Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Federal Judge Declares No-Fly List Process Unconstitutional

In her  opinion in Latif v. Holder, Judge Anna Brown of the District of Oregon concluded that the "no-fly list" violates the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process.

Judge Brown's well-crafted 65 page opinion applies the well-established "balancing test" for  procedural due process first articulated by the United States Supreme Court in 1976 in Mathews v. Eldridge.  Under this test, a court weighs several factors to determine "how much process is due":

  • the interests of the individual and the injury threatened by the official action;
  • the risk of error through the procedures used and probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards;
  • the costs and administrative burden of the additional process, and the interests of the government in efficient adjudication
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After analyzing the factors and weighing the government's interest in preventing terrorism heavily, Judge Brown considered similar "terrorism" cases and noted that the

Plaintiffs in this case were not given any notice of the reasons for their placement on the No—Fly List nor any evidence to support their inclusion on the No—Fly List. Indeed, the procedural protections provided to Plaintiffs through the DHS TRIP process fall substantially short of even the notice that the courts found insufficient [in another case].

Moreover, the government's failure to provide any notice of the reasons for Plaintiffs’ placement on the No—Fly List

is especially important in light of the low evidentiary standard required to place an individual in the TSDB in the first place. When only an ex parte showing of  reasonable suspicion supported by "articulable facts . . . taken together with  rational inferences” is necessary to place an individual in the TSDB, it is certainly possible, and probably likely, that “simple factual errors” with “potentially easy, ready, and persuasive explanations” could go uncorrected.

[ellipses in original].  Thus, she concludes that "without proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, an individual could be doomed to indefinite placement on the no-fly list."

In granting partial summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs, Judge Brown directed the government defendants to "fashion new procedures" that provide the Plaintiffs with the requisite due process "without jeopardizing national security."

Certainly this litigation, which already has an extensive history, is far from over, but Judge Brown's finding of a lack of procedural due process in the government's no-fly lists is exceedingly important.

 

June 25, 2014 in Fifth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, State Secrets, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Court Releases Memo Outlining Legal Authority for Targeted Killing, Drones

The Second Circuit today released a redacted version of the DOJ/OLC memo outlining the government's legal authority for the use of a drone attack to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi (sometimes spelled al-Awlaki).  We've blogged extensively about this issue, including here, on the earlier released white paper outlining the government's authority to conduct the same attack.

The released version does not include the first 11 pages of the memo, presumably including the information that the government passed on to the OLC about al-Awlaki that formed the basis of the analysis.  It's not clear whether that first 11 pages included other material or analysis.  (The released version starts with "II.")  There are other redactions throughout, especially in the portion analyzing the CIA's authority to conduct drone attacks.

The analysis in the memo differs slightly from the analysis in the earlier white paper, but, because of the redactions, it's not clear how much this matters.  Thus, for example, the analysis released today makes a careful distinction between DoD authority and CIA authority to conduct a targeted drone attack.  (The earlier white paper didn't make this clear distinction.)  But it's not entirely clear why or how that distinction is significant, given that much of the CIA analysis is redacted.  The analysis released today is also more fact specific.  (The earlier white paper didn't so clearly limit itself to the facts of one case.) But the memo today redacts the facts, so we don't know them.

Other than those points, the analysis released today doesn't appear to be importantly different than the earlier white paper.

As we've noted, and as others have noted, the analysis leads to the surprising result that the government may be able to kill someone by drone attack more easily than it may detain them (with due process under Hamdi).  Still, we don't know this for sure, because we don't know precisely what processes the government used in killing al-Awlaki: that detail is redacted from the memo.

The memo starts by outlining the statutory prohibition on foreign murder of a U.S. national--the federal provision that outlaws one U.S. national from killing another overseas.  That provision, 18 U.S.C. 1119(b), says that "[a] person who, being a national of the United States, kills or attempts to kill a national of the United States while such national is outside the United States but within the jurisdiction of another country shall be punished as provided under sections 1111, 1112, and 1113."  Section 1111 penalizes "murder," defined as "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought."  The memo thus centers on whether al-Aulaqi's killing was "unlawful."

The memo says that the killing was not unlawful, because the prohibition includes the "recognized justification" of "public authority"--that is, the government's ability to kill under its public authority.  As to the Defense Department's use of drones, the memo says that (1) the president had executive war powers authorized by Congress under the AUMF, (2) the AUMF authorized the president to use all necessary force against al-Qaida and associated forces (the OLC said that the AUMF included associated forces in an earlier memo), (3) al-Aulaqi was a member of al-Qaida or associated forces (AQAP) who posed a "continued and imminent threat" to the U.S., and (4) the DoD was acting pursuant to statutory authorization in targeting and killing al-Aulaqi.  Moreover, the memo says that al-Aulaqi's killing comports with the laws of war.  That's because DoD "would carry out its operation as part of the non-international armed conflict between the United States and al-Qaida, and thus that on those facts the operation would comply with international law so long as DoD would conduct it in accord with the applicable laws of war that govern targeting in such a conflict."  The memo said that this operation in Yemen is part of that conflict, even though Yemen is not within the area of that conflict.  Finally, the memo says that the method of killing complies with the laws of war--that is, that the targeted drone attack complies with the principle of distinction, it would minimize civilian casualties, and it would not violate prohibitions on "treachery" and "perfidy" (because those "do not categorically preclude the use of stealth or surprise, nor forbid military attacks on identified, individual soldiers or officers . . . and we are not aware of any other law-of-war grounds precluding the use of such tactics.").

The memo drew the same, or very similar, conclusions as to the CIA's use of a drone strike, but that section was largely redacted.

(The memo also said that another murder-abroad statute similarly did not prohibit the strike, and that the War Crimes Act did not prohibit it, because al-Aulaqi was still an active, fighting beligerent, and an allowable target under the laws of war.)

As to Fourth- and Fifth Amendment protections, the memo says that a high-level decision-maker ("the highest officers in the intelligence community") can make a determination to use lethal force and authorize a strike.  (That's about all it said: this portion of the memo is also highly redacted.)

The memo makes clear that this is all context specific: the "facts" given to OLC that form the basis of its analysis are "sufficient" for the Office to form its conclusions, but the memo declines to say whether those facts are also necessary.  (And we don't know them, in any event, because they're redacted.)

 

June 23, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Trademark Registration of Football Team as Disparaging


In an extensive opinion today in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., Cancellation No. 92046185, a divided Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the trademark of the term "redskins" as violative of  section 2(a), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibiting registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute. 

The majority opinion relied upon dictionary definitions, expert opinions, and surveys to conclude that the term is disparaging - - - and was so at the time the trademark was approved.  The majority rejected the laches defense in part because "there is an overriding public interest in removing from the register marks that are disparaging to a segment of the population beyond the individual petitioners."

 

Judge Bergsman's dissenting opinion disagreed with the

majority’s decision to grant the petition on the claim of disparagement because the dictionary evidence relied upon by the majority is inconclusive and there is no reliable evidence to corroborate the membership of National Council of American Indians.

To be clear, this case is not about the controversy, currently playing out in the media, over whether the term “redskins,” as the name of Washington’s professional football team, is disparaging to Native Americans today. The provisions of the statute under which the Board must decide this case – §§ 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1052(a) and 1064(3) – require us to answer a much narrower, legal question: whether the evidence made of record in this case establishes that the term “redskins” was disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans at the time each of the challenged registrations issued.

Neither the majority or dissenting opinion - - - both of which are lengthy - - - engage with the possible First Amendment free speech issues or with the possible Equal Protection issues; this is decidely a case interpreting a statutory provision regarding trademark. 

Yet the constitutional contours of speech and equality are evident in both opinions, just as constitutionalism has been implicated in the controversies surrounding the use of the term.  Thus, while a "trademark case," Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. is worth consideration by constitutional students and scholars.   And its comparison to the "dykes on bikes" trademark case, which I've discussed here, is also worth consideration by those interested in constitutionalism, democracy, and language.

 

June 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

District Court Rejects Targeted Killing Claim

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a civil damages claim against government officials for their roles in authorizing the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, his son, and Samir Khan.  Judge Collyer wrote in Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta that "special factors" counseled against the Bivens claim.

We've covered Al-Aulaqi's claims extensively (sometimes Al-Awlaki, sometimes Al-Awlaqi), both pre-killing and post-killing, brought by his father, Nasser.  Here's our post on Judge Bates's ruling dismissing Nasser's case to stop the killing.

The ruling adds to a body of lower-court cases limiting civil damage remedies against government officials for constitutional violations for actions related to the military, intelligence, and terrorism.  Indeed, these cases give government officials a free pass against civil damages claims for any action even loosely related to these areas, even with no showing by the government that the claims raise special factors counseling against a remedy (as this case illustrates--see below).

Nasser Al-Aulaqi brought this claim on behalf of his son Anwar and grandson Abdulrahman, along with Sarah Khan, who brought the claim on behalf of her son Samir.  Anwar was designated for targeting; Abdulrahman and Samir were not (they were bystanders in Anwar's targeted killing and another targeted killing).  All three were U.S. citizens. 

Nasser and Sarah sued government officials in their personal capacity under Bivens for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations (among others).  The officials moved to dismiss, arguing that the complaint failed to state a claim, that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy, and that they enjoyed qualified immunity.  

Judge Collyer ruled that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.  Citing Doe v. Rumsfeld, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, and Vance v. Rumsfeld, she wrote that military decisions get a pass, and that Bivens ought not be extended to them:

In this delicate area of warmaking, national security, and foreign relations, the judiciary has an exceedingly limited role.  This Court is not equipped to qustion, and does not make a finding concerning, Defendants' actions in dealing with AQAP generally or Awar Al-Aulaqi in particular.  Its role is much more modest: only to ensure that the circumstances of the exercise of war powers against a specifically-targeted U.S. citizen overseas do not call for the recognition of a new area of Bivens relief.

Here, Congress and the Executive have acted in concert, pursuant to their Constitutional authorities to provide for national defense and to regulate the military.  The need to hesitate before implying a Bivens claim is particularly clear.  Congress enacted the AUMF, authorizing the Executive to use necessary and appropriate military force against al-Qa'ida and affiliated forces.  It is the Executive's position that AQAP is affiliated with al-Qa'ida. 

. . .

Permitting Plaintiffs to pursue a Bivens remedy under the circumstances of this case would impermissibly draw the Court into "the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation," as the suit would require the Court to examine national security policy and the military chain of command as well as operational combat decisions regarding the designation of targets and how best to counter threats to the United States.

. . .

Plaintiff's Complaint also raises questions regarding foreign policy because Anwar Al-Aulaqi was a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen who was killed in Yemen.  Plaintiff's suit against top U.S. officials for their role in ordering a missile strike against a dual citizen in a foreign country necessarily implicates foreign policy.

Remarkably, the court so concluded without any help of from the government--even after the court ordered the government to help by providing material in camera and ex parte to support the special-factors defense.

The United States filed a Statement of Interest in the case, stating that it might later assert a state secrets defense.  Judge Collyer ordered the government to lodge declarations, in camera and ex parte to explain why special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy in the case.  The government refused, arguing that the court could resolve the defendants' motion to dismiss on the complaint alone.  

Judge Collyer scolded the government for its refusal--and wrote that this made the court's job "unnecessarily difficult"--but still "cobble[d] together enough judicially-noticeable facts from various records" to conclude that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.  She wrote that without these facts, the court "would have denied the motion to dismiss."

April 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Illinois Supreme Court: State's Eavesdropping Statute Unconstitutional

Can a government criminalize the recording of conversations absent consent without violating the First Amendment, or perhaps the Due Process Clause?

In its opinion in People v. Clark, and a companion opinion in People v. Melongo, the Illinois Supreme Court held the state's statutory criminalization of eavesdropping unconstitutional.

Both cases relied upon ACLU v. Alvarez, in which the Seventh Circuit enjoined the statute from being applied to a Chicago police accountability program.

In Clark, the Illinois Supreme Court held that 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1)(A), the eavesdropping statute, violated the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine "because a substantial number of its applications are unconstitutional, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep."  The court recognized the ubiquity of smartphones and other recording devices.

Smartphone_as_Child_Toy

Importantly for the court, the statute criminalized a "whole range of conduct involving the audio recording of conversations that cannot be deemed in any way private."  It gave these examples:

  1.  a loud argument on the street;
  2. a political debate in a park;
  3. the public interactions of police officers with citizens (if done by a member of the general public); and
  4. any other conversation loud enough to be overheard by others whether in a private or public setting.

Although the opinion in Clark is a brief 9 pages, it's substantial and well-reasoned.

Equally brief and well-reasoned, although somewhat more complex, is the companion opinion in Melongo.  The state argued that Melongo's First Amendment claim was not cognizable on appeal, unlike the Due Process claim, and that the constitutional claims were inconsistent with her defense at trial.  Nevertheless, the court found that the statutory provision was unconstitutional under the First Amendment for the same rationale as in Clark.  Melongo also raised a constitutional claim to the "publishing provision" of the statute, which further criminalizes the "publishing" of any recording made without consent.  The court similarly found this provision overbroad.

It will be interesting to see how the Illinois legislature responds.

 [image via]

March 24, 2014 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sixth Circuit Upholds Ohio's Dangerous Animals Act

In its  opinion in Wilkins v. Daniels, a panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district judge and affirmed the constitutionality of the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act, which became effective January 1, 2014.  The Act prohibits possession of dangerous wild animals - - - including tigers, lions, bears, alligators, and pythons 12 feet or longer - - - without a permit.  The permit requirements include the implantation of a microchip under the animal's skin.  The Act includes an exemption for individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).

The exemption in the Act's scheme and the "chipping" requirement give rise to the constitutional challenges.

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First, and perhaps most creatively, the challengers argued that the exemption for "individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA)" constituted compelled speech prohibited by the First Amendment.  This compelled speech argument had two "distinct but interrelated" parts:  a compelled association claim because the Act "forces" them to join either the AZA or ZAA and a compelled speech claim because the Act requires them to "subsidize the speech of their purely private political and ideological rivals,” the AZA or ZAA.

The panel briefly and accurately set out the doctrine and classic First Amendment cases, but the court's analysis is digestable to its conclusion that there was no compulsion, by association or subsidy: "There are fifteen ways appellants can comply with the Act: the permitting requirement and fourteen exemptions."  As the panel concluded, "[m]ere unwillingness to conform their conduct to the permitting requirements or the other thirteen exemptions does not mean that the Act compels appellants to join the AZA or ZAA."

Second, the challengers argued that microchipping requirement violated the Takings Clause.  The panel found the challenge not ripe because there was no pursuit of state compensation.  But, on the merits, the panel found that there was not a taking, stressing the physical taking (rather than the regulatory taking) aspect that seemed to be the central argument.  The court analogized to other types of "property," accepting the State's argument that if the Act’s microchipping requirement to be ruled a taking, “laws requiring license plates on cars, warning labels on packaging, lighting on boats, handrails in apartment buildings, and ramps leading to restaurants” would be suspect.

The court rejected these constitutional challenges that, while innovative, seemed to have little support in the doctrine.  The arguments also had little political appeal - - - the court notes in its opinion that the Ohio Act was prompted by an incident in which "an Ohio man released over fifty exotic animals before committing suicide."

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March 4, 2014 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Seventh Circuit Strikes City Closure Law for Adult Bookstores


The Seventh Circuit ruled this week in Annex Books, Inc. v. City of Indianapolis that the city's law requiring adult bookstores to close between midnight and 10:00 a.m. every day and all day Sunday violated the First Amendment.  The ruling means that Indianapolis can't enforce its law, although it might write a new law that regulates or zones adult bookstores, short of requiring them to close.

The court took particular issue with Indianapolis's weak reason for the law: fewer armed robberies at or near adult bookstores.  The court wrote that the justification isn't supported by data.  And as to the secondary effects doctrine, it said the doctrine doesn't work when the secondary effects impact only the bookstores themselves and their patrons:

The secondary-effects approach endorsed by Almeda Books and Playtime Theatres permits governments to protect persons who want nothing to do with dirty books from harms created by adult businesses; the Supreme Court has not endorsed an approach under which governments can close bookstores in order to reduce crime directed against the businesses that knowingly accept the risk of being robbed, or persons who voluntarily frequent their premises.

The court also took issue with the required closure:

That the City's regulation takes the form of closure is the nub of the problem. . . .  The benefits come from closure: shuttered shops can't be robbed at gunpoint, and they lack customers who could be mugged.  If that sort of benefit were enough to justify closure, then a city could forbid adult bookstores altogether.

January 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Fifth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Update on Stop and Frisk Judge's Removal by Second Circuit: Judge Shira Scheindlin Seeks Intervention

It was not only that a panel of the Second Circuit stayed Judge Shira Scheindlin's orders in Floyd v. City of New York and in Ligon v. City of New York  regarding the NYPD's implementation of stop and frisk as violative of equal protection.  But the panel - - -consisting of Judges John M. Walker, Jr, José A. Cabranes, and Barrington D. Parker - - - took the unusual move of removing Judge Scheidlin from the case, as we discussed here.

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Now, counsel on behalf of Judge Scheindlin, have filed a Request for Leave to File Motion to Address Order of Disqualification (here). In addition to rules of appellate procedure, the motion relies upon the First and Fifth Amendments.  Specifically, the motion alleges that discussion of important legal issues by members of the judiciary is crucial to public understanding of the rule of law and is consistent with the values of the First Amendment, and that the general discussions by the judge cannot be deemed to "run afoul" of the Code of Judicial Conduct and cannot justify a sua sponte order removing her as judge.

The removal of the judge has been roundly criticized, but now the Second Circuit has been asked to respond.

 

UPDATE:  NYT article here; Excellent post over at "Wait A Second!" with link the transcript from the "related case" hearing. 

November 6, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Daily Read: The New Yorker on Justice Ginsburg, Fisher, and Footnote 4

450px-Milk_glassOver at the New Yorker blog, Lincoln Caplan's piece, "Justice Ginsburg and Footnote Four" analyzes Ginsburg's discussion last week at the National Constitution Center, arguing that one of her statements "deserves more attention than it has gotten."

Ginsburg stated that her dissent last term in Fisher v.  University of Texas Austin, regarding judicial review of  affirmative-action plans of colleges and universities, "was inspired by a 1938 ruling not mentioned in the dissent—actually, by one of its footnotes."  That most famous footnote - - - footnote four - - -of United States v. Carolene Products, is for many (including Caplan) the foundation of "a coherent justification for unelected justices to overturn legal decisions of elected officials when the fairness of the Constitution, and of democracy, is at stake."  

Recall that the 1938 case of  Carolene Products involved a federal statute regulating the shipment of "filled milk" (skimmed milk to which nonmilk fat is added so that it may seem to be like whole milk or even cream).   It may be that this case was also on Ginsburg's mind during the oral arguments of another one of last term's cases:  In her questioning of Paul Clement, who represented BLAG, in United States v. Windsor about the constitutionality of DOMA, she condensed his argument as saying that in granting same-sex marriages, states were nevertheless saying there were really "two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage."   As we noted at the time, Ginsburg's allusion would have special resonance for those who recalled Carolene Products.

 

September 15, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Fifth Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Daily Read: Raisins on Remand and Popular Opinion About the Takings Clause

NPR's "All Things Considered" today featured a segment on "The Raisin Outlaw of Kerman, California," none other than Marvin Horne, of Horne v. Department of Agriculture, decided by the Court in June.  Recall that the Court, in a unanimous opinion, reversed the Ninth Circuit's ruling that the Hornes did not state a claim for a regulatory taking.  At issue are marketing orders promulgated by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) under the authority of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act (AMAA) of 1937, as amended, 7 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., that mandate that a certain percentage of a raisins be put in "reserve" each year - - - this fluctuates yearly and by controlling raisins on the market is a means of indirectly controlling prices.  

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As NPR phrases it, "For not agreeing to participate in behavior that in many other industries would be considered collusion, the federal government sued the Hornes for hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected raisins and fines." (emphasis in original).

For anyone following takings clause doctrine (or agricultural matters and food law), this is worth a listen.

RR
[image via]

August 9, 2013 in Current Affairs, Fifth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

EFF Challenges NSA Surveillance Program

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, on behalf of a bevy of organizations, filed suit against the NSA in the Northern District of California to stop its surveillance program and to return any information retrieved.  The complaint in First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA argues that the "Associational Tracking Program"--the surveillance program that received so much recent attention with the release of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Roger Vinson's ruling ordering the disclosure of domestic phone records--violates the organizations' and their members' First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.

We previously posted on EPIC's case taking a different route--a petition for a writ of mandamus directly with the Supreme Court.

SDS

July 17, 2013 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More on the Aftermath of Windsor (DOMA) and Perry (Prop 8) decisions: California, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina Litigation

The Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and Perry v. Hollingsworth, holding that the "proponents" of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a federal judge's declaration of Prop 8's unconstitutionality, have not settled the matter of the unconstitutionality of same-sex marriage restrictions. 

In what promises to be a continuing series, here are a few highlights:

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In California, the home of Proposition 8, the litigation centers on Prop 8's constitutional status given that the Supreme Court held that the proponents did not have standing to appeal the federal district judge's holding that Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause.  The original injunction was stayed, and again stayed by the Ninth Circuit even as it affirmed the district judge, but after Perry, the Ninth Circuit dissolved the stay amid questions about the effect of Perry which we discussed here.

The proponents of Prop 8 have moved (back) to the state courts, filing Hollingsworth v. O'Connell on July 12 seeking a stay from the California Supreme Court.  Their basic argument is that a single federal judge should not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional for the entire state and they seek a mandate forbidding county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.  On July 16, the California Supreme Court declared - - - as a docket entry and without opinion - - - "The request for an immediate stay or injunctive relief is denied." It also granted the motions for counsel to proceed pro hac vice, so the case will presumably be moving forward. 

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In Pennsylvania, a complaint in Whitewood v. Corbett was filed July 9, as a new constitutional challenge to the state's "little DOMA" provisions passed the same year as the federal DOMA, 1996  - - - 23 Pa. Consolidated Statute §1102 (defining marriage as between one man and one woman) and 23 Pa. Consolidated Statutes §1704 (declaring one man-one woman marriage as the strong public policy of state and refusing to recognizing same-sex out of state marriages).  The Complaint interestingly quotes and cites language from Windsor several times. For example:

¶10. The exclusion from marriage undermines the plaintiff couples' ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them "a dignity and status of immense import." United States v.Windsor, No.12-307, Slip Op., at 18 (U.S. June 26, 2013).  Moreover, they and their children are stigmatized and relegated to a second class status by being barred from marriage. The exclusion "tells[same-sex couples and all the world- that their relationships are unworthy" of recognition. Id. at 22-23.  And it "humiliates the ...children now being raised by same-sex couples" and "makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives." Id. at 23.

The Attorney General for Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, has reportedly declared she will not defend the constitutionality of the state statutes barring same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, the named defendant and a Republican, as well as the state legislature, are presumably studying the holding regarding BLAG's standing in Windsor.

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In Arkansas, the complaint in Wright v. Arkansas was filed in state court on July 2.  Arkansas has both a statute and constitutional amendment DOMA (the belt and suspenders approach).  The 29 page complaint does not quote or cite Windsor, but does claim that the Arkansas prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of both the state and federal constitution, as well as violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause.  First reports are that the state will defend the lawsuit.

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In addition to new complaints filed post-Windsor (Perry), ongoing litigation will certainly be changed.  For example, the North Carolina federal court complaint in Fisher-Borne v. Smith challenging North Carolina's failure to provide so-called second-parent adoption is being amended - - - reportedly with agreement of the state - - - to include a claim challenging the state's prohibition of same-sex marriage. 

While one message of Windsor and even Perry could be understood as being that marriage, same-sex or otherwise, is a matter of state law, another message of Windsor is certainly that there are constitutional problems prohibiting same-sex marriage. 

 

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With a patchwork of state laws, this is a fertile landscape for continuing litigation.

RR
[all images Wikimedia; final image here]

July 16, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Court Decides Same Sex Marriage Cases: DOMA (Windsor) and Proposition 8 (Perry)

The Court decided both cases presenting the issue of the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage.

In the DOMA - - - Defense of Marriage Act - - - case,  the Court's  5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy in United States v. Windsor, argued in March, affirmed the Second Circuit's finding  that section 3 of  DOMA is unconstitutional.

In its relatively brief opinion (26 pages), the majority first found that BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, had sufficient status to confer standing, or at least the case provided "sufficient adversarial presentation for the Court to decide to get to the merits."   Recall that BLAG formed to defend the statute  after the Obama Administration decided not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in February, 2011  and that the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to brief and argue BLAG's standing.  Dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that the standing and merits decisions by the Court "both spring from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society," not referencing his position in yesterday's decision in Shelby County v. Holder holding a different act of Congress unconstitutional. 

On the merits and holding section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, Kennedy articulates the federalism rationales so central to the First Circuit's holding that DOMA was unconstitutional.

The opinion then reaches the equal protection issue (under the Fifth Amendment given that DOMA is a federal statute) and concludes:

The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.

Importantly, the decision seems to be applying rational basis review, although it does little to provide a clear analytic framework or solve problematics of rational basis review. Indeed, it introduces a notion of "careful consideration" which is certainly not strict scrutiny, but likewise eschews the intermediate scrutiny favored by the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor  and seems to apply to the "animus" aspect of rational basis with "bite."

In the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, also argued in March, and also reltively brief at 17 pages, the Court's opinion by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by - - - Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan  - - - held that there was no standing for the "proponents" to appeal and thus vacates the Ninth Circuit panel opinion that held Proposition 8 unconstitutional.   The Ninth Circuit, in a careful opinion, had affirmed the opinion of Judge Vaughn Walker who presided over an extensive trial in federal district court, after which he held Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause.  (Recall that Judge Walker's own sexuality became an issue in the case, but both a district judge and the Ninth Circuit rejected claims of bias).   Although the case attracted much scholarly attention, many commentators believed that standing was problematic.

The Court concluded:

We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.

The dissenting Justices - - - Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor - - - credited the California Supreme Court's opinion on standing (answering the certified query from the Ninth Circuit) and Kennedy's dissenting opinion noted that the initiative process made the "proponents" not mere private parties:

In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century.

The dissenters also noted the "irony" in the majority's position: "A prime purpose of justiciability is to ensure vigorous advocacy, yet the Court insists upon litigation conducted by state officials whose preference is to lose the case."

The familiar liberal/conservative split of Justices is not apparent in Perry, since the issue os resolved on standing, but dominates Windsor.  Yet in both cases, sharp disagreements about the democratic process are apparent.

RR

June 26, 2013 in Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Court Extends Unconstitutional Conditions, Takings to Monetary Exactions

A sharply divided Supreme Court (5-4) today ruled in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District that a government's demand for a monetary exaction from a property owner as a condition of receiving a development permit is subject to the unconstitutional conditions doctrine in Nollan v. California Coastal Comm'n and Dolan v. City of Tigard and the Takings Clause.  

The ruling means that a local government cannot require a property owner to pay money in exchange for a building permit unless there is a "nexus" and "rough proportionality" between the government's demand and the effects of the proposed land use.  This is an expansion of the Nollan/Dolan doctrine that creates likely heightened judicial scrutiny of local land-use regulations and fees.  Although it's not clear exactly how far this expansion extends--and whether these claims, like Koontz's, would ever be successful--the ruling restricts local governments in the way they create conditions for land-use permits and is therefore a likely victory for property owners.

Nollan and Dolan say that when the government demands a property exaction in exchange for a land-use permit, there must be a "nexus" and "rough proportionality" between the exaction and the proposed land use.  If there's no "nexus" and "rough proportionality," then the condition is a government taking, and, under the Takings Clause, the government owes just compensation.  The cases represent a version of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine, because they're designed to protect against the government exacting unreasonable conditions in exchange for land-use permits, without paying just compensation for those unreasonable exactions, in violation of the Takings Clause.  ("Nexus" and "rough proportionality" protect against government coercion of a property owner, by imposing unreasonable government exactions, unrelated to the property development.)

Those cases were relevant here, because Koontz sought to develop his land in Florida, but the District said it wouldn't grant a permit until Koontz (1) deeded to the District a conservation easement on his property or (2) hired contractors to make imrpovements to District-owned wetlands several miles away.

The Court ruled that Nollan/Dolan applied to both conditions.  The Court ruled 5-4 that the Nollan/Dolan rule applied to monetary exactions (the second alternative condition), because, the Court said, monetary exactions implicate the central concern of those cases: the risk that the government might use its power in land-use permitting exact an unreasonable sum of money from a property owner that doesn't have anything to do with the proposed development.  Justice Alito wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.

The dissent argued that this holding "runs roughshod over Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel" and "threatens to subject a vast array of land-use regulations, applied daily in States and localities throughout the country, to heightened constitutional scrutiny."  Justice Kagan wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.  

(The dissent also argued that the case could be disposed of around Nollan/Dolan, because (1) "the District never demanded that Koontz give up anything (including money) as a condition for granting him a permit" and (2) "no actual taking occurred," leaving Koontz just a state-law basis for monetary damages, but the dissenters "cannot see how, and so would spare the Florida courts.")

All nine Justices agreed, however, that the Nollan/Dolan rule applied to the first alternative condition.  The question here was whether that rule applied where, as here, the government demands a condition before it approves a permit (rather than denying a permit for failure to meet the condition).  All nine said yes.  But because the government didn't take anything--it simply declined to grant a permit until a condition was satisfied--the property owner cannot get just compensation (although he might be entitled to monetary relief under state law).

The Court remanded the case to the Florida Supreme Court for a determination whether Koontz is entitled to any monetary relief under state law.  If the dissent is right, this is a futile effort.

SDS

June 25, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Fifth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Court Reverses Ninth Circuit Raisin Takings Clause Opinion

800px-Single_raisinIn a relatively brief opinion in Horne v. Department of Agriculture by Justice Thomas writing for a unanimous Court, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's ruling that the Hornes did not state a claim for a regulatory taking. 

Recall that the Hornes are involved in the raisin business and the Ninth Circuit had upheld a regulatory scheme that mandates that a certain percentage of a raisins be put in "reserve" each year - - - this fluctuates yearly and by controlling raisins on the market is a means of indirectly controlling prices.

The precise nature of the Hornes' involvement in the raisin business - - - whether they are handlers or producers - - - is important to the controversy.  But, the Supreme Court held, not as important as the Ninth Circuit ruled.  Instead, the Court held that

The Ninth Circuit confused petitioners’ statutory argument (i.e., “we are producers, not handlers”) with their constitutional argument (i.e., “assuming we are handlers, fining us for refusing to turn over reserve-tonnage raisins violates the Fifth Amendment”).

Thus, the Ninth Circuit should have reached the merits of the Takings Clause claim.

Moreover, the argument that the Hornes' claim was not ripe was also incorrect.  They were subject to enforcement proceedings and they are free to raise their Takings Clause defense before the USDA and the courts.

Although a somewhat technical decision sounding in "jurisdiction," the Court has opened the way for a regulatory Takings Clause claim against an agricultural scheme seeking to control prices and supply.

RR
[image of raisin via]

 

June 10, 2013 in Fifth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Supreme Court (US), Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Campaign Finance and DOMA

In an interesting advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the ability of same-sex couples married under state law to make political contributions similar to opposite-sex married couples is thwarted by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Recall that the United States Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor, argued last month.

The advisory opinion explained the underlying regulatory scheme:

Notwithstanding the prohibition on contributions in the name of another, a Commission regulation governing “[c]ontributions by spouses” provides that “limitations on contributions . . . shall apply separately to contributions made by each spouse even if only one spouse has income.” 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i). Thus, under Section 110.1(i), a spouse with no separate income may make a contribution in his or her own name “through the checking account of the other spouse.”

FEC_Ellen_L_WeintraubIt concluded that "so long as the relevant provisions of DOMA remain in effect, the Committee may not apply 11 C.F.R. 110.1(i) to contributions from same-sex couples married under state law," although the Commission recognized that DOMA was currently under review.

In a separately issued concurring statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub (pictured) emphasized that her "vote today was in no way intended to endorse the discriminatory, irrational burden that DOMA places on political participation by individuals in same sex." 

If DOMA is not declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court on the basis of equal protection, the FEC's opinion might be fertile ground on which to grow a First Amendment challenge.

RR
[image of Ellen Weintraub via]

April 26, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Daily Read: Linda Greenhouse on Federalism and Same-Sex Marriage

In her column in the NYT last week, Linda Greenhouse wonders whether the federalism argument in the challenge to DOMA in United States v. Windsor is a "Trojan horse." 

Greenhouse has this reminder about federalism and family law:

There is much that’s questionable about this assertion of implicitly boundless state authority over family affairs. A famous pair of Supreme Court decisions from the 1920s armed parents with rights under the Due Process Clause to educate their children as they see fit, in resistance to state laws. Pierce v. Society of Sisters gave parents the right to choose private or religious schools despite an Oregon law that required public school education for all. Meyer v. Nebraska struck down a state law that barred the teaching of modern foreign language (the law’s post-World War I target was German.)

Nor is this ancient history. In 2000, the court struck down a state law in Washington that gave grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren over the parents’ objection. Justice O’Connor wrote the court’s opinion, Troxel v. Granville, which was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist.

800px-Troi
Moreover, she extends the argument outside marriage and family law:

Substitute “marriage” for “criminal procedure” and you time-travel into last week’s argument. But you will listen in vain for the voice of Justice William O. Douglas, who brushed away concerns about what he dismissively called “this federalism” to ask: “Has any member of this court come out and said in so many terms it’s the constitutional right of a state to provide a system whereby people get unfair trials?”

As usual, Linda Greenhouse is worth a read, for ConLaw Profs and ConLaw students.

RR
[image via]

April 8, 2013 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Daily Read: Hutchinson on Political Power and Same-Sex Marriage

HutchinsonIn the oral argument for United States v. Windsor challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Chief Justice Roberts expressed skepticism that gays and lesbians were politically powerless, announcing to Roberta Kaplan, representing Edith Windsor, "As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case."

ConLawProf Darren Hutchinson (pictured) provides an indepth examination, context, and prescient critique of Roberts' remark in his new article, Not Without Political Power': Gays and Lesbians, Equal Protection, and the Suspect Class Doctrine, available in draft on ssrn.  Hutchinson argues that the political powerlessness factor used to evaluate claims for heightened scrutiny under equal protection doctrine is "especially undertheorized and contradictory." 

Hutchinson's article is a tour de force of precedent deploying rhetoric of political powerlessness.  Of course, Hutchinson highlights Justice Scalia's well-known dissent in Romer v. Evans, the Colorado Amendment 2 case, noting that not only is it based on stereotypes but it "sounds exactly like a political document against gay and lesbian rights."  But Hutchinson does suggest that there is indeed a role for politics, however at a much more sophisticated level.  Rather than jettison any inquiry into political powerlessness as some scholars have argued, Hutchinson contends that a much more robust understanding of politics is necessary.

Ultimately, Hutchinson concludes that the present scholarly and judicial discourse

fails adequately to discuss the multiple factors that cause political vulnerability among gays and lesbians. While some gays and lesbians possess power, most of them do not. Poverty, gender, race, geography, and disability influence the ability of gays and lesbians to exercise political power.

Instead, he suggests that political science scholarship inform legal scholarship and judicial opinions, and that antisubordination legal scholarship inform wider discussions of equal protection.  Certainly, Hutchinson's article should inform anyone considering political powerlessness in the context of same-sex marriage and equal protection.

RR

March 28, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

United States v. Windsor, DOMA Challenge Argued in United States Supreme Court

In the second of the same-sex marriage cases, after yesterday's Proposition 8 argument, the Court heard oral argument today in  United States v. Windsor, a grant of certiorari to the Second Circuit opinion holding DOMA unconstitutional and applying intermediate scrutiny to sexual orientation classifications.

Edie WindsorThe audio is here:

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Edith Windsor (pictured) argues that DOMA - - - the Defense of Marriage Act - - -violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.  Recall DOMA is not being defended by the Obama Administration, but by BLAG - the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group - - - at taxpayer expense which reportedly topped $3 million even before today's arguments. 

The extended two hour session had several attorneys arguing: LawProf Vicki Jackson, Court-appointed as amicus on the standing issue; Sri Srinivasan, Deputy Solictor General (supporting Windsor on the standing issue); Paul D. Clement on behalf of BLAG; Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli (supporting Windsor); and Roberta A. Kaplan on Behalf of Windsor.

On the standing issue:

Similar to the Proposition 8 case argued yesterday, the fact that the government is not defending the constitutionality of the law raises a quetions about the Court's power under Article III to decide the issues.

Justice Kagan asked one of the most trenchant questions regarding standing and injury, especially given the Obama Administration's stated belief that DOMA is unconstitutional:

The Government is willing to pay that $300,000, would be happy to pay that $300,000, but whether the Government is happy or sad to pay that $300,000, the Government is still paying the $300,000, which in the usual set of circumstances is the classic Article III injury. Why isn't it here?

But Jackson answered that the federal government had not asked the Court to remedy that injury and that the Article III "case or controversy" requirement is "nested in an adversarial system." 

Throughout the arguments on standing there was a search for the most controlling precedent - - - with Justice Roberts' asking "is there any case where all the parties agreed with the decision below and we upheld appellate jurisdiction?
 Any case?"  The general consensus seemed to be that Windsor was distinct from the most similar case, INS v.Chadha decided in 1983. (Chadha involved the legislative veto and produced a very fractured set of opinions on the merits).  Justice Scalia had some barbs to throw at the present administration, contrasting it to when he was at the Office of Legal Counsel. 

 On the merits:

The challenge to DOMA is under the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment, with the Solicitor General  arguing that the standard to be applied is intermediate scrutiny and Kaplan arguing that DOMA failed even rational basis scrutiny.  Yet the equal protection arguments were embroiled with the federalism and Congressional power to pass DOMA; Justice Kennedy stated that the federalism and equal protection issues were "intertwined."  [A good example this intertwinement occurred in the First Circuit opinion that held DOMA unconstitutional.]

For Solicitor General Verrilli, the intertwinement aspect was a cause of consternation and undercut his argument yesterday in the Proposition 8 case that even a state law denying same-sex marriage violated equal protection and that the correct standard was intermediate scrutiny as the Second Circuit held. 

The consistency principle of equal protection doctrine - - - that the same standard should apply no matter what classification was benefitted or burdened - - - was also a focus, with hypotheticals about the standard should Congress decide that it would provide federal benefits to same-sex couples even if the state did not recognize their marriages. [The question of who would have standing to challenge such a law did not arise]. 

Justice Roberts repeatedly brought up the question of animus as part of a rationality with bite inquiry, asking at least twice whether the 84 Senators who voted for DOMA and the President [Clinton] were motivated by animus.  Justice Roberts also raised the question of political powerlessness, often an inquiry in determining the level of equal protection scrutiny. Roberts echoed an opinion expressed by Justice Scalia in earlier cases that sexual minorities were anything but politically powerless when he told Roberta Kaplan, representing Edith Windsor, "As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case."

Justice Ginsburg probably uttered the most memorable quote of the day's arguments.  In her questioning of Paul Clement, who represented BLAG, she condensed his argument as saying that in granting same-sex marriages, states were nevertheless saying there were really "two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage."   Her remark would be even more noteworthy for people who recall that the scrutiny standard is often traced to the famous footnote 4 in Carolene Products, a case about - - - milk.

RR
[image via]

March 27, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Daily Read: US v. Windsor, the DOMA Case, Amicus Brief Cato Institute and Constitutional Accountability Center

Fourth in a Series: Guest Post by Allison Reddy, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, class of 2014

CATOThe brief of amici curiae of Cato Institute and Constitutional Accountability Center supports the position of Edith Windsor and argues for affirming the Second Circuit opinion. The Cato Institute is a think tank dedicated to public policy research furthering “the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”  The challenge to DOMA is consistent with CATO's philosophy of limited governmental interference in issues of personal freedom, especially on the Dtmcaclogopart of the federal government.  The Constitutional Accountability Center, also a think tank, is dedicated to "fulfilling the progressive promise of our Constitution’s text and history."  While the two organizations might differ on controversial cases such as Citizens United, here the organizations agree that DOMA should be held unconstitutional.

Interestingly, the brief does not use the umbrella argument technique and instead jumps right into  the arguments, first discussing the equal protection guarantee embodied in the Fifth Amendment. According to their argument, the Constitution protects individuals, not groups, from “lawless action by the government.” The amicus continues to quote Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in JEB v. Alabama, which focused on the fact that individuality rises above association with a particular class. Therefore, any law designed to make individuals inferior under the law because of membership in a class is inherently odious. The argument progresses to discuss the plain meaning of the equal protection clause, which requires “equality under the law and equality of rights for all persons.” Citing the Civil Rights Cases, Yick Wo, and Justice Harlan’s dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the brief makes a forceful case for the prohibition of class legislation. Framing DOMA as discrimination against gays and lesbians and denial of their right to “ordinary civic life in a free society” (Romer), the principles and case law undergirding equal protection require that DOMA be overturned.

The brief discusses the history of heightened scrutiny, both strict and intermediate. It supports the Second Circuit’s conclusion that intermediate scrutiny is appropriate. It argues, however, that the Court need not even reach a heightened scrutiny analysis, because DOMA fails even the most deferential rational basis review. However, without acknowledging the perhaps more “searching” scrutiny these cases apply, the brief uses Romer, Moreno, and Cleburne to support its conclusion. It does note that rational basis review, although deferential, “has never entailed judicial abdication in the face of arbitrary, invidious discrimination inconsistent with the equal protection guarantee,” citing Nat’l Fed’n of Independent Business v. Sebelius in support of this proposition. Accordingly, the Court should not abdicate its responsibility to protect gays and lesbians from DOMA’s discriminatory effects.

The brief further argues that because DOMA discriminates against gays in lesbians in almost every aspect of their lives, it violates the basic guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA was not a rational solution to a legitimate federal problem because it was obviously enacted in the spirit of animosity towards gays and lesbians, aiming to make them unequal to everyone else. Quoting the legislative history, the brief points out that “federal legislators sought to ‘express their disapprobation through the law,’ 142 Cong. Rec. 17,089 (1996), asserting that same-sex couples were ‘immoral, depraved,’ ‘unnatural,’ ‘based on perversion,’ and ‘an attack on God’s principles.’ Id. at 16,972, 17,074, 17, 082.” The brief goes on to eviscerate the rational bases proffered by BLAG in much the same manner as the Southern District, First Circuit, and Second Circuit.

This amicus brief reads much more forcefully than the Government’s brief. The way that this amicus brief essentially frames Romer, Cleburne, and Moreno as ordinary rational basis cases mirrors BLAG’s framing of those cases—except to support the opposite argument. At first blush, not acknowledging the more “searching” standard in these cases seemed glaring; however, this was obviously an intentional choice to construe these cases as minimally scrutinizing to support a finding that DOMA would fail even the most permissive review.

Moreover, by invoking the plain meaning of equal protection, this brief dispensed with the legal formalism. It argued that couching the arguments over DOMA in the language of federalism is a disingenuous approach to the issue and urges the Court reject BLAG's construction and confront DOMA in a forthright manner.

[posted and edited by RR]

March 21, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)