Friday, March 4, 2016

Alabama Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 [footnote omitted].

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

Could this part of the saga be concluded?

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Constitutionality of (Western) Federal Lands

William Perry Pendley, writing at the National Review, sets out the constitutional case against federal land ownership in the West.

He writes that "[t]he Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold," and that "[p]lacement of the Property Clause in Article IV demonstrates the Founder's intention to not provide Congress with absolute power over federal lands; otherwise the provision would have been in Article I." He also points to the Enabling Acts under which states were admitted to the Union.

And he points to Chief Justice Roberts's "equal state sovereignty" in Shelby County:

Something about [the disparities in federal land ownership between the states] seems unfair. After all, in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, declared: "Not only do States retain sovereignty under the Constitution, there is also a 'fundamental principle of equal state sovereignty' among the States. . . . Over a hundred years ago, this Court explained that our Nation 'was and is a union of States, equal in power, dignity and authority.'" Where--one wonders, considering the fate of Josephine County, which after all is but an arm of the state of Oregon--is the "dignity in what has befallen its residents?

January 21, 2016 in Federalism, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Daily Read: Taunya Banks on MLK and Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

[footnotes omitted; emphasis added]. 

 

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

Saturday, January 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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image via

 

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

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

In Memoriam:

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

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

 

Here is Chief Judge Kaye's opinion in full:

 

Chief Judge Kaye (dissenting).

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

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

  1. Due Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Equal Protection

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

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

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

  1. Heightened Scrutiny
  2. Sexual Orientation Discrimination

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

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

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

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

[*24]

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

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

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

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

[*25]2. Sex Discrimination

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

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

  1. Fundamental Right

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

  1. Rational-Basis Analysis

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

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

  1. Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Moral Disapproval

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

  1. Tradition

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

  1. Uniformity

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

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

III. The Legislature

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

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

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

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

footnotes:

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


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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Court Upholds Another Mandatory Arbitration Clause

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

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a mandatory arbitration clause in a consumer contract-of-adhesion, forcing the consumer-plaintiffs into arbitration (and out of the courts) to sue DIRECTTV over early termination fees. The ruling is yet another blow to consumers who seek to recover relatively small damages from corporations--the kinds of claims that are best suited for class action lawsuits (in courts). But yesterday's ruling all but bolts the door to the courts for these kinds of claims, as corporations increasingly include mandatory arbitration clauses in their standard-form consumer contracts.

At the same time, the opinion includes powerful federal supremacy language, and reminds us of the constitutional requirement that state court judges uphold federal law, explicitly mentioning federal civil rights. The ruling thus illustrates that the politics in preemption cases can be complicated, and that a federal-friendly ruling in one area (mandatory arbitration clauses) can have important implications in others (civil rights enforcement).

Of course, Congress can "reverse" the holding simply by changing the FAA, although that seems highly unlikely.

The case, DIRECTTV v. Imburgia, grew out of consumers' disputes with DIRECTTV over early termination fees. The plaintiffs' contracts with DIRECTTV (a standard-form contract of adhesion) included a mandatory arbitration clause and a class-arbitration waiver. In particular, the contracts said that "any Claim either of us asserts will be resolved only by binding arbitration," and that "[n]either you nor we shall be entitled to join or consolidate claims in arbitration." The contract also said that if the "law of your state" makes the waiver of class arbitration unenforceable, then the entire arbitration clause is unenforceable.

But at the time the parties contracted, California law said that a waiver of class arbitration in a consumer contract of adhesion was unconscionable and thus unenforceable. This rule came from the California Supreme Court's decision in Discover Bank v. Superior Court. This was the "law of your state," at least insofar as the parties understood it at the time of the contract, and would have rendered the entire arbitration clause unenforceable, allowing the plaintiffs' case to proceed in court (and not requiring arbitration).

An earlier Supreme Court case and the Federal Arbitration Act threw a wrench into that analysis. The Federal Arbitration Act says that a "written provision" in a contract providing for "settle[ment] by arbitration" of "a controversy . . . arising out of" that "contract . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." The Supreme Court ruled in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (2011) (after the parties contracted) that the FAA preempted California's Discover Bank rule, because that rule stood as an obstacle "to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress."

So the plaintiffs' ability to sue in state court turned on whether the contract's reference to "law of your state" meant the Discover Bank rule absent preemption, or the Discover Bank ruled as preempted under Concepcion. If the former, then the contract provision would have made the entire arbitration clause unenforceable, and the plaintiffs could have pursued their claims in court. If the latter, then the contract provision would have left the arbitration clause in place, and forced the courts to dismiss the plaintiffs' claim (and go to arbitration instead).

The Court ruled that the latter interpretation was the better one. In other words, the Court said that "law of your state" meant valid California law--that is, the Discover Bank rule as preempted by the FAA under Concepcion--which did not render the class-arbitration waiver unenforceable. As a result, the arbitration clause in the contract stayed in place, and the plaintiffs' court case will be dismissed. (Justice Breyer wrote the opinion, joined by the Court's conservatives (minus Justice Thomas) and Justice Kagan. Justices Breyer wrote the dissent, and Justice Kagan joined him, in Concepcion.)

Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor. She wrote that "law of your state" should be interpreted to mean the Discover Bank rule, as the parties intended and expected at the time of the contract (because the Court had not then issued Concepcion). Justice Thomas dissented separately, arguing that the FAA has no application to state court proceedings.

The ruling adds yet more authority to FAA preemption of consumer mandatory arbitration clauses and thus deals a blow to consumer-plaintiffs who seek to sue corporations in court. (Arbitration often favors the corporation.) It tilts the scales (again) toward the corporation, and away from the consumer.

But at the same time, the ruling is strong on federal supremacy, including federal civil rights. Justice Breyer included powerful language reinforcing the supremacy of federal law and the constitutional requirement of state court judges to enforce federal law, explicitly mentioning federal civil rights law.

December 15, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Davis on Shelby County's Right Against a Remedy

The right-to-a-remedy is a standard in our constitutional songbook, going back to Marbury v. Madison, even before. But what about rights against a remedy? While we might not think about such things often, they're there. And the Court in Shelby County elevated one of them to a higher level, with potentially devastating consequences to our system of constitutional remedies against the states.

So argues Seth Davis (UC Irvine) in his Louisiana Law Review piece, Equal Sovereignty as a Right Against a Remedy.

Davis argues that the Court's newfangled "equal sovereignty" principle that contributed in Shelby County to the demise of Section 4 of the VRA (the coverage formula for preclearance) is a right against a remedy--but one of a different sort altogether. Davis says that "equal sovereignty" stands apart from other rights-against-remedies, because the Court neglected to consider any countervailing interests or factors, or whether there are other ways to respect "equal sovereignty"--in short, that the Court used "equal sovereignty" as a trump card on the right to a remedy (in Section 5 preclearance). Davis explains:

Rights against remedies are usually shaped by considered judgments about the whole remedial scheme. Due process, for instance, limited remedies that might "intimidate" regulated parties from seeking judicial review. [See Ex Parte Young.] . . . Equal sovereignty imposes a different kind of right, it appears. The Shelby County majority simply did not address Justice Ginsburg's argument that a bailout process adequately protected a state's equal sovereignty.

Thus, the Court treated Shelby County more like a third party claiming an equal protection right against reverse discrimination than as a recidivist jurisdiction with a history of voting wrongs. . . .

At a minimum, this newfound equal sovereignty right against remedies is unusual and troubling. Equal sovereignty requires the Court to strike down a constitutional remedy without considering whether that remedy is necessary to redress constitutional violations.

The result: "equal sovereignty" as a right-against-remedies "has the potential to undercut the system of constitutional remedies against states.

December 1, 2015 in Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ACLU Sues to Force Indiana to Take Syrian Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sixth Circuit Says Clean Air Act Does Not Preempt State Common Law Claims

The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the federal Clean Air Act does not preempt state common law claims.

The ruling was hardly a surprise, given the plain language of the CAA. Still, the case is a victory for those who seek to enforce clean air requirements through the higher standards of state common law. (The court emphasized several times that the CAA permits states to adopt more stringent standards than the federal standards.) The ruling also allows the plaintiffs' state common law case to move forward.

The case arose when neighbors of Diageo Americas Supply, Inc., a whiskey distiller, complained that ethanol vapors from the facility combined with condensation to propagate "whiskey fungus" on their property. The neighbors filed suit in federal court, alleging state common law caused of action. Diageo moved to dismiss, arguing that the CAA preempted these claims.

The Sixth Circuit rejected that argument. The court looked to the plain text of the Act, congressional purposes, and Supreme Court precedent--all of which pointed against preemption. But the case can be resolved on the text alone, in particular, the savings clause. As the court explained:

The states' rights savings clause of the Clean Air Act expressly preserves the state common law standards on which plaintiffs sue. The clause saves from preemption "the right of any State or political subdivision thereof to adopt or enforce (1) any standard or limitation respecting emissions of air pollutants or (2) any requirement respecting control or abatement of air pollution," except that the "State or political subdivision may not adopt or enforce any emission standard or limitation" that is "less stringent" than a standard or limitation under an applicable implementation plan or specified federal statute.

The court went on to say that state courts are part of the "state," and that common law requirements are "requirement[s] respecting control or abatement or air pollution."

In addition to looking at text, purpose, and precedent, the court added a federalism point:

When Congress acts to preempt state law--especially in areas of longstanding state concern--it treads on the states' customary prerogatives in ways that risk upsetting the traditional federal-state balance of authority. This is why there is a strong presumption against federal preemption of state law, one that operates with special force in cases "in which Congress has legislated . . . in a field which the States have traditionally occupied." Environmental regulation is a field that the states have traditionally occupied. Accordingly, even if the express language of the states' rights savings clause here did not preserve state common law claims, principles of federalism and respect for states' rights would likely do so in the absence of a clear expression of such preemption.

November 4, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Third Circuit Reinstates Constitutional Claim Against NYC for Muslim Surveillance

The Third Circuit's 60 page opinion today in Hassan v. City of New York reverses and remands the terse dismissal of the complaint in February 2014 by United States District Judge William Martini.  The original complaint alleged that the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeted New Jersey Muslims solely on the basis of religion, thereby violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The district judge found that there was no standing - - - in part because the plaintiffs did not know about their surveillance until it was revealed by the press and thus had no injury - - - and that the complaint did not state a plausible claim - - - in part because the "police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself."

The unanimous opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro, joined by Julio Fuentes, and with a very brief concurrence by Jane Roth regarding the standard of equal protection scrutiny to be applied, comes complete with a Table of Contents.  (Query whether opinions are increasingly availing themselves of a brief-like TOC: compare District Judge Shira Scheindlin's opinion in the NYC stop and frisk lawsuit, although her opinion is more than 3 times as long with many more footnotes.  Or perhaps there is something about NYC police practices that calls for a TOC?).

After a rehearsal of the NYC surveillance program and its disclosure, the court considers the problem of Article III standing.  For the Third Circuit, the "injury in fact" requirement of standing is satisfied by the plaintiffs' allegation of the denial of equal treatment on the basis of their religion under the Equal Protection Clause, as well as the First Amendment.  The court rejected NYC's arguments that there needed to be a tangible benefit denied, that there needed to be an overt condemnation (interestingly contrasting Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education); and that the injuries were not sufficiently particularized.  As to the "fairly traceable" causation requirement, the court soundly rejected the contention that it was the only disclosure of the surveillance by the press rather than the surveillance itself that caused the injury. Finally, in its brief discussion of "redressability," the court, quoting an Eleventh Circuit case, noted that "While we cannot predict 'the exact nature of the possible relief . . . without a full development of the facts, an order enjoining the policy and requiring non-discriminatory investigation and enforcement would redress the injury.'"

On the equal protection issue, the Third Circuit held that the complaint plausibly alleged that the NYC surveillance program made a facial religious classification.  It further held that this religious classification does not require an "invidious motive.": 

While the absence of a legitimate motive may bear on whether the challenged surveillance survives the appropriate level of equal-protection scrutiny, “intentional discrimination” need not be motivated by “ill will, enmity, or hostility” to contravene the Equal Protection Clause.

The court here interestingly cites the district judge's decision in the NYC stop and frisk case. 

The Third Circuit thus finds that the NYC surveillance program was facially religious, but then discussed the tier of scrutiny that religious classifications should merit:

Perhaps surprisingly, neither our Court nor the Supreme Court has considered whether classifications based on religious affiliation trigger heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. . . .

Although the answer to this question is not found in binding precedent, we hardly write on a clean slate. To start, it has long been implicit in the Supreme Court’s decisions that religious classifications are treated like others traditionally subject to heightened scrutiny, such as those based on race.  [Citations omitted]

This line of comment can be traced back to the famous footnote four of the Supreme Court’s 1938 decision in Carolene Products, where the Court suggested that discriminatory legislation should “be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment” if “directed at particular religious, or national, or racial minorities.”

After discussing a number of appellate court decisions, the Third Circuit panel held:

Today we join these courts and hold that intentional discrimination based on religious affiliation must survive heightened equal-protection review. Before turning more fully to our reasoning, however, we pause to reiterate that the term “heightened scrutiny,” as we use it, encompasses both “intermediate scrutiny” and “strict scrutiny.”

The panel stated that it need not - - - and should not - - - "determine in connection with its motion to dismiss which of the two applies, and we leave that question for the District Court in the first instance when and if it becomes necessary to decide it."  However, the court does engage in a Carolene Products-type of analysis to substantiate its conclusion, devoting some discussion to the "immutability" factor (which of course was not in the Carolene Products footnote).  It also noted that the "history of religious discrimination in the United States is intertwined with that based on other protected characteristics, including national origin and race," and that the allegations of the complaint reflected this intertwinement.

It is on this point that Judge Roth differs, arguing in her concurrence that intermediate scrutiny should apply and providing a somewhat personal explanation:

In my opinion, “intermediate scrutiny” is appropriate here. I say this because “intermediate scrutiny” is the level applied in gender discrimination cases. I have the immutable characteristic of being a woman. I am happy with this condition, but during my 80 years on this earth, it has caused me at times to suffer gender discrimination. My remedy now for any future gender discrimination would be reviewed with “intermediate scrutiny.” For that reason, I cannot endorse a level of scrutiny in other types of discrimination cases that would be stricter than the level which would apply to discrimination against me as a woman.

The Third Circuit did acknowledge the national security interest, but added that "it is often where the asserted interest appears most compelling that we must be most vigilant in protecting constitutional rights," explicitly invoking Korematsu and Hirabayashi.

The court's relatively brief First Amendment conclusion similarly rejects NYC's claim that animus must be proven.

The court concludes:

What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight—that “[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.” [citation omitted].

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image via

 

 

October 13, 2015 in Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Judge Allows Challenge to D.C. School Funding to Move Forward

Judge Tanya Chutkan (D.D.C.) last week denied the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss key parts of a claim by D.C. charter schools that the D.C. government under-funded them in comparison to District public schools. The lengthy ruling is laden with analysis on the constitutional relationship between Congress and the District, much of it indeterminate, reminding us just how complicated this relationship can be.

The plaintiff charter schools brought the case, arguing that the D.C. government funneled extra money to D.C. public schools, but not charter schools, in violation of the District Clause and Home Rule Act, the Supremacy Clause, and the School Reform Act. In particular, the plaintiffs argued that the D.C. government violated the Home Rule Act by altering a a congressional act (the School Reform Act) without specific congressional authorization. The District countered that it has authority under the Home Rule Act to amend or repeal the School Reform Act, because the School Reform Act applies only to the District.

Judge Chutkan ruled that neither the case law nor the Home Rule Act tells when Congress acts in tandem with the D.C. City Council (so that the Council could alter a congressional act), or when Congress has the final word--at least in the abstract. So she turned to the text and history of the School Reform Act to answer the question here. But Judge Chutkan said that the School Reform Act was similarly indeterminate. She wrote that the Act's apparent mandatory language on equal school funding for charters and public schools wasn't dispositive, because "if the District can (and has) repealed Acts of Congress that used the term 'shall,' then that term alone cannot necessarily delineate Congress' intent with respect to the Council's authority.'" Moreover, Judge Chutkan said that the legislative history of the School Reform Act didn't answer the question. The upshot: "As it stands, the uniform funding formula is on the books, and it is not clear whether it has been violated, whether it has been amended or repealed by Council enactments (through Congressional acquiescence or otherwise), or whether the challenged actions do not implicate or conflict with the funding formula at all." She thus denied the District's motion to dismiss the District Clause, Home Rule Act, and School Reform Act claims. The ruling means that these claims can move forward.

In contrast, Judge Chutkan did dismiss the plaintiffs' Supremacy Clause claim. That's because the Supremacy Clause doesn't apply to congressional acts over D.C.; the District Clause does. The analysis is the same, Judge Chutkan wrote, but the Supremacy Clause doesn't do the work.

October 6, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Second Circuit Says No Waiver of General Immunity when State Removes

The Second Circuit this week ruled that a state does not waive its general state sovereign immunity (as opposed to its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity) when it removes a case to federal court.

The ruling is a win for the states and adds to the apparent weight of authority in the circuits. Still, the Second Circuit noted that "there has . . . been some confusion in the Circuit Courts" on the question, inviting the Supreme Court to clarify.

The case started with state employees' Fair Labor Standards Act case against Vermont in state court. Vermont removed the case to federal court, declined to assert any form of sovereign immunity, and even at one point represented that it wouldn't assert Eleventh Amendment immunity (as a result of its removal to federal court). Then it asserted general common law state sovereign immunity and moved to dismiss.

The Second Circuit dismissed the case. The court said that while Vermont waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity by virtue of its removal to federal court (under Lapides v. Board of Regents), it did not waive its general state sovereign immunity by virtue of removal. The court noted that the state in Lapides had already waived its general state sovereign immunity, so did not support the plaintiffs' position that Vermont waived immunity (because Vermont had not previously waived its general state sovereign immunity). The court also said that the circuits that have considered the question have ruled that a state does not waive its general state sovereign immunity by virtue of removal (even if it waives Eleventh Amendment immunity by virtue of removal)--even while noting that there's some confusion in the circuits on how to apply Lapides.

The court said that both logic also supported its result:

A state defendant sued in state court, when entitled to remove the suit to federal court, may well wish to do so in the belief that its entitlement to have the suit dismissed by reason of the state's sovereign immunity, an entitlement largely elaborated by federal courts, will be better protected by the federal courts than by courts of the state.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that Vermont's foot-dragging on asserting immunity amounted to a waiver and that Vermont expressly waived immunity.

September 18, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Attorneys' Fees to Shelby County

The D.C. Circuit today denied attorneys' fees to Shelby County growing out of its successful challenge to the coverage formula for preclearance in the Voting Rights Act. But more importantly: A majority on the panel rejected Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the VRA.

The case arose out of Shelby County's motion for attorneys' fees after the Supreme Court struck Section 4 of the VRA, the coverage formula for preclearance, in Shelby County v. Holder. The VRA fee-shifting provision says,

In any action or proceeding to enforce the voting guarantees of the [F]ourteenth or [F]ifteenth [A]mendment, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable [attorneys'] fee, reasonable expert fees, and other reasonable litigation expenses as part of the costs.

But to win attorneys' fees, Shelby County had to show (1) that it was eligible for fees under the provision and (2) that it was entitled to them under Newman v. Piggie Park.

All three on the panel agreed that Shelby County wasn't entitled under Piggie Park. That's because "Shelby County's lawsuit did not facilitate enforcement of the VRA; it made enforcing the VRA's preclearance regime impossible." "Shelby County's argument boils down to the proposition that Congress introduced the fee-shifting provision into the VRA in 1975 with the express goal of inducing a private party to bring a lawsuit to neuter the Act's central tool. But that makes no sense." (Emphasis in original.) That was enough to deny attorneys' fees.

But that's also where the case gets interesting. On the eligibility prong, Shelby County argued that it was eligible for fees under the statute, because it prevailed in an action to enforce the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that these guarantees include "the structural rights of the states." That last part is a bold departure from the plain language of the amendments and any cases interpreting them; it assumes that the amendments contain some (unenumerated) version of states' rights, which, in turn, could limit the amendments' protection of individual voting rights.

The court left that question open. Judge Griffith, writing for the court, dodged it by relying only on the Piggie Park prong. Judge Silberman, in concurrence, seemed (more or less) to agree (at least on this point). Only Judge Tatel specifically took on Shelby County's reading. Judge Tatel wrote that the question was simple: "Obviously, neither of these [amendments] includes any guarantees of state autonomy over voting. . . . The two Amendments thus 'guarantee' not state autonomy, but rather the right of citizens to vote, and they expressly guarantee that right against state interference."

The upshot is that the court appears to have left Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on the table, an open question. This means that the Supreme Court could step in and answer it--it Shelby County's favor. (And given the Court's states' rights approach in the original case, this seems like a possibility.)

Still, the court's reasoning on Piggie Park is extremely thorough, and seems written to insulate the ruling against Supreme Court reversal.

 

September 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ninth Circuit Upholds Federal Ban on Federal Inmate Sexual Assault

The Ninth Circuit yesterday upheld federal laws criminalizing sexual assaults in facilities where federal inmates are held by agreement with state and local governments. The ruling is a baby-step extension of United States v. Comstock, the Court's 2010 case holding that Congress had authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to authorize civil detention of "sexually dangerous" federal prisoners beyond their term of imprisonment. It's a baby-step beyond Comstock, because these laws have the added feature that they operate within state and local detention facilities--where the federal government contracts to hold federal inmates.

Sabil Mujahid brought the facial claim against the federal statutes, arguing that they exceeded Congress's authority and ran afoul of the Tenth Amendment. The provisions criminalized sexual assault "in any prison, institution, or facility in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the Attorney General." By its plain terms, the provision outlaws sexual assault by non-federal inmates in these facilities, too, but Mujahid is a federal inmate, and the court limited its ruling to federal inmates.

The court, applying Comstock, flatly rejected Mujahid's claims. In short:

Like the civil commitment statute in Comstock, [these statutes] are not facially unconstitutional; they are "a 'necessary and proper' means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others. See Comstock.

As I said, the court specifically did not rule on the statutes as applied to state inmates in these same facilities. That question may raise more complicated issues (but just slightly).

August 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kentucky Court Clerk's "No Marriage License Policy" Going to Sixth Circuit

A few months after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, reversing the Sixth Circuit's opinion, and declaring that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the issue of same-sex marriage is again reaching the Sixth Circuit. 

This time, however, the issue is whether a government employee, a court clerk in Kentucky, can refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses - - - or any marriage licenses - - - based upon a claim of free exercise of religion.  The claim of religious exemptions from state clerks is not new (consider events in New York in 2011); neither are objections to implementing the Court's decision in Obergefell (consider events in Alabama this summer).  Nevertheless, this controversy has become particularly focused.

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United States District Judge David Bunning's Opinion and Order last week in Miller v. Davis issued a preliminary injunction in favor of April Miller and Karen Roberts, enjoining Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from applying the "no marriage licenses" policy.  The Judge rejected Davis' First Amendment claims.  First, Judge Bunning found that Governor Beshear's directive to county clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses was a general law of neutral applicability that "likely does not infringe on Davis' free exercise rights."  Second, Judge Bunning further found that the issuance of the marriage license did not implicate Davis' free speech rights: the issuance of the license, even with the clerk's certification, is not an endorsement and furthermore is quite possibly government rather than individual speech, citing the Court's decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans from last Term.  Judge Bunning also rejected Davis' third  - and perhaps the most interesting - claim based upon Article VI §3 prohibiting a "religious Test" as a qualification for public office.  Davis argued that this prohibition meant that her religious beliefs must be accommodated.  Even as he rejected this interpretation, Judge Bunning drew attention to the "first half" of Article VI §3 requiring state officials to take an oath to defend the United States Constitution. 

Davis predictably sought a stay of the preliminary injunction.  In an Order late yesterday, Judge Bunning denied the stay, including in his 7 page opinion an extensive quote from Obergefell regarding the relationship of religious freedom to same-sex marriage.  Yet Judge Bunning did stay the order denying the stay:

in recognition of the constitutional issues involved, and realizing that emotions are running high on both sides of the debate, the Court finds it appropriate to temporarily stay this Order pending review of Defendant Davis’ Motion to Stay (Doc. # 45) by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While decisions to stay and to issue preliminary injunctions involve equitable and other factors, of central prominence is the probable outcome on the merits.  Thus, the Sixth Circuit is again poised to consider, albeit less directly, the issue of same-sex marriage. 

August 18, 2015 in Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

DC Circuit Upholds Federal Employment Application Limited to DC Area

As most law students learn, a state or locality cannot limit applicants for employment to its own residents because of a "right to travel."  But can the federal government limit applicants to those currently residing in the District of Columbia area?  In its opinion in Pollack v. Duff, the DC Court of Appeals has stated that the federal government can do so.

The case began with a 2009 job posting from the Administrative Office (AO) of the United States Courts for an attorney-advisor for a job in DC.  The posting provided that the AO would consider applications from any employee of the federal judiciary and from any other person who lived within the "Washington Metropolitan Area." 

Map_DC_metro_lgMalla Pollack, who represented herself in this litigation, is a former DC Court of Appeals clerk and accomplished legal scholar.  She applied for the position when she no longer worked for the judiciary and was living in Kentucky.  The  AO rejected her application because of her residency.  She protested based on residency, but was referred to the Fair Employment Practices System; she was then told that such complaints were limited to allegations of discrimination based on race, and other categories that did not include residency.  The DC Court of Appeals opinion notes that the AO's actions of referral and then dismissal essentially "played upon" Pollack.  The court might also have characterized the AO's argument of judicial review preclusion - - - because the Fair Employment Practices System is the exclusive means for deciding a claim of discrimination - - - as attempting to "play upon" the court.  Instead, the court merely gives the argument the brief discussion it merited.  

The court also notes that this is the second time the litigation reached the DC Court of Appeals.  In late 2012, the court reversed the dismissal of the complaint based on sovereign immunity, concluding that sovereign immunity does not bar a suit seeking specific relief for officers acting outside the bounds of constitutional authority.

On the merits of the right to travel argument, the court's opinion - - - authored by Senior Judge Douglas Ginsburg - - - untangles the various strands of the constitutional right to travel as might be applied to actions by the federal government.  The court first looks at Article IV §2, the privileges and immunities clause, but finds it protects state citizens against actions by other states, not by the federal government.  The court engages with the erudite originalist argument centered on James Iredell but nevertheless rejects it, noting that although the historical record is not "pellucid," reasoning in part that the

location of the Privileges and Immunities Clause in § 2 of Article IV supports the conclusion that it is directed at the states and not at the national government. Article IV is the “so-called States’ Relations Article.”  Section 2 of Article IV, in addition to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, included the Interstate Rendition Clause and the Fugitive Slave Clause, both of which were concerned with comity among the states.

The court's rejection of the equal protection claim does not rest on its inapplicability to the federal government, which "indisputably" applies to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment, including in its right to travel aspects.  Instead, the court essentially finds Pollack's claimed right too speculative:

If the AO had reviewed her application, then it might have offered her a job, which might have prompted her to move to the Washington area. Thus, Pollack might have been marginally more likely to travel to the Washington area but for the geographical limitation she is challenging. This effect upon Pollack’s willingness to travel, i.e., to exercise her right to travel, is “negligible” and does not warrant scrutiny under the Constitution.

Additionally, and more remarkably, the court rejects the argument that the AO created a classification that serves to penalize the right to travel by reasoning that the AO classification actually incentivizes the right to travel.  Distinguishing the AO classification from the durational residency requirement at issue in the landmark right to travel case of  Shapiro v. Thompson (1969), the court reasoned:

The AO’s geographical limitation is quite different, however, because it would not penalize Pollack if she decided to travel from Kentucky to the Washington area. To the contrary, the geographical limitation gives Pollack an incentive to travel to Washington in order to apply for a job with the AO that is open only to residents of the area. In other words, the geographical limitation burdens only Pollack’s decision not to travel interstate.

[emphasis in original].  The court thus did not consider what level of scrutiny should apply or whether any level would be satisfied, but simply held that the classification did not actually implicate the right to travel.  On the court's read, Pollack's only viable claim would be if she had been in DC and discouraged from leaving because she wanted to apply for the AO position; a claim the court notes that she did not make and would not have standing to raise on behalf of another person.

After a brief consideration of structural arguments, the court concludes by questioning the wisdom of the AO policy:

We agree with Pollack that it is difficult to comprehend why the AO refused to consider applicants who did not live in the Washington area but were willing to move there if they received an offer of employment. The AO points out that it receives applications from many qualified attorneys and it must limit the total number of applicants for certain positions so that it may focus upon those it is most interested in hiring. It is unclear, however, why the agency would use a geographical limitation to control the size of its applicant pool rather than criteria that are likely to be more closely correlated with job performance.

But the court decides that the AO did not violate Pollack's constitutional rights.  And given this decision - - - and the AO's protracted litigation on the issue - - - one can only assume that the AO will limit applicants by geography in future job postings.

July 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Obergefell, Federalism, and Religion: Constitutional Issues Raised in Alabama and Texas

After the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 declaring that states are required by the Fourteenth Amendment to issue same-sex marriage licenses, a few state officials have not only voiced objections to the decision, but have voiced resistance to complying with the Court's declaration. 

The situations in Alabama and Texas have been the most contentious.

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ALABAMA:     Recall that earlier this year when federal District Judge Callie V.S. Granade entered an injunction against the enforcement of the state's constitutional amendment and statutes banning same-sex marriage, the reaction of  Alabama Supreme Court's controversial Chief Judge Roy Moore was an unusual letter to the Governor objecting to the federal judge's opinion on the basis that federal courts have no power in this Biblical area.  This was followed by an opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court ordering judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The Eleventh Circuit, and then the United States Supreme Court denied a stay of the district judge's opinion.

When the Court took certiorari in Obergefell, however, Judge Granade stayed her order.

However, after the Court decided Obergefell, the Alabama Supreme Court's  "corrected order" stated that because the US Supreme Court rules allow parties 25 days to file a petition for rehearing, the parties in the case - - - including two conservative Alabama organizations - - - were invited to submit briefs on the effect of Obergefell.  Federal District Judge Callie Granade issued a one-page Order on July 1, referenced her earlier stay and then stated:

The United States Supreme Court issued its ruling on June 26, 2015. Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ____ (2015). Accordingly, by the language set forth in the [previous] order, the preliminary injunction is now in effect and binding on all members of the Defendant Class.

Thus, the officials of Alabama are subject to a direct order by a federal judge.

 TEXAS:   The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, who is reportedly facing criminal charges on unrelated matters, issued a six page opinion letter a few days after Obergefell which stressed the individual religious rights of county clerks and their employees, as well as justices of the peace and clergy, regarding their participation in same-sex marriages.  Paxton's opinion was widely reported and concluded that county clerks retain religious freedoms that "may allow" accommodations depending "on the particular facts of each case."  Paxton relied on the First Amendment as well as Texas's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), essentially similar to the federal RFRA at issue in the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby. This is not unique:  the possibility of claims by individual public employees in clerk's offices was also raised after New York passed its Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and as that act made clear - - - as is generally understood - - - that religious officers have complete discretion in agreeing or refusing to solemnize marriages. 

The Fifth Circuit issued a very brief opinion on July 1, noting that "both sides now agree" that the  the injunction appealed from, originally issued in early 2014 by federal district judge Orlando Garcia in DeLeon v. Perry [now Abbott],  "is correct in light of Obergefell," the Fifth Circuit ruled that the preliminary injunction is affirmed. 

The Fifth Circuit's opinion makes clear - - - seemingly with state agreement - - - that Texas is bound by Obergefell, but does not mention individual religious accommodations. 

In both the Alabama and Texas situations, there are echoes of resistance to the Supreme Court's opinion in Brown v. Board of Education; The Supremacy Clause and the Court's opinion in Cooper v. Aaron seem to answer the question of whether state officials simply may disagree with the Court's interpretation of the Constitution.  This is true despite the dissenting opinions in Obergefell itself which argued that the Court should leave the resolution of same-sex marriage to individual states.  The question of religious accommodations may be a closer one, but what seems clear is that if there is indeed an individual right to be accommodated - - - again, that itself is unclear - - - it cannot be a right of a government entity.  While Hobby Lobby may have held that corporations have religious freedoms, it is hard to conceive of government entities having free exercise rights in a manner that does not violate the Establishment Clause.

July 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, News, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Anti-Masking Laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and the First Amendment

 

Reports that Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members are considering a rally in Columbia, South Carolina to support the controversial display of the confederate battle flag evokes images of hooded persons in traditional KKK garb.

However, South Carolina, like many states, has an anti-masking statute,  S.C. 16-7-110, which provides:

No person over sixteen years of age shall appear or enter upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, public way or highway of this State or upon the public property of the State or of any municipality or county in this State while wearing a mask or other device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person demand entrance or admission to or enter upon the premises or into the enclosure or house of any other person while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person, while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity, participate in any meeting or demonstration upon the private property of another unless he shall have first obtained the written permission of the owner and the occupant of such property.

As I've discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, such statutes, sometimes known as anti-KKK statutes, have been upheld against First Amendment challenges.

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"Children with Dr. Samuel Green, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon" 1948 via

For example, the similar Georgia statute, passed in 1951 and still in force, makes it a misdemeanor for any person who “wears a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer” and is either on public property or private property without permission.  In 1990, the Georgia Supreme Court in State v. Miller, 260 Ga. 669, 674, 398 S.E.2d 547, 552 (1990) upheld the statute against a First Amendment challenge by Shade Miller, who was arrested for appearing in KKK regalia alone near the courthouse in Gwinnet County, purportedly to protest the anti-mask statute itself.  In addressing Miller’s argument that the statute was overbroad, the court interpreted the statute narrowly, but not so narrowly as to exclude the KKK.  Instead, the court required the mask-wearer to have intent to conceal his identity and further that the statute would  “apply only to mask-wearing conduct when the mask-wearer knows or reasonably should know that the conduct provokes a reasonable apprehension of intimidation, threats or violence.”

New York's anti-masking statute, which was not originally prompted by KKK activities but by land revolts before the Civil War, was also upheld against a challenge by the KKK.  In 2004, the Second Circuit panel - - - including now United States Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor - - -decided Church of American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. Kerik, 356 F.3d 197, 201 (2d Cir. 2004).  The KKK group had sought an injunction against the statute to allow a demonstration while wearing masks. Rejecting the First Amendment claim, the court agreed that the KKK regalia - - - the robe, hood, and mask - - - met the threshold requirement for expressive speech, but nevertheless separated the mask in its analysis.  In the court’s view, the mask was “redundant” and did “not convey a message independently of the robe and hood.” Moreover, the court opined that mask-wearing was not integral to the expression, but optional even amongst KKK members.  Thus, while the KKK members had a First Amendment right to march, they did not have a First Amendment right to do so wearing their masks.

Should KKK members attempt to demonstrate while wearing their "regalia" that includes hoods that obscures their faces,  the South Carolina masking statute - - - and its constitutionality - - - are sure to be in play. 

 

July 1, 2015 in Association, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Federalism, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Interpretation, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Speech, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oklahoma Supreme Court Declares Ten Commandments Monument at State Capitol Unconstitutional Under State Constitution

In a relatively brief opinion today in Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, Oklahoma's highest court found that a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds violated the state constitution, Article 2, Section 5, which provides:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

  While the monument was a gift and no public funds were expended to acquire the monument, the court agreed that its placement on the Capitol grounds constituted the use of public property for the benefit of religion, emphasizing that the constitutional provision included the words “directly or indirectly.”

The court noted that the Legislature and Governor authorized the monument relying on the United States Supreme Court’s decision Van Orden v. Perry (2005), but noted that Van Orden was decided under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  Here, the Oklahoma Supreme Court interpreted the broader and more precise language of the Oklahoma state constitution.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s opinion contained the requisite language insulating it from United States Supreme Court review under the adequate and independent state grounds doctrine so important to federalism:

“Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. See Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1040-41 (1983).”

Two justices dissented, without opinion. 

Ten_Commandments_Monument
image Ten Commandments Austin, Texas, via

 

June 30, 2015 in Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)