,” and that there is no reason for the Court to abrogate it now.
Finally, Bay Mills argues that the Ninth Circuit decision will not leave the state without a remedy, as the state argues. Bay Mills says that Michigan most obviously can invoke the dispute resolution procedure in the compact. Bay Mills claims that Michigan could also sue tribal officials for injunctive relief. Additionally, Bay Mills argues that the state could negotiate a waiver of sovereign immunity in the next round of compact negotiations, seek federal intervention in the dispute, or even outlaw gaming throughout the state.
The federal government, as amicus in support of Bay Mills, also argues that the federal courts lack jurisdiction over Michigan’s claims. The federal government says that § 2710 does not extend jurisdiction of the state’s claims to the district court. Contrary to the state’s argument, the federal government says that numerous provisions in the IGRA demonstrate that the phrase “class III gaming activities” refers to the games themselves, and not to authorizing, licensing, and operating games. And because the games themselves are not located on Indian lands, § 2710 is not a basis for jurisdiction. Moreover, the federal government says that § 1331 does not extend jurisdiction, because the state’s federal claims (counts I, II, and III) do not fall within § 2710, and because the compact does not contain a provision agreeing to federal court review of the state’s other claims.
Next, the federal government argues that Bay Mills enjoys tribal sovereign immunity. The federal government says that § 2710 did not abrogate sovereign immunity, because the state alleged that the Vanderbilt casino is not on Indian lands. The federal government contends that 18 U.S.C. § 1166 also does not abrogate sovereign immunity, because that statute gives the federal government (not the states) enforcement authority in Indian lands for violations of assimilated state gambling laws. The federal government says that § 1166 does not give states authority to enforce state gambling laws outside Indian lands, and even less to sue the tribe itself. The government contends that tribal sovereign immunity already extends to a tribe’s commercial activities wherever they take place, and that the Court should leave it to Congress to balance the interests of the tribes and the states and to determine the scope of immunity.
Finally, the federal government argues that Michigan has other remedies. Like Bay Mills, the federal government says that the state could seek injunctive relief against an individual tribal official. The federal government claims that the state could also negotiate a waiver of sovereign immunity in the compact. Moreover, the federal government contends that the state could request approval from the NIGC of a site-specific gaming ordinance for the Vanderbilt casino, forcing the NIGC to determine whether the site is eligible for gaming, and appeal the decision in court. Finally, the federal government notes that the state can enforce its own gaming laws against individuals involved in gaming at the Vanderbilt casino. With all these options, the federal government argues that there is no need to diminish tribal sovereign immunity to create a remedy that would resolve this dispute.
At its core, this case is about the allocation of power between states and Indian tribes over the operation of an activity, tribal-sponsored gambling, that has seen astonishing growth in recent decades and today is worth tens of billions of dollars nationwide. (The NIGC tracks this growth in Gaming Revenue Reports, available at http://www.nigc.gov/Gaming_Revenue_Reports.aspx.) Both Indian tribes and states use legalized gaming more and more for revenue, economic development, and economic activity and opportunity. Within this broader context, the regulation of tribal gaming, even at the margins, is itself a high-stakes game.
To be sure, this case deals with only a small part of this larger question, that is: off-reservation gambling. And it involves only special federal jurisdictional and immunity questions that come up in the particular case when an Indian tribe purchases land to build an off-reservation casino.
Still, in the rapidly growing sector of Indian gaming, the case already matters. As Michigan indicates, it “is already aware of at least three additional lawsuits where parties have cited the Sixth Circuit’s decision here in support of a tribe’s operation (or planned operation) of a casino in violation of IGRA or tribal-state gaming compacts.” The state notes that “[a]s tribes continue to look for better casino locations . . . or new ways to profit from the explosion of casino gaming, the friction between state authority and tribal immunity will inevitably increase.” That’s not to say that Michigan’s positions in the case are (necessarily) right, but only that the issues are already significant, and only likely to grow in importance.
Moreover, the issues are highly controversial. On the one hand, many favor expanding off-reservation gaming opportunities, because Indian tribes and states can use off-reservation gaming to generate more revenue and economic development in more attractive locations off the reservations (like closer to urban centers). On the other hand, many oppose off-reservation gaming, because it encroaches on local communities. The debate is playing out in communities across the country where Indian tribes are seeking permission to conduct off-reservation gaming. The debate is also playing out in Washington, where the Obama administration moved in 2011 to loosen requirements for some off-reservation gaming, and where some in Congress have introduced legislation to tighten them. Again, this case sits right at the center of these debates.
Whatever happens in this case, though, it cannot change the basic statutory framework under the IGRA: Indian tribes will still have to adopt a gaming ordinance and negotiate a compact with the state. The compact requirement ensures that both states and Indian tribes will have a significant hand in regulating casino-like tribal gaming. But the outcome of the case may affect how Indian tribes and states negotiate their compacts and the terms they include in them.
It is important to remember that the Department of the Interior and the NIGC issued opinions that the Vanderbilt casino was not on “Indian lands” and was therefore not eligible for gaming under the NGRA. The federal government does not disavow these opinions. Indeed, the federal government sets out an array of options for Michigan to regulate the Vanderbilt casino (and other future casinos), notwithstanding (as the federal government argues) the federal courts’ lack jurisdiction over the state’s claims and Bay Mills’s immunity from suit. In other words, the Sixth Circuit ruling does not mean that Bay Mills can operate its casino, or that other tribes could operate like casinos off reservation, without at least some state and federal oversight and permission.
Finally, the case is significant because it will resolve splits in the circuits. There is disagreement among the circuits on both questions presented—the scope of federal jurisdiction, and the scope of tribal sovereign immunity.