Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Court in Schuette: Michigan Can Ban Affirmative Action

The Court's opinion in Schuette v. BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary),  clearly upheld Michigan's Proposal 2, enacted as Article I §26 of the Michigan Constitution barring affirmative action in state universities and subdivisions. The plurality opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.  Chief Justice Roberts also authored a brief concurring opinion. Justice Scalia's concurring opinion was joined by Justice Thomas.  Justice Breyer also wrote a concurring opinion.  Justice Sotomayor's impassioned dissent was joined by Justice Ginsburg.  Justice Kagan was recused.

Affirmative_Action_March_in_WashingtonThe state constitutional amendment was a reaction to the Court's opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), upholding the University of Michigan Law School's use of diversity in admissions.  But since Grutter, the Court has been decidely less friendly to affirmative action, as in  Fisher v. University of Texas.

Recall that the en banc Sixth Circuit majority had relied upon the so-called "political process" aspect of the Equal Protection Clause which asks whether a majority may vote to amend its constitution to limit the rights of a minority to seek relief, relying on Washington v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982) and Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385 (1969).  At oral arguments, the Justices had seemed hostile to that theory.

Justice Kennedy's plurality opinion for the Court carefully rehearses the cases, but it is probably his rhetoric that is most noteworthy:

This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.

As for Justice Scalia's opinion, it admits that the "relentless logic of Hunter and Seattle would point to a similar conclusion in this case" as the Sixth Circuit understood.  However,  both Hunter and Seattle should be overruled.  Justice Breyer, concurring, would distinguish Hunter and Seattle because Schuette  "does not involve a reordering of the political process; it does not in fact involve the movement of decisionmaking from one political level to another."

It is Justice Sotomayor's dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg, that displays the most heft.  At more than 50 pages and almost as lengthy as all the other opinions combined, Sotomayor's opinion is an extended discussion of equal protection doctrine and theory, as well as the function of judicial review.  In her last section, she also addresses the "substantive policy" of affirmative action and the difference it makes.

The stark division among the Justices is clear.  Sotomayor writes that "race matters."  Scalia reiterates that the constitution is "color-blind."  Roberts implies that racial "preferences do more harm than good."  And Kennedy invokes a First Amendment right to debate race:

Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and persisting injustice. That history demands that we continue to learn, to listen, and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity. . . . The respondents in this case insist that a difficult question of public policy must be taken from the reach of the voters, and thus removed from the realm of public discussion, dialogue, and debate in an election campaign. Quite in addition to the serious First Amendment implications of that position with respect to any particular election, it is inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy. One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. . . . It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people. These First Amendment dynamics would be disserved if this Court were to say that the question here at issue is beyond the capacity of the voters to debate and then to determine.

Given this passage, perhaps it is not surprisingly that Justice Kennedy does not cite Romer v. Evans - - - which he authored in 1996 - - - in today's plurality opinion in Schuette.  In Romer v. Evans, Kennedy had this to say about Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibited the enactment of anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation:

It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance. . . . A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.

[image via]

April 22, 2014 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oral Arguments in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus on Campaign Lies

The Court heard oral arguments today in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements.  As we explained when the Court granted certiorari in January, the case centers Article III.  The Sixth Circuit determined that the case was not ripe because although Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List because it could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review."  It could also not show its speech was chilled; indeed representatives from the organization stated they would double-down.

580px-Seal_of_the_Ohio_Elections_Commission.svgThis is not to say that the First Amendment was entirely absent from today's arguments.  Arguing for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion organization,  Michael Carvin referred to the Ohio Election Commission as a "ministry of truth," a characterization later echoed by Justice Scalia.  During Eric Murphy’s argument, on behalf of the State of Ohio, there were references to United States v. Alvarez in which the Court found the “Stolen Valor” statute unconstitutional, with Justice Alito (who first mentioned the case) as well as Justices Scalia and Sotomayor participating in that discussion.

But Article III concerns, the subject of the grant of certiorari, dominated.  But which Article III concerns specifically?  As Justice Ginsburg asked:  "Do you think this is a matter of standing or ripeness?"  Michael Carvin's reply deflects the doctrinal distinctions and seeks to go to the heart of his argument:

In all candor, Justice Ginsburg, I can't figure out the difference between standing and ripeness in this context.  No question that we are being subject to something. I think the question is whether or not the threat is sufficiently immediate.

 Analogies abounded.  Justice Sotomayor asked why the injury in this case wasn't as "speculative" as in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA decided in early 2013 in which the Court denied standing to Amnesty International to challege domestic surveillance under FISA?  On the other hand, the challengers in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project did have standing, based on a credible threat of prosecution" based upon 150 prior prosecutions.  But, as the Deputy Solicitor General noted in answer to a query from Chief Justice Roberts and quoting from Ohio's brief, under the Ohio statute between 2001 and 2010 there were "a little bit over 500" proceedings based on the state false statements law.

The context of an election was discussed at several junctures.  Another election cycle is approaching and election cycles themselves are short periods of intense action and when they conclude the issues can be moot. 

Despite the references to Younger v. Harris, federalism was more anemic than robust.  The notion that the state supreme court should be given an opportunity to construe the false statement law provoked laughter, with Chief Justice Roberts remark "Well, that will speed things up" as a catalyst. 

If the oral argument is any indication, it seems that the federal courts will have a chance to consider the merits of the First Amendment challenge to the Ohio statute.

April 22, 2014 in Federalism, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

DC Circuit Panel Finds Conflict Mineral Disclosure Violates First Amendment

In its divided opinion in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n, a panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals held that 15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E), part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, requiring a company to disclose if its products were not "DRC conflict free" violated the First Amendment.  

DRC - - - Democratic Republic of the Congo - - - has not only "endured war and humanitarian catastrophe,"  it is also the site of extraction of certain minerals - - - gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten - - - that are used in a variety of familiar objects (cell phones, automobile parts, and golf clubs) and finance the parties engaged in the violence.   In an attempt to discourage use of these so-called "conflict minerals," Congress required companies to disclose its products as not “DRC conflict free” in the report it files with the SEC and also post the statement on its website.

600px-Single_piece_of_tantalum,_about_1_cm_in_size.
tantalum

Reversing the district judge, who had upheld the law, the panel majority stated that "rational basis review" in the First Amendment context is the "exception, not the rule."  The panel majority rejected the argument that the disclosure was one of "purely factual and uncontroversial information":

it is far from clear that the description at issue—whether a product is “conflict free”—is factual and non- ideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts. The label “conflict free” is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups. An issuer, including an issuer who condemns the atrocities of the Congo war in the strongest terms, may disagree with that assessment of its moral responsibility. And it may convey that “message” through “silence.”  By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

[citations omitted].  Thus, the panel majority found that Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985), was inapposite.  Instead, under Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557 (1980), the intermediate scrutiny standard for commercial speech, the mandated disclosure failed.  

The panel, however, was divided on this issue.  While the court unanimously upheld various SEC regulations challenged on administrative law grounds, Judge Srinivasan dissented on the First Amendment issue.  Specifically, Judge Srinivasan contended that this opinion should be held in abeyance "pending the en banc court’s decision" in another case "rather than issue an opinion that might effectively be undercut by the en banc court in relatively short order."  The case in question is American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture in which the DC Circuit so recently ordered an en banc hearingRecall that American Meat Institute, requiring labeling of meat products by country of origin, also considered the relationship between Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Central Hudson - - - and that is the very question certified for en banc review.  Judge Srinivasan was a member of the American Meat Institute panel.  

Given this posture, it seems certain that the Government will seek en banc review. 

 

April 14, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Obamacare Challenges in the D.C. Circuit

Jessica Mason Pieklo writes over at RH Reality Check about the pair of challenges to the Affordable Care Act set for oral argument next month (on May 8) in the D.C. Circuit.  One of those cases challenges the government's accommodation to the so-called contraception mandate for religious nonprofits--the same issue in the Little  Sisters case and, more recently, Notre Dame's case at the Seventh Circuit.  (Those rulings were on injunctions against the accommodation pending appeal.  Recall that the Supreme Court issued an order in the Little Sisters case, allowing the organization simply to write a letter to the HHS Secretary stating its religious objection to the contraception mandate, pending appeal on the merits to the Tenth Circuit.  In contrast, the Seventh Circuit denied Notre Dame's request for an injunction pending appeal.  The difference between the two cases: Notre Dame had already complied with the government's accommodation (and the court couldn't undo its compliance), whereas Little Sisters had not.) 

The other case, Sissel v. HHS, is less well known.  It challenges the universal coverage provision, or the so-called individual mandate.  Plaintiffs in the case argue that as a tax (recall the Court's ruling in the ACA case) the provision had to originate in the House of Representatives under the Origination Clause.  But it originated in the Senate.  Plaintiffs say it's therefore invalid.

Pieklo writes that President Obama's recent appointees will have an impact on the court, and on these cases.  That's because the panel that will hear arguments in these cases next month includes Judge Nina Pillard and Judge Robert Wilkins, the recent Obama appointees that were held up in the Senate but then confirmed after Senate Democrats used the nuclear option and disallowed a filibuster of federal court nominees (except Supreme Court nominees).  Judge Rogers is also on the panel.

April 9, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Constitutionality of Anti-LGBT Discrimination Laws: US and UK Comparisons Continued

Recall that in November 2013 we posted "UK Supreme Court Confronts Clash Between Freedom of Religion and Gay Equality: Is the Issue Coming to The US Supreme Court Soon?" 

The answer is "no," at least if "soon" means the case discussed in that post, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer.  The petition concentrated on the First Amendment speech rights of the photographer rather than religious rights; the Court denied certiorari today. 

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King Henry VIII, an important figure
in the "Church of England"

Meanwhile, Lady Brenda Hale, a Justice on the UK Supreme Court, appeared at a Comparative and Administrative Law Conference last month at Yale and spoke on the topic of "Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights,"  posting her written remarks on the UK Supreme Court site.  Justice Hall considered the Bull case which we discussed as well as cases from Canada and the EU, all presenting the same basic issue: should religious persons be exempt from anti-discrimination laws?  Justice Lady Hale offers some interesting observations: "it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without."  She also discusses direct and indirect discrimination and reiterates a point she made in the Bull case itself: 

Both homosexuals and Christians were subject to the same laws requiring them not to discriminate in the running of their businesses. So if homosexual hotel keepers had refused a room to an opposite sex or Christian couple, they too would have been acting unlawfully.

This leads her to proclaim:

If you go into the market place you cannot pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.

This may be an indication of how Lady Brenda Hale would rule in Hobby Lobby so recently argued before the United States Supreme Court, assuming the English Parliament would enact a statute similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Another difference: The arguments before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.

April 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, International, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Deven Desai on Data Hoarding and Associational Freedom

"The amount of data available to law enforcement creates a type of honey pot—a trap that lures and tempts government to use data without limits."  What should the constitutional limits be?  And what is their source?  In a new article, Constitutional Limits on Surveillance: Associational Freedom in the Age of Data Hoarding, available on ssrn (and forthcoming in Notre Dame Law Review) Law Prof Deven Desai  (pictured) argues that constitutional protections for association - - - rooted in the Fourth Amendment as well as the First - - - is a method for disciplining governmental access to both forward and backward-looking surveillance in our current age of "data hoarding."

Deven_desai-tu-websiteDesai argues:

The mechanisms for information gathering have taken different forms at different times in history, but regardless of the precise method or when the acts occur, we can see the goal: suppression of association. Mail has been read, student speech and political actions watched, library records obtained, membership in the Communist Party scrutinized, a list of individuals to detain in case of a national security emergency created, a fifteen year program to gather information about “the Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, antiwar groups, civil rights groups, women’s rights groups, and gay rights groups” created, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King threatened depending on various perceived threats and surveillance programs. These practices now include the FBI’s gathering of publicly available information “directly,” through third parties, or if handed over “voluntarily” by third parties.  The NSA’s recent activities map to the same behaviors that threaten and attack associational freedom. The NSA has targeted online activities of alleged Muslim radicalizers—those who offer troubling speeches—to secure information, such as about viewing pornography online, to discredit or embarrass the speakers. That tactic is not about law enforcement. Just as those in power have gone after the Democratic-Republican Societies, war protestors, civil rights activists, and others questioning the government, the tactic is about intimidation and suppression. One might try and argue that all this activity is only for national security and anti-terror investigations and thus permitted under current laws. But NSA activities have not been cabined to national security interests. The NSA is not allowed to spy on domestic targets. It has done so anyway. The NSA’s “Associational Tracking Program” has collected purely domestic communication information including from and to whom a call is made, the length of the call, and when the call is made, on a daily basis for later analysis by the NSA. This data has come directly from telecommunication providers such as Verizon, which complied with a court order. 165 In addition, the NSA has hacked telecommunication lines to gain access to communications and metadata passing through Google and Yahoo data centers.

[footnotes omitted].

Ultimately, Desai contends that "pervasive surveillance turns us into sheep."  But the First Amendment has not been sufficient to protect against surveillance because a "mypoic" view of the First Amendment as requiring expressive speech misses the associational aspects at stake.  Additionally, the associational aspects of the Fourth Amendment are often neglected, but should be considered "core."

Given the continuing revelations about widespread surveillance, Desai's intervention and suggested reorientation of doctrine is certainly worth a serious read.

April 7, 2014 in Association, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Privacy, Scholarship, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

NSA Documents Database

Need to find a particular document or search for a particular name in the trove of items made available from the National Security Agency?  Or just want to look around?

The ACLU now has a handy database, available here.

520px-Old_Lady_with_Magnifying_Glass_LACMA_51.38.14As the announcement explains:

This tool will be an up-to-date, complete collection of previously secret NSA documents made public since last June. The database is designed to be easily searchable – by title, category, or content – so that the public, researchers, and journalists can readily home in on the information they are looking for.

We have made all of the documents text-searchable to allow users to investigate particular key words or phrases. Alternatively, the filter function allows users to sort based on the type of surveillance involved, the specific legal authorities implicated, the purpose of the surveillance, or the source of the disclosure. For example, you can have the database return all documents that both pertain to "Section 215" and "Internal NSA/DOJ Legal Analysis."

An important tool for scholars and advocates. 


[image via]

 

April 6, 2014 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, State Secrets, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday Dress: Kort on Revitalizing Tinker

In her article "An Imminent Substantial Disruption: Towards a Uniform Standard for Balancing the Rights of Students to Speak and the Rights of Administrators to Discipline" (forthcoming in Dartmouth Law Journal; available in draft on ssrn), Allison Kort (pictured) revisits the problems and issues with the landmark 1969 First Amendment case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

Kort

Kort argues that courts "frequently make an end run around Tinker by deferring to the school board on the “reasonableness” of the school’s action, or deciding these cases on the basis of the speech’s content," even as neither "students nor school officials enjoy clear awareness of students’ rights to free speech and expression, and students are subject to personal opinions of the school boards." 

Certainly Kort's contention is demonstrated by cases such as B.H. v. Easton Area School District (the "I heart boobies bracelet" case) in which a divided Third Circuit en banc held the students had First Amendment rights and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.  It's also illustrated by the Confederate flag wear cases, with the United States Supreme Court likewise recently denying certiorari. And Mary Beth Tinker, who is "on tour" encouraging students to exercise their First Amendment rights would undoubtedly agree that there needs to be more awareness.

Kort's solution is a revitalization of Tinker, so that courts actually apply Tinker (rather than its progeny - - - Fraser, Hazelwood, and Morse - - - that "chip away" at Tinker) and to apply the "substantial disruption" standard to mean a "imminent danger that a compelling state interest will be violated." 

While not all school speech cases involve attire and grooming regulations, a substantial portion do.  Kort's article will therefore be of special interest to advocates and scholars working in the continuing and contentious field of student dress codes and "dressing constitutionally."

April 6, 2014 in Federalism, First Amendment, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why McCutcheon Could Be Bad for the GOP

Peter Beinart argues over at The Atlantic that the Court's ruling this week in McCutcheon--that aggregate limits on campaign contributions violate the First Amendment--could haunt the Republican Party.  His claim: Over the long haul, McCutcheon will contribute to the Republican Party's reputation as the party of plutocrats.

From the piece:

A CNN poll this February found that . . . Americans . . . said Republican policies favored the rich over the middle class by a whopping 46 points.

The Supreme Court has now made overcoming that reputation harder. 

. . .

In the 1970s, a liberal Supreme Court fueled right-wing cultural populism.  Today, a conservative Supreme Court is breeding left-wing economic populism.  For the contemporary GOP, the danger of looking like the plaything of America's super-rich outweighs the benefits of increased support from America's super-rich.  Even in the age of the Roberts Court, winning elections generally requires more than just raising more money.  It requires winning more votes.

April 4, 2014 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

En Banc DC Circuit to Hear First Amendment Challenge to Mandatory Labeling of Meat Regulation

In an order today, the District of Columbia Circuit Court that American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture will be heard en banc.  Animated_cow

Recall that in its opinion last week, a panel of the DC Circuit upheld a requirement mandating the labeling of meat by country of origin.  Resolving the First Amendment challenge involves a construction of  Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel (1985), and the panel itself suggested that the "full court hear this case en banc to resolve for the circuit whether, under Zauderer, government interests in addition to correcting deception can sustain a commercial speech mandate that compels firms to disclose purely factual and non-controversial information."

Here's the issue as the court's order for simultaneous supplemental briefs phrases it:

Whether, under the First Amendment, judicial review of mandatory disclosure of "purely factual and uncontroversial" commercial information, compelled for reasons other than preventing deception, can properly proceed under Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985), or whether such compelled disclosure is subject to review under Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. PSC of New York, 447 U.S. 56 (1980).

The briefs are due April 21. 

 

April 4, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: E-Book by Collins and Skover on McCutcheon and Campaign Finance

WMS-210x315Published on the same day that the Court rendered its 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election CommissionWhen Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment is an ebook by ConLawProfs Ron Collins and David Skover.

A taste of the authors' analysis is apparent in their "foreward" to the SCOTUSblog symposium on the case, "It's all forward now."  They write that in "the past eight years, since Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have been on the Court, the Justices have handed down six First Amendment campaign finance opinions" all of which have declared a campaign finance regulation unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and five of which were 5-4 decisions. They also provide some "takeaways" from the opinion. 

The book will certainly be a must-read for anyone interested in campaign finance and the First Amendment.

April 4, 2014 in Books, Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Second Circuit Holds NYC Can Ban Religious Services in School Buildings

Does a city policy governing "extended use" of school facilities that excludes permits for the "purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship" violate the First Amendment?

The Second Circuit in its opinion in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York answered in the negative, a majority of the panel holding that the policy, Regulation I.Q., does not violate either the Free Exercise Clause or the Establishment Clause.

If this controversy sounds familiar, that would not be surprising.  We discussed it here, and as today's opinion notes, the litigation has been "long-running," citing Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 650 F.3d 30 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Bronx Household IV”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 492 F.3d 89 (2d Cir. 2007) (“Bronx Household III”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 331 F.3d 342 (2d Cir. 2003); Bronx Household of Faith v. Cmty. Sch. Dist. No. 10, 127 F.3d 207 (2d Cir. 1997). 

800px-Winslow_Homer_-_Country_School
Country School by Winslow Homer circa 1873 via

Today's opinion  - - - Bronx Household V - - - reverses the district judge's grant of an injunction on Free Exercise claims which were arguably not before the courts previously.  The majority of the Second Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge Pierre Leval joined by Guido Calabresi, carefully refuted the district judge's reasoning.  In short, the panel majority held that Locke v Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004) (finding that the exclusion of devotional theology degree programs from eligibility for state scholarships does not violate Free Exercise Clause) was more apposite than Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)(holding that an ordinance "targeting" the Santeria practice of animal sacrifice merited strict scrutiny and violated the Free Exercise Clause). 

The panel rejected the argument that the Regulation I.Q. targets religion generally or targets religions that have worship services.  The panel also rejected the attempt to distinguish the scholarship in Locke v, Davey, noting that under the "extended use" policy, the city subsidizes the use of school facilities since the organizations can use the facilities without cost.  The panel also found that the city's desire not to violate the Establishment Clause was a valid one.  As the panel summarized:

In view of (1) the absence of discriminatory animus on the part of the Board against religion, or against religions that conduct worship services; (2) the bona fides and the reasonableness of the Board’s concern that offering school facilities for the subsidized conduct of religious worship services would create a substantial risk of incurring a violation of the Establishment Clause claim; and (3) the fact that the Board’s policy (a) leaves all persons and religions free to practice religion without interference as they choose, (b) treats all users, whether religious or secular, in identical fashion, and (c) imposes no burden on any religion, leaving all free to conduct worship services wherever they choose other than the Board’s schools; as well as the other reasons recited in this opinion and in Bronx Household IV, we conclude that Reg. I.Q. does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, whether or not it is subject to strict scrutiny.

As to the Establishment Clause, the court rejected Bronx Household's argument that for the city to determine what constituted "religious worship services" would infringe the Establishment Clause.  Bronx Household relied upon Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012) - - - an example of how doctrine has been changing during this protracted litigation - - - but the majority expressed a very different view:

Hosanna-Tabor, moreover, does not merely fail to support Bronx Household’s claim of Establishment Clause violation due to excessive entanglement by the Board; it actively contradicts the argument. This is because in Hosanna-Tabor the Supreme Court itself did precisely what the District Court found a governmental entity prohibited from doing.

In other words, when the United States Supreme Court "undertook to make its own determination whether the plaintiff was a minister subject to the ministerial exception," it engaged in the very same type of determination that Bronx Household argues would violate the Establishment Clause. 

If Senior Judge John Walker, dissenting, has his way, the Court might have a chance to discuss this Establishment Clause rationale again.  Walker contends that this "case presents substantial questions involving the contours of both religion clauses and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the resolution of which are ripe for Supreme Court review."  Most certainly, Bronx Household will be quoting that language in any petition seeking Supreme Court review.

April 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Court Strikes Aggregate Campaign Contribution Limits

A sharply divided Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. FEC struck the aggregate federal campaign contribution limits.  The five-justice majority ruled that the limits violated the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito.  Justice Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

Our most recent post on the case is here.

Recall that aggregate limits restrict the total amount of money an individual can contribute to all candidates, PACs, and parties.  Base limits, which were not at issue in the case, restrict the amount an individual can contribute to an individual candidate.  (The Court said that base limits are still constitutional, as are disclosure requirements.)

The majority said that under aggregate limits

A donor must limit the number of candidates he supports, and may have to choose which of several policy concerns he will advance--clear First Amendment harms that the dissent never acknowledges.

It also said that aggregate limits do not control quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of corruption--the reasons that the Court has upheld individual limits.

The Court said that the government had other ways to advance its anti-circumvention interest--the interest in preventing a single donor from circumventing base limits by giving to multiple recipients with the expectation that they funnel the contributions to one candidate.

The ruling deals another major blow, after Citizens United, to efforts to restrict the amount of money in politics.

April 2, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Daily Read: Mother Jones on Hobby Lobby's Investments (in Contraception)

Last week's oral arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and the companion case of Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. v. Sebelius saw discussions about the substantial burden on the companies regarding providing contraceptive coverage and included Chief Justice Roberts noting that Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs included the provision of health insurance and Justice Kennedy specifically asking about why the company could not simply pay any fines or taxes. 

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Mary Harris "Mother" Jones via

According to an article by Molly Redden in Mother Jones magazine today, Hobby Lobby does not exercise its religion in quite the same way when in comes to its 401(K) retirement plans.  Based on corporate disclosures, three-quarters of the funds (73 million) have holdings that "clashed" with the owners of Hobby Lobby's stated religious principles.  The corporation apparently did not avail itself of the faith-based investing that is often available. 

Under First Amendment free exercise doctrine as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), questioning sincerity is difficult and adherents to a religious belief need not be consistent in their beliefs.  Seemingly the only case in which a "contraceptive mandate" challenge suffered on these grounds is Eden Foods v. Sebelius. 

Nevertheless, this scenario could have served as the basis of an interesting hypothetical regarding the "substantial burden" on its religious beliefs the company and owners claim.

 

April 1, 2014 in Abortion, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Disparate Views of the Secret Service: The Court and the Realities?

In the oral arguments last week in Wood v. Moss and the Court's 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards, the Secret Service was center stage.  Recall that both cases involve qualified immunity for Secret Service agents against constitutional claims and raise the specter that the individual agents acted inappropriately.  And in both cases, there is some valorization of the agents and their difficult task of protecting the President (in Wood) and the Vice-President (in Reichle). 

800px-Robert_Warwick_in_Secret_Service

Arguing for the United States Government in Wood v. Moss, the Deputy Solicitor General expressed the fear that not upholding qualified immunity would lead to a "demoralization of the service leaning in the direction of being overly careful and therefore risking the life of the President" and that allowing discovery is "exactly the nightmare scenario that the Secret Service fears" including "
discovery into what the agents were thinking" and "what the Secret Service's policies were." 

And in Reichle, Justice Ginsburg concurring in the unanimous opinion, discusses the difficult facts in the case as well as deference to the agents' role:

Officers assigned to protect public officials must make singularly swift, on the spot, decisions whether the safety of the person they are guarding is in jeopardy. In performing that protective function, they rightly take into account words spoken to, or in the proximity of, the person whose safety is their charge. Whatever the views of Secret Service Agents Reichle and Doyle on the administration’s policies in Iraq, they were duty bound to take the content of Howards’ statements into account in determining whether he posed an immediate threat to the Vice President’s physical security. Retaliatory animus cannot be inferred from the assessment they made in that regard.

But one wonders how positive views of the Secret Service suffer given recurrent scandals involving the Secret Service.  As the United States Supreme Court was considering Reichle, there was the scandal in Colombia involving more than a dozen agents, but a later Homeland Security report (official synposis here) found that there was not "widespread sexual misconduct."  Most recently, at least one agent assigned to protect the President was reportedly "found drunk and passed out in a hotel hallway."  This latest scandal was reportedly not good news for the Secret Service's first woman director who has "tried to implement reforms."  One former Secret Service agent writes in a WaPo op-ed that the problem is not bad agents but bad leadership." 

But whether attributed to bad leadership or what might be called "bad apples," should these revelations about the bad judgments of secret service agents influence the Court's own judgments?  Doctrines such as qualified immunity and strict pleading requirements that prevent discovery serve to protect Secret Service agents from their "nightmares" (as the Deputy Solicitor General phrased it), but might they also insulate the Secret Service from responsibility for the nightmares they cause others. 

[image via]

April 1, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 28, 2014

DC Circuit Upholds Meat Labeling Requirement Against First Amendment Challenge

In its relatively brief but potentially exceedingly important opinion in American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a meat labeling rule requiring increased specificity.  As the court explained, the 2013 rule regarding country of origin newly required the "production step," so that

instead of saying, “Product of the United States,” a label for Category A meat will now read, “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States.” Similarly, Category B meat might now have to be labeled, “Born in X, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States,” and Category C meat “Born and Raised in X, Slaughtered in the United States.”

511px-Cowicon.svgThe meat producers argued that the new rule exceeded statutory authority and that it violated the First Amendment.  They sought a preliminary injunction which the district judge denied. 

The DC Circuit's First Amendment analysis rejects the meat producers' arguments that Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel (1985) should not be dispositive.  The panel opinion noted that Zauderer held that  mandated disclosures do not violate an advertiser’s First Amendment rights,  “as long as disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.”  But it rejected the meat producers' argument that the DC Circuit's opinion in Reynolds v. FDA held that Zauderer should be "applied only to disclosure mandates aimed at correcting deception" (emphasis in opinion).  The court noted that this interpretation also avoided a disagreement with other circuits, and also noted that "reasonable judges" could read Reynolds as so limiting Zauderer and thus suggested that the

full court hear this case en banc to resolve for the circuit whether, under Zauderer, government interests in addition to correcting deception can sustain a commercial speech mandate that compels firms to disclose purely factual and non-controversial information.

However, the panel provided its conclusion that other government interests were adequately served by the mandated labeling, including enabling

a consumer to apply patriotic or protectionist criteria in the choice of meat. And it enables one who believes that United States practices and regulation are better at assuring food safety than those of other countries, or indeed the reverse, to act on that premise.

Certainly the labeling of meat is not the other type of labeling currently being litigated in the courts as the opinion itself discusses.  (I've elsewhere argued that mandating clothes be labeled sweat-free or not should survive a First Amendment challenge).  The DC Circuit might do well to take the suggest for en banc consideration given the issue's likelihood of recurring.

[image via]

UPDATE: The DC Circuit has granted en banc review.

March 28, 2014 in First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Oral Arguments in Wood v. Moss: The Complaint by the Anti-Bush Protestors

At the heart of this case is a very simple complaint: During a campaign stop by then-President Bush in Portland, Oregon, the Secret Service treated anti-Bush protestors differently from pro-Bush demonstrators, relocating the former while allowing the latter to remain. 

But the complaint raises a host of legal issues that ricocheted through the oral arguments {transcript} in Wood v. Moss at the United States Supreme Court today.

Portland_No_war_pdx
image from later protest in Portland via

The first issue is whether the complaint satisfied Ashcroft v. Iqbal, with Chief Justice Roberts specifically referring to the opinion during the oral argument of Steven Wilker, representing the Respondents, who were the protestors:

In Iqbal, and just quoting here from page 681, the Court goes on to consider the factual allegations in the complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement, and they go on to say, but given more likely explanations, they do not plausibly establish this purpose.

Roberts returned to Iqbal, stating that the Government's alternative explanation in its motion to dismiss the complaint "doesn't have to be so compelling.":

It simply has to be more likely, is the quote from Iqbal on 681, and it has to be an obvious alternative explanation. And that's enough, no matter what you've alleged.

There was certainly some concern expressed that without Iqbal, the district judge might have fewer "weapons" available to curb discovery, but there was also not uniform preoccupation with Iqbal, with Justice Breyer posing a hypothetical about discovery and saying "Forget Iqbal for the moment."

Yet another procedural barrier discussed by the Court is the doctrine of qualified immunity, requiring that the constitutional infringement be "clearly established" at the time it occurs in order to hold government agents accountable. The Government's best case in this regard is Reichle v. Howards, which counsel mentioned repeatedly, decided in 2012, which held that Secret Service agents had qualified immunity and rejected the claim of retaliatory arrest for a man at a Dick Cheney shopping mall appearance.

But there seemed to be an "aha" moment for Justice Scalia - - - who had previously accused the attorney for the government, Ian Gershengorn, Deputy Solicitor General, for not sufficiently raising such arguments - - - during Wilker's argument.  Scalia asked " how can it be  clearly established if we have never held that there is a Bivens cause of action for a First Amendment violation? We've never held that, have we? How can you possibly say that the violation here is clearly established."

MR. WILKER: Well, I think it's different to say whether or not there is a remedy for the violation as to whether the violation was clearly established.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, okay.

MR. WILKER: The violation was clearly established. Whether or not there is a remedy for that violation under Bivens - - -

JUSTICE SCALIA: That's a good point.

MR. WILKER:  - - - is a different question.

JUSTICE SCALIA: That's a good point.

Yet Scalia might not be convinced that there would actually be a First Amendment violation, given his repeated references to the Fourth Amendment in which motivation should not be considered. 

At several points, the oral argument did focus on the question of viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment, such as in the Deputy Solicitor's exchange with the Justice Ginsburg:

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Mr. Gershengorn, suppose it's originally set up by the police, the motorcade is coming down, each side has equal access. Then the Secret Service comes along and said: Clear the anti­Bush demonstrators. Suppose that, that ­­ those were the facts. Would there be a valid Bivens claim?

MR. GERSHENGORN: Your Honor, the question would depend on whether there was a valid security rationale. I think in the context of a motorcade ­­

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The rationale is it's more likely that the people who are against the President would be harmful to him than the people who are for him.

Prätorianer
Roman Praetorian Guard via

Yet whether this case will be decided on the First Amendment issues - - - or more properly, whether the Court will decide that the First Amendment issue can be decided by the lower courts in spite of Iqbal and the qualified immunity doctrine - - - is balanced between two concerns expressed in the oral arguments. 

On the one hand, there is a concern for ability of the Secret Service to make security decisions to protect the President without being subject to second-guessing by possible plaintiffs and the courts themselves. 

On the other hand, there is the concern that there might develop a "Praetorian Guard" - - - as Justice Breyer stated - - - and that the trampling of First Amendment rights on the basis of viewpoint might be accepted.

As one of the cases on this Term's heavy First Amendment docket, its importance may be overshadowed, but it should not be underestimated.

March 26, 2014 in First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit Upholds San Francisco's Gun Regulations

Affirming the federal district judge, a panel of the Ninth Circuit in its opinion in Jackson v. City of San Francisco found that San Francisco's gun regulations likely survived the Second Amendment challenges and therefore the denial of the preliminary injunction was proper.

At issue were two San Francisco gun-related regulations: one that requires handguns to be stored in a locked container at home or disabled with a trigger lock when not carried on the person and the other that prohibits the sale of hollow-point ammunition within San Francisco.

Handgun-231696_640The panel, as other courts have done, derived its framework from District of Columbia v. Heller, first asking whether the challenged regulations burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment and then applying the "appropriate" level of scrutiny.  Because Heller (and McDonald v.Chicago which incorporated the Second Amendment against the states) left open this second inquiry, the panel - - - again following other circuits - - -then analyzed  ‘how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right’ and ‘the severity of the law’s burden on the right.’   The panel analogized to First Amendment principles and noted that "firearm regulations which leave open alternative channels for self-defense are less likely to place a severe burden on the Second Amendment right than those which do not." The panel applied intermediate scrutiny to the regulations.

The opinion distinguished the San Francisco gun regulation requiring safety measures from those seemingly similar District of Columbia safety measures the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Heller:

Section 4512 does not impose the sort of severe burden imposed by the handgun ban at issue in Heller that rendered it unconstitutional. Unlike the challenged regulation in Heller, section 4512 does not substantially prevent law-abiding citizens from using firearms to defend themselves in the home. Rather, section 4512 regulates how San Franciscans must store their handguns when not carrying them on their persons. This indirectly burdens the ability to use a handgun, because it requires retrieving a weapon from a locked safe or removing a trigger lock. But because it burdens only the “manner in which persons may exercise their Second Amendment rights,” the regulation more closely resembles a content-neutral speech restriction that regulates only the time, place, or manner of speech. The record indicates that a modern gun safe may be opened quickly. Thus, even when a handgun is secured, it may be readily accessed in case of an emergency. Further, section 4512 leaves open alternative channels for self-defense in the home, because San Franciscans are not required to secure their handguns while carrying them on their person. Provided San Franciscans comply with the storage requirements, they are free to use handguns to defend their home while carrying them on their person.

[citations omitted]

As to the sale of hollow point bullets, the panel found that there was standing to challenge the restriction and that such ammunition was protected by the Second Amendment.  But it again applied intermediate scrutiny and found the regulation survived.  It reasoned that the city's regulation "imposed only modest burdens on the Second Amendment right" given "the availability of alternative means for procuring hollow-point ammunition." 

The opinion is firmly rooted in current doctrine, even as that doctrine is in disarray.  Earlier this month the Delaware Supreme Court held a gun restriction in public housing unconstitutional; earlier this year a district judge in Chicago held that city's gun regulations unconstitutional.   The United States Supreme Court this Term has denied certiorari to several petitions seeking review of lower court cases including Fifth Circuit cases upholding a ban of sales of guns to those under 21.

Borrowing from First Amendment doctrine seems especially problematic in these cases, but understandable given the infantile state of the doctrine.

 [image via]

 

March 26, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Justice Kennedy and the Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Mandate Oral Arguments: Is it Simply Administrative Law?

The arguments in the consolidated cases of  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities v. Sebelius displayed Justices sharply divided on the issues as we discussed.  Whether Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote in the cases is sure to be the subject of much speculation.  What, if anything, might be derived from his expressions at oral argument?  

He began, relatively early in the oral argument, by making space for Paul Clement to elaborate on his "framework" and by posing a question about RFRA:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You were beginning by giving us a framework for your argument. Do I think of this as a statutory case? Of course, the First Amendment is on the stage at some point here, but I take it you can prevail just on the question of statutory interpretation, and if that is so, are there any statutory rules that work in your favor, that is to say, avoiding a constitutional question or how do we think about this case, primarily as a statutory case?

Justice Kagan thereafter pointed out that RFRA was a "special kind of statute" that "specifically refers back to a "body of constitutional law."

Justice Kennedy also asked about the relative substantial burden of paying any fines: "Let's assume that the cost of providing insurance is roughly equivalent to the $2,000 penalty. How ­­ how is the employer hurt? He can just raise the wages."

Clement eventually answered that “If they take away the health care insurance, they are going to have to increase the wages to make up for that. And they're going to have to pay the $2,000 penalty on top of it, plus they're going to have to violate their ­­ their own interest which is, we actually ­­ we believe it's important to provide our employees with qualified health care.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Okay, the last is important. But just assume hypothetically that it's a wash, that the employer would be in about the same position if he paid the penalty and the employer ­­ pardon me, an employee went out and got the insurance and that the employee's wages were raised slightly and then it's ­­ and that it's a wash so far as the employer are concerned, other than the employer's religious objection, but just on the financial standpoint. Can we assume that as a hypothetical. Then what would your case be?

MR. CLEMENT: I think my case would be that in that case the government might be able to sort of support itself on the compelling interest. I think there would still be a substantial burden on their exercise. But again, this all turns on issues that the government hasn't put in issue.

Toward the end of Clement's time, Kennedy posed a different type of query:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Just before your time starts to go too fast, how would you suggest that we think about the position and the rights of the ­­ of the employees? And you can have hypotheticals about the employer makes them ­­ wants to make them wear burkas and so forth. That's not in this case. 

But in ­­ in a way, the employees are in a position where the government, through its healthcare plans, is ­­ is, under your view, is ­­ is allowing the employer to put the employee in a disadvantageous position. The employee may not agree with these religious ­­ religious beliefs of the employer. Does the religious beliefs just trump? Is that the way it works?

In Kennedy's extensive colloquy with Solicitor General Verrilli, the subject veered from compelling governmental interest back to the status of RFRA:

JUSTICE KENNEDY:  Is it your position that part of the compelling interest here is that you have to protect the integrity ­­ the operational integrity of the whole Act?

GENERAL VERRILLI: It is part of our argument, absolutely. And ­­ but it ­­ but there is in addition to that, much more ­­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Does that mean the constitutionality of the whole Act has to be examined before we accept your view?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I think it has been examined, Your Honor, is my recollection.

(Laughter.)

GENERAL VERRILLI: But ­­ but with respect to ­­ but with respect to the ­­ there is a particularized interest here in that what we are talking about is a question of whether 14,000 employees and their families get access to this contraceptive coverage.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You ­­ you have exempted a whole class of corporations and you've done so under your view not because of RFRA.

GENERAL VERRILLI: So let me ­­ let me go to that ­­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Now, what ­­ what kind of constitutional structure do we have if the Congress can give an agency the power to grant or not grant a religious exemption based on what the agency determined? I recognize delegation of powers rules are somewhat more abundant insofar as their enforcement in this Court.

But when we have a First Amendment issue of ­­ of this consequence, shouldn't we indicate that it's for the Congress, not the agency to determine that this corporation gets the exemption on that one, and not even for RFRA purposes, for other purposes.

 Kennedy later continued on the issue of compelling governmental interest:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I still don't understand how HHS exercised its judgment to grant the exemption to nonreligious corporations if you say it was not compelled by RFRA.

GENERAL VERRILLI: I don't think ­­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Then it must have been because the health care coverage was not that important.

GENERAL VERRILLI: It didn't grant an exemption to any nonreligious organizations, Justice Kennedy. It granted an exemption to churches, and that was it. . . .

And later, Justice Kennedy, whose opinions on abortion are certainly complex, asked Verrilli what seemed a version of a particular "slippery slope" that had not been extensively considered:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Under your view, a profit corporation could be forced ­­ in principle, there are some statutes on the books now which would prevent it, but ­­ could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.

GENERAL VERRILLI: No. I think, as you said, the law now ­­ the law now is to the contrary.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But your reasoning would permit that.

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I think that ­­ you know, I don't think that that's ­­ I think it would depend on the law and it would depend on the entity.

 Finally, during Verrilli's argument, Justice Kennedy expressed interest in a hypothetical posetd by Justice Alito about a law requiring humane treatment of animals and therefore prohibiting kosher and halal slaughter.

Justice Kennedy asked no questions during Clement's rebuttal, but Clement gave the last word to Kennedy:

 . . . . If I could have just one second more to say that the agency point that Justice Kennedy has pointed to is tremendously important, because Congress spoke, it spoke in RFRA. Here the agency has decided that it's going to accommodate a subset of the persons protected by RFRA. In a choice between what Congress has provided and what the agency has done, the answer is clear.

Certainly Clement's articulation is simplistic, but it could satisfy Kennedy's initial search for some statutory construction principles that might make the answer to the divisive issues also seem simple.

[image: Justice Kennedy by Donkey Hotey via]

March 25, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties on RFRA and the "Contraceptive Mandate"

Should corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage? 

Simplified, that's the question at the heart of the oral arguments today in the consolidated cases of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius in which the Court granted certiorari in November.  The legal issues are complex (our primer is here and another here), but given the basic conflict, it's no wonder the case has attracted so much attention. Another good overview is Lyle Denniston's preview of the arguments for SCOTUSblog.

Recall that the Tenth Circuit's divided en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby essentially split 5-3 over the issue of whether a for-profit secular corporation has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.  The majority essentially concluded there was such a right and that the right was substantially burdened by the requirement of the PPACA that employer insurance plans include contraception coverage for employees.

Recall also that the Third Circuit's divided panel opinion in Conestoga Woods rejected the contention that the corporation could raise a claim under RFRA, either as a corporation possessing free exercise of religion rights or under a "pass through" theory allowing the beliefs of the owners to pass to the corporate form.

Moreover, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are not the only two opinions on these issues.  A digest of some previous circuit court cases and some discussion of the controversy is here; the divided Seventh Circuit opinion is discussed here; and the ACLU has a helpful running tab on all the cases here. So, the Court's ultimate conclusion will impact a number of cases.

Today's 90 minute oral argument {transcript} in the consolidated cases began with Paul Clement representing the "private parties," Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood and then Solicitor General Donald Verrilli  representing the federal government, including Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Not surprisingly, the questions to Clement largely came from Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg, and the questions to Verrilli came from Justices Alito and Scalia, as well as Chief Justice Roberts.   Also not surprisingly, the arguments were peppered with slippery slopes, other analogies, questions of Congressional intent in passing RFRA, RFRA's relationship with First Amendment doctrine, and the relevance of the corporate form. 

The question as to the cost of not complying with the mandate (part of the substantial burden on the corporations under RFRA) was the subject of this rather interesting exchange during Paul Clement's argument:

JUSTICE KAGAN:  . . . .

And so the question is, why is there a substantial burden at all?

MR. CLEMENT: Well, just to be clear, we were talking about the same thing. So the option, the choice, is between paying a $475 million a year penalty and a $26 million a year penalty.  That's what Hobby Lobby faces.  So $2,000 per person - - -  ­­

JUSTICE KAGAN: No, between paying $2,000 per employee per year if Hobby Lobby does not provide ­­- - -

MR. CLEMENT: That's $26 million.

JUSTICE KAGAN: You know, Hobby Lobby is paying something right now for the - - -­­ for the coverage. It's less than what Hobby Lobby is paying for the coverage. There are employers all over the United States that are doing this voluntarily because they think that it's less.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I thought - - -­­ I thought that part of the religious commitment of the owners was to provide health care for its employees.

MR. CLEMENT: That is true, Mr. Chief Justice. It is also true that this ­­- - -

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, if they want to do that, they can just pay a greater salary and let the employees go in on the exchange.

MR. CLEMENT: Exactly, which is, by the way, why comparing the $2,000 penalty to the cost of the health care is a false - - - ­­ it's a false comparison.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: It's not called a penalty. It's called a tax. And it's calibrated ­­ - - - and it's calibrated ­­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: She's right about that.

 (Laughter.)

 The laughter arises from Chief Justice Roberts' decision in NFIB v. Sebelius that the ACA was constitutional under Congress' power to tax, but it is worth noting that Roberts jumped in to assert the corporation's exercise of religion as including the provision of health insurance.  Justices Ginsburg and Kagan later come back to this point:

JUSTICE GINSBURG: There was a point made earlier, and I think you didn't mean to say this, that provision of health care is not part of their religious belief. Covering their employees for health care, that is not a religious tenet, right?

MR. CLEMENT: No, it actually is.  Again, it hasn't been the principal theory been litigated. But see, if you complaints and you go back to our briefs, you know, it's part of the religious beliefs that both the Hahns and the Greens have. They think it's actually important ­­- - -

JUSTICE KAGAN: But, Mr. Clement, you're not saying, are you, that their religious beliefs mandate them to provide health care? I thought that you were never making that claim.

MR. CLEMENT: I didn't have to make that claim in the course of this litigation. What I'm pointing out, though, is for purposes of the substantial burden analysis, it is perfectly appropriate to take into account that the 2,000 ­­ the $26 million in fines they would pay would not be the only thing that they would lose out if they are on that horn of the dilemma. They would also lose out all the additional wages they would have to pay, and they would be in this position of not offering health care, which is something they believe is important for their religion as well.

JUSTICE KAGAN: You know, I'm sure they seem like very good employers. And I'm sure they want to be good employers. But again, that's a different thing than saying that their religious beliefs mandate them to provide health insurance . . . .

If the "substantial burden" under RFRA is the most difficult element that the corporations to meet, then the strict scrutiny test applicable to any substantial burden is surely the government's most difficult task.  The questioning noted that the "least restrictive means" test in RFRA was clearly more difficult to meet than even the pre-Smith cases that RFRA explicitly sought to restore - - - and there did not seem to be even a glimmer that RFRA should be held unconstitutional (which would, of course, require a departure from O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Gonzales). 

 Justice Breyer, asking his first question of the argument, requested that Verrilli provide a "precise answer" to the "least restrictive" argument that the government should simply pay for the contraceptive coverage.  Verrilli's argued that this suggestion by the corporations was not properly before the Court, but even if it was, that even the accommodation would be subject to a RFRA challenge.   Justice Alito suggested that Clement be asked about whether this would hapen, and indeed Clement was asked (by Justice Sotomayor).  Clement's reply:

We haven't been offered that accommodation, so we haven't had to decide what kind of objection, if any, we would make to that. But it's important to recognize that as I understand that litigation, the objection is not to the fact that the insurance or the provider pays for the contraception coverage. The whole debate is about how much complicity there has to be from the employer in order to trigger that coverage. And whatever the answer is for Little Sisters of the Poor, presumably you can extend the same thing to my clients and there wouldn't be a problem with that.

 Whether Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote in this case is certain to be subject to much speculation and his questions will be closely read; our extended discussion is here.  But without question, the Justices seem sharply divided.

 

March 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Gender, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)