Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sixth Circuit's Mixed Ruling on First Amendment Challenges to Kentucky's Ethics Code for Judicial Elections

In its opinion in Winter v. Wolnitzek authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton for the unanimous Sixth Circuit panel, the court considered eight provisions of the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct against facial and as-applied First Amendment challenges after first concluding that there was a sufficient case or controversy under Article III.

The court applies strict scrutiny to the State's efforts to regulate the campaign speech of judicial candidates under the United States Supreme Court's decision last year in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar.  In Williams-Yulee, the no direct solicitation of contributions prohibition survived and a few of the provisions in Winter likewise survive.  The Kentucky Supreme Court, pursuant to a certification proceeding, rendered its interpretation on three of the canons.

In succinct fashion - - - the analysis of the eight provisions is less than ten manuscript pages - - - the court determined the constitutional status of the varying prohibitions as follows:

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  • The campaigning clause, which prohibits a candidate for judicial office from campaigning as a member of a political organization was ruled unconstitutional as vague and overbroad.  Although the Kentucky Supreme Court had clarified this provision to mean that the candidate cannot portray themselves, either directly or by implication, as "the official nominee" of the party.  The court held there was too much slippage here, so that the use of a definitive article ("the Republican candidate") was not necessarily an endorsement as official nominee, especially when combined with other terms ("the moderate Republican candidate.")
  • The speeches clause, which prohibited judicial candidates from making speeches for or against a political party, was unconstitutional as not narrowly tailored.  The court noted that this does not prohibit a tweet for or against a political party, and distinguished a prohibition of judicial candidates from making speeches on behalf of a political organization (as the Ninth Circuit upheld).
  • The contributions clause, which prohibits judicial candidates from making financial contributions to a political organization or candidate was upheld.  Not withstanding the court's recognition that "money is speech" under Buckley v. Valeo.  The court held that this clause "narrowly serves the Commonwealth’s compelling interest in preventing the appearance that judicial candidates are no different from other elected officials when it comes to quid pro quo politics." On this, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district judge.
  • The endorsements clause, which prohibits judicial candidates from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for public office was likewise constitutional.  Again, the court stressed the quid pro quo nature of endorsements.
  • The "acting as a leader" clause, which prohibits a judge from acting as a leader or holding any office in a political organization was constitutional on its face as well as-applied to the request to host a political event that is a fundraiser.  The fundraiser, the court reasoned, brings the judge's impartiality into question.
  • The false statements clause, prohibiting judicial candidates from making false statements with knowledge or reckless disregard of the truth is perhaps the most interesting result.  The court distinguishes another Sixth Circuit case - - - Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus - - - which was not only not limited to material statements (as it was by the Kentucky Supreme Court's certification opinion), but also makes the Williams-Yulee distinction between political and judicial candidates.  However, the court found that as-applied to a judicial candidate's statement to be "re-elected" when in fact she occupied the judicial position because of appointment rather than election, the provision was unconstitutional.  The ban there "outstrips" the government interest and did not provide sufficient "breathing space."
  • The commits clause, prohibiting judicial candidates from making pledges or promises, was remanded.  This was not a provision that was certified to the Kentucky state supreme court and the Sixth Circuit panel implied that it should be.  The problem is determining whether an "issue-based" commitment is inconsistent with the impartial performance of judicial duties, with the Sixth Circuit panel stating that if "Kentucky interprets “impartiality” to mean solely “impartiality as to parties,” the clause may well advance a compelling interest and do so narrowly."

The court ends its opinion, as it began, by acknowledging the "cross-currents" of First Amendment challenges to judicial, rather than political, campaigns.  The court navigated surely and perhaps overly-speedily through the multiple issues landing with mixed results.  It does seem that the court will be visiting this terrain again.

August 24, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Upholds Upholds California Ban on Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy Against Religion Clauses Challenge

In a sequel to the Ninth Circuit's 2013 decision in Pickup v. Brown upholding California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit upheld the same law against a facial challenge based upon the First Amendment's Religion Clauses in its relatively brief opinion in  Welch v. Brown.

The panel in Welsh - - - the same panel as in Pickup - - - held that the SB 1172 violated neither the Establishment Clause nor the Free Exercise Clause.  The panel rejected the challengers' interpretation of the law as applying to members of the clergy because the law specifically exempts religious clergy "as long as they do not hold themselves out as operating pursuant" to any therapist licenses. 

The panel also rejected the contention that the law has the primary effect of inhibiting religion. That some minors who seek sexual orientation conversion may have religious motivations does not rise to the level of an inhibition of religion, especially given that the law was not targeted at religious motivated conduct.  The panel noted that the law's legislative findings focused on "social stigmatization" and "family rejection" rather than religiosity.  The panel likewise rejected the Free Exercise Clause claim that the law was not neutral as to religion based on the same rationales and cited the Third Circuit's similar conclusion regarding New Jersey's prohibition of sexual conversion therapy in King v. Christie.

The court also reiterated its rejection of any "privacy" claim based on its previous analysis in Pickup.

So far, challenges to state prohibitions of sexual conversion therapy for minors have had little success.

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 [image via]

 

August 24, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Disability, Due Process (Substantive), Establishment Clause, Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

District Judge Rules RFRA Exemption in Transgender Title VII Case

In his opinion and order in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, United States District Judge Sean Cox of the Eastern District of Michigan, the judge held that the funeral home is "entitled to a RFRA exemption from Title VII and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it."

The funeral home, a for-profit closely-held corporation, relied upon the United States Supreme Court's closely-divided and controversial decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) which allowed a religious exemption under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage. 

800px-Snow_White_Coffin_CarriedRather than contraception, the issue in Harris Funeral Homes is the funeral home's sex-specific dress code and its termination of Stephens, an employee transitioning from male to female for failure to wear the mandated male-specific clothing.  The primary shareholder of the funeral home, Thomas Rost, stated his beliefs that the Bible teaches "that a person's sex is an immutable God-given gift" and "that is wrong for a biological male to deny his sex by dressing as a woman."  More importantly for his RFRA claim, Rost stated that he himself “would be violating God’s commands” if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home’s biologically-male-born funeral directors to wear the skirt-suit uniform for female directors while at work, because Rost “would be directly involved in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.”

Recall that under RFRA, a threshold question is whether the person's religious belief are sincerely held.  Hobby Lobby having determined that a company's major shareholder's belief is the relevant one, the EEOC conceded that the "Funeral Home's religious beliefs are sincerely held."  The next question is whether the neutral law of general applicability - - - here, Title VII - - - is a substantial burden on the person's religious beliefs.  The district judge found that allowing an employee to wear a skirt would impose a substantial burden on the ability of Rost to conduct his business in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs and that the economic consequences of back pay would be "severe."  The burden then shifts in RFRA to the government to satisfy strict scrutiny as well as a least restrictive means requirement.  Recall that the stated purpose of Congress in passing RFRA was to "restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner" (1964),  which Congress believed the Court had departed from in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), although Congress also added the "least restrictive means" language.

And in his Harris Funeral Homes decision, Judge Cox ultimately relied on the least restrictive means requirement. However, first Judge Cox treated the traditional strict scrutiny questions.  Judge Cox assumed "without deciding" that the EEOC had a compelling governmental interest, although Judge Cox expressed doubts whether this was true.  Indeed, Judge Cox interpreted the passage in Hobby Lobby stating that the decision provided "no such shield" to equal employment laws (and thus refuting a claim made by the dissent) as essentially dicta:

This Court does not read that paragraph as indicating that a RFRA defense can never prevail as a defense to Title VII or that Title VII is exempt from the focused analysis set forth by the majority. If that were the case, the majority would presumably have said so. It did not.

Moreover, Judge Cox relied on Hobby Lobby to contend that a general interest in ending employment discrimination is not sufficient, it must be focused on the particular person burdened: "even if the Government can show that the law is in furtherance of a generalized or broad compelling interest, it must still demonstrate the compelling interest is satisfied through application of the law to the Funeral Home under the facts of this case." (italics in original).  Although Judge Cox wrote that he "fails to see how the EEOC has met its requisite 'to the person'-focused showing," he nevertheless stated he would assume it was met.

As to the least restrictive means, Judge Cox's solution is a gender-neutral dress code:

Yet the EEOC has not challenged the Funeral Home’s sex-specific dress code, that requires female employees to wear a skirt-suit and requires male employees to wear a suit with pants and a neck tie, in this action. If the EEOC were truly interested in eliminating gender stereotypes as to clothing in the workplace, it presumably would have attempted to do so.

Rather than challenge the sex-specific dress code, the EEOC takes the position that Stephens has the right, under Title VII, to “dress as a woman” or wear “female clothing” while working at the Funeral Home. That is, the EEOC wants Stephens to be permitted to dress in a stereotypical feminine manner (wearing a skirt-suit), in order to express Stephens’s gender identity.

If the EEOC truly has a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that Stephens is not subject to gender stereotypes in the workplace in terms of required clothing at the Funeral Home, couldn’t the EEOC propose a gender-neutral dress code (dark-colored suit, consisting of a matching business jacket and pants, but without a neck tie) as a reasonable accommodation that would be a less restrictive means of furthering that goal under the facts presented here? Both women and men wear professional-looking pants and pants-suits in the workplace in this country, and do so across virtually all professions.

[footnotes omitted].

Of course, the courts have not ruled favorably on challenges to sex-specific dress and grooming codes in the employment context. 

Interestingly, Judge Cox also rejected the EEOC's gender discrimination claim based on the funeral home company's clothing allowance policy: there is a monetary clothing allowance to male employees but not female employees.  Judge Cox found that this issue was not properly brought by the EEOC. 

The EEOC is sure to appeal.  If individual employers can claim exemptions to Title VII under RFRA, it could have widespread consequences.

Although it is also possible that a new Congress could amend RFRA.

 [image via]

August 18, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Texas Attorney General Opinion: Prayer to Start Court Is Constitutional

Controversial Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion today that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause is not violated if court were opened with a prayer.  He stated:

A court would likely conclude that a Justice of the Peace's practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain as you describe is sufficiently similar to the facts in Galloway such that the practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Galloway is the United States Supreme Court's sharply divided 2014 opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway which involved a town board meeting. Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court in Galloway repeated referred to the issue as whether the "legislative prayer" approved by the Court in Marsh v. Chambers (1983) as part of a historical practice extended to a local legislature, despite the fact that some non-legislative functions occurred at the town board.  In the dissent for four Justices, Justice Kagan essentially argued that a prayer at the beginning of a trial was clearly unconstitutional.  Indeed, in his separate concurring opinion, Justice Alito seemingly agreed:

I am troubled by the message that some readers may take from the principal dissent’s rhetoric and its highly imaginative hypotheticals. For example, the principal dissent conjures up the image of a litigant awaiting trial who is asked by the presiding judge to rise for a Christian prayer, of an official at a polling place who conveys the expectation that citizens wishing to vote make the sign of the cross before casting their ballots, and of an immigrant seeking naturalization who is asked to bow her head and recite a Christian prayer. Although I do not suggest that the implication is intentional, I am concerned that at least some readers will take these hypotheticals as a warning that this is where today’s decision leads—to a country in which religious minorities are denied the equal benefits of citizenship.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All that the Court does today is to allow a town to follow a practice that we have previously held is permissible for Congress and state legislatures. In seeming to suggest otherwise, the principal dissent goes far astray.

At least for Attorney General Ken Paxton,  Justice Kagan's hypothetical was not as "highly imaginative" as Justice Alito averred.  Paxton's opinion recognizes that the only United States Circuit court opinion to directly consider the issue, North Carolina Civil Liberties Union Legal Found. v. Constangy (4th Cir. 1991), found opening court with prayers unconstitutional, but Paxton opines "other courts deciding the issue may disagree with Constangy that prayer in judicial settings lacks historical foundation."  Thus, Paxton states that "a Justice of the Peace's practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain," would  not violate the Establishment Clause.

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[image: Henry VIII at prayer with Black Book of the Garter via ]

 

August 15, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Requires Proof to Challenge Open Primary

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Democratic Party of Hawaii v. Nago that the plaintiff failed sufficiently to prove that Hawaii's open primary violated its First Amendment right of association. The ruling dismisses the case and keeps the state's open primary system in place.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii challenged Hawaii's open primary system as a facial violation of its associational rights. But the Party declined to submit evidence in support (showing, for example, that cross-over primary voters would influence the positions of candidates and result in candidates not supported by the Democrats), and maintained its position that the courts could decide the claim as a pure matter of law.

The courts disagreed. The Ninth Circuit said that the plaintiff had to submit proof to show that an open primary system infringed on associational rights--that the claim turns on a question of fact. And because the Democrats failed to provide any proof, their facial challenge had to fail.

August 15, 2016 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Officer's Allegations of Misconduct are Protected Speech

The Seventh Circuit ruled today in Kristofek v. Village of Orland Hills that a police officer's allegation of official misconduct in the higher ranks was protected speech under the First Amendment.

The ruling reverses the district court on the point and on its companion ruling that the police chief enjoyed qualified immunity. But the court rejected the officer's municipal liability claim.

The case arose when a part-time police officer, Kristofek, complained to colleagues and then to the FBI that a driver that he cited and detained may have been released, and charges dropped, because of official misconduct. (The driver's mother, a former township trustee, successfully intervened with local politicians and the police on behalf of her son. Kristofek thought that this might constitute official misconduct, based on a misconduct training that he attended.) Police Chief Scully then fired Kristofek.

Kristofek sued, arguing that his termination in retaliation for protected speech violated the First Amendment, and that the township was liable under Monell. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.

The Seventh Circuit reversed on the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that Kristofek spoke as a private citizen on a matter of public concern when he complained to his colleagues and to the FBI, and that the Pickering balance favored his speech. The court also denied qualified immunity to Scully.

But the court rejected Kristofek's Monell claim, because Scully didn't have authority to unilaterally fire Kristofek or to set department firing policy.

The ruling sends the case back for proceedings consistent with the opinion. But it also assigns the case to a new judge.

August 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Court Boots Case by Libertarians and Greens to Participate in Presidential Debates

Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed a case by the Libertarian and Greens against the Commission on Presidential Debates and others challenging their exclusion from the 2012 presidential debates and seeking to participate in the 2016 debates.

The ruling is hardly a surprise, despite the plaintiffs' mighty efforts to navigate well settled precedent.

The Libertarians and Greens argued that their exclusion under the Commission's 15% rule (a candidate needs 15% support in the polls to participate) violated antitrust laws and the First Amendment. But Judge Collyer held that they lacked standing, and that they failed to state a claim.

Judge Collyer said that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because their injury (lack of electoral support) was too speculative and was not traceable to Commission action (on the First Amendment claim) and because their injury wasn't a harm to the market (on the antitrust claim).

Judge Collyer went on to say that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim, because the Commission isn't a government actor subject to the First Amendment (on the free speech claim) and because they failed to allege an injury to competition in a commercial market (on the antitrust claim).

Given the plaintiffs' attempts to navigate well settled First Amendment law, Judge Collyer's ruling sometimes reads like a law exam answer--covering everything from the public function exception to the state actor doctrine, to right-to-access laws, to forum analysis, to the Jaybird primaries.

Despite the plaintiffs' efforts, however, they still lost. The ruling means that the Libertarians and Greens won't be at the 2016 presidential debates, at least not by court order.

August 8, 2016 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Daily Read: When Justices Scalia and Kennedy Referenced Donald Trump

Justice Ginsburg's comments about presidential candidate Donald Trump have caused controversy and invited comparisons with the late Justice Scalia's remarks and relationship with a sitting Vice President and his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving the VP which Scalia himself described as "heroic" in an interview. (Amy Howe for SCOTUSBlog has a great round-up of commentary on the controversy; Howard Bashman also has a good list).

But interestingly, Justice Scalia - - - as well as Justice Kennedy - - - broached the possibility of a Donald Trump presidential candidacy more than 25 years ago, in the 1989 oral arguments in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce.  The Court in Austin upheld the constitutionality of a Michigan statute that prohibited corporations, excluding media corporations, from using general treasury funds for independent expenditures in connection with state candidate elections, rejecting both First Amendment and Equal Protection claims, and recognizing a government interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in the political arena from large corporate treasuries.  Both Scalia and Kennedy dissented.  Twenty years later, the Court, 5-4, with Kennedy authoring the opinion and Scalia joining, overruled Austin in the controversial 2010 Citizens United v. FEC

Near the beginning of the Austin oral arguments, Justice Scalia uses Donald Trump, alluding to the wealth that would allow him to self-finance a campaign, as a comparison to corporate financing:

General Caruso, why is there a greater risk to the political process from an independent political expenditure by a family corporation, closely held corporation, eight family members, and they want to spend the corporation's money for a particular candidate whom they think will favor their business.

That... that is prohibited by this.

But if Donald Trump wants to come in and spend as much money as he likes, that is perfectly all right.

Why wouldn't it make much more sense, if you are worried about the problem, to establish an amount of money as the criterion?

A few moments later, Kennedy follows:

All right.

Then it... it seems to me that Justice Scalia's question indicates that you have to give a specific reason why a corporation of that type presents more [of] a danger than Donald Trump, and I didn't really hear the answer to that question.

Louis J. Caruso:  Well, the thing of it is--

Anthony M. Kennedy:  And it has to be answered in the terms of a compelling interest that is narrowly tailored.

 Did Justice Kennedy actually call Donald Trump a "danger" in 1989?

 

h/t Navid Khazanei

July 14, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ninth Circuit Upholds L.A.'s Mobile Billboard Ordinances Against First Amendment Challenge

In its opinion in Lone Star Security and Video v. City of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit upheld L.A.'s mobile billboard ordinances against a First Amendment challenge distinguishing the United States Supreme Court's 2015 Reed v. Town of Gilbert

Recall that in Reed, Justice Kagan separately concurred in the unanimous decision to warn that strict scrutiny was not always appropriate and that "we may do well to relax our guard so that 'entirely reasonable' laws imperiled by strict scrutiny can survive."  Here, it seems that the Ninth Circuit panel has taken that advice, applying the relaxed standard of time, place, and manner doctrine rather than content-discrimination meriting strict scrutiny.

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Image via
[It seems that this van would not violate the L.A. ordinances]

The L.A. ordinances are directed at "advertising signs" on vehicles or attached to vehicles.  Signs on vehicles - - - painted or permanently affixed - - - are allowed as long as they do not extend beyond the vehicle or make the vehicle unsafe.  Signs that attached to non-motorized vehicles, such as those on standalone trailers, are prohibited from parking on city streets.

Judge Mary Murguia, writing for the unanimous panel, concluded that the ordinances applicability to "advertising" did not render the ordinances content-based.  The opinion relied on a state case that construed advertising as displaying any message to the public rather than the content of that message and upheld an ordinance as applied to a nonprofit organization protesting animal cruelty.  Moreover,

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Reed does not alter our conclusion. Unlike Reed, the mobile billboard ordinances do not single out a specific subject matter for differential treatment, nor is any kind of mobile billboard exempted from regulation based on its content. There has been no suggestion that the ordinances apply differently to Lone Star Security’s political endorsements than to its commercial promotional campaigns, for example. Rather, an officer seeking to enforce the non-motorized billboard ordinances must decide only whether an offending vehicle constitutes a prohibited “advertising display” because its primary purpose is to display messages, as opposed to transporting passengers or carrying cargo. . . . In the case of the motorized billboard ordinance, an enforcing officer would simply need to distinguish between signs that are permanent or non-permanent, and larger or smaller than the vehicles to which the signs are affixed to determine whether the vehicle violates the ordinance.

[ellipses added; citations omitted].  Once having determined the correct standard was not strict scrutiny, the panel easily found that the ordinances survived review.

The parties do not dispute that the cities’ stated interests in traffic control, public safety, and aesthetics are sufficiently weighty to justify content-neutral, time, place, or manner restrictions on speech, nor could they.

As for the "narrow tailoring" required, the panel found that none of the ordinances were broader than necessary.  Additionally, the panel found that there were ample alternative channels for communication, including advertising. 

Appellants are free to disseminate their messages through myriad other channels, such as stationary billboards, bus benches, flyers, newspapers, or handbills. Appellants may also paint signs on vehicles and attach decals or bumper stickers. Although mobile billboards are a unique mode of communication, nothing in the record suggests that Appellants’ overall “ability to communicate effectively is threatened.”

The last quotation is from the United States Supreme Court's City of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent (1984), on which Judge Murguia heavily relied.  However, for Judge John Owens, Taxpayers for Vincent has its own flaws. In a brief concurrence, Judge Owens suggested that the United States Supreme Court should take a "second look" at Taxpayers for Vincent.

This case is about ugly signs on vehicles, and no doubt I would not want these vehicles and their signs parked in front of my house. But under the ordinances at issue, a car with equally ugly decals—including a decal of a vehicle with an ugly sign—would not “go to jail,” but instead treat my curb like the upper left corner of a Monopoly board.

If “aesthetics” are to play a part in speech restriction, then such aesthetics should apply equally, decal or sign. Yet under Taxpayers for Vincent, the Court rejected the very point that I now make. See 466 U.S. 810–12 (rejecting the Ninth Circuit’s holding that “a prohibition against the use of unattractive signs cannot be justified on esthetic grounds if it fails to apply to all equally unattractive signs wherever they might be located”). I think our court was right then, and the Supreme Court should reconsider this portion of Taxpayers for Vincent. As it currently stands, politicians can use Taxpayers for Vincent and its beholderish “aesthetics” to covertly ensure homogeneous thinking and political discourse. That is a dimension we should avoid. See The Twilight Zone: Eye of the Beholder (CBS television broadcast Nov. 11, 1960).

Judge Owens was not part of the Ninth Circuit panel that the Court reversed, although the third member of this Ninth Circuit panel - - - Judge Stephen Reinhardt - - - was.  Judge Reinhardt, born in 1931, may also have seen the original episode of The Twilight Zone to which Judge Owens, born more than a decade after its original airing, refers.

 

 

 

 

July 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi Law Seeking to Protect LGBT Discrimination

In a 60 page opinion in Barber v. Bryant, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves (pictured below) found Mississippi HB 1523, set to become effective July 1, constitutionally problematical under both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and thus preliminary enjoined its enforcement.

The bill, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," sought to insulate the specific "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" that:
(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

Judge Reeves characterized HB 1523 as a predictable overreaction to the Court's same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges a year ago.  In discussing the debates around the HB 152 and its texts, Judge Reeves also noted that the challenges to HB 1523 were also predictable, providing his rationale for consolidating the four cases.

Judge Reeves then considered standing of the various plaintiffs as well as Eleventh Amendment immunity, followed by the established preliminary injunction standards which have at their heart the "substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

On the Equal Protection claim, Judge Reeves relied on Romer v. Evans, and found that the legislative history established animus in intent:

The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status.

CarltonReeves
Judge Carlton Reeves via

Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect.  Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed  with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest."  But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523."  Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."

On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:

The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.

Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.

[citations omitted].

 Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.

 

July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cleveland RNC Convention Protest Zone Challenged

On behalf of Citizens for Trump, the ACLU has filed a complaint against the City of Cleveland for its Event Zone Permit Regulations, arguing that the regulations and the delayed permit processing, violate the First Amendment, as well as the Ohio Constitution and the Due Process Clause.

Central to the First Amendment claim is the contention that the "event zone" is far too large and 

apply far beyond the part of the city where the Convention activities will take place, and instead encompass a 3.3-square mile expanse that includes business districts and neighborhoods where people live, sleep and conduct their daily activities.

Cleveland zone

Additionally, the complaint alleges that the permitting regulations are unduly restrictive, limited in number, space, and time.  ("The City will not issue any permits for any kind of public gathering or parade in the Event Zone throughout the Convention period, except for one designated parade route that lies along the southern border of the Zone. The City will only allow permit holders to use that route for 50 minutes each, and only 18 of these 50-minute parade slots are available during the entire four-day Convention."

The Cleveland regulations ban a host of dangerous items within the zone.  This includes firearms, and interestingly guns are banned in the convention arena itself, a stance that has attracted some controversy given the Second Amendment interpretations by the RNC.  However, the ban in the zone extends beyond explosives, drones, fireworks, and rockets, to other less predictable items such as aerosol cans, locks, ladders, canned goods, and tennis balls.  There is an exemption for persons who live or work in the event zone, or are on law enforcement or medical duty.

Nevertheless, the ACLU challenge may be a difficult one. The district judge considering this challenge will undoubtedly be aware that the RNC 2016 convention is predicted to be volatile - - - inside and out. The doctrine on free speech zones and protest zones has been increasingly accepted by the courts with deference to the government.   Recall Wood v. Moss in which the United States Supreme Court unanimously if implicitly validated free speech zones used in a Presidential appearance.  While it was a Bivens action including a claim of qualified immunity, the Court importantly also rejected the claim of viewpoint discrimination - - - that the Secret Service’s manner of “zoning” the protestors discriminating against anti-Bush demonstrators and in favor of pro-Bush demonstrators. The 2004 RNC convention in New York City also had its share of First Amendment litigation, with the Second Circuit upholding the constitutionality of various arrests, again against a claim for damages.

Some good reporting by Eric Heisig and Andrew Tobias of cleveland.com; expect more as the Republic National Convention approaches, July 18-21, in Cleveland.

 

June 20, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federalism, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Second Circuit Holds No First Amendment Claim for Prisoner's Journalistic Publication

Daniel McGowan was incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), but had been transferred to the Brooklyn House Residential Reentry Center (“RRC”) near the end of his sentence with work passes and other privileges.  McGowan is well known as an environmental activist and featured prominently in the 2011 documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. 

While at RCC in April 2013, McGowan published an article on Huffington Post entitled "Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech."  This article caused the RCC manager to essentially revoke the RRC status and remand McGowan back to the Bureau of Prisons - - - in solitary confinement -  - - for an infraction of a regulation that provided “an inmate currently confined in an institution may not be employed or act as a reporter or publish under a byline.”

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Daniel McGowan via

But this "byline regulation" had been declared unconstitutional by a federal district court, Jordan v. Pugh, 504 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1124 (D. Colo. 2007).  Soon thereafter, the BOP had instructed staff not to enforce it.  In 2010, the BOP issued an interim regulation rescinding the byline regulation; in 2012 it issued the final rule.

McGowan's lawyers soon figured out the byline regulation under which he had been charged was no longer in force and McGowan was returned to the RRC.

McGowan sued the RCC personnel for a violation of the First Amendment, but the Second Circuit, affirming the district judge, rejected the claim in its opinion in McGowan v. United States, concluding that the BOP was insulated by qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity protects the government from liability for violation of a constitutional right unless that right was "clearly established" at the time of the violation.  Here, despite the conclusion of a district judge six years prior that the byline regulation was unconstitutional and the rescission of the byline regulation by the BOP, the Second Circuit held that the right the byline regulation infringed was not clearly established:

We conclude that, at the time the alleged violation occurred, our case law did not clearly establish that McGowan had a First Amendment right to publish his article. The Supreme Court has held that “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). This test is “particularly deferential to the informed discretion of corrections officials” where “accommodation of an asserted right will have a significant ‘ripple effect’ on fellow inmates or on prison staff.” Id. at 90. For example, the Supreme Court has upheld “proscriptions of media interviews with individual inmates, prohibitions on the activities of a prisoners’ labor union, and restrictions on inmate‐to‐inmate written correspondence.” Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001) (citations omitted).

In short, the " only authority that McGowan has identified that involved expression similar to that at issue in this case is a district court opinion, which, of course, is not binding."

The court also rejected claims sounding in tort regarding the BOP's failure to follow its own regulations.

Thus, McGowan has no remedy for the BOP enforcing a rescinded and it seems unconstitutional regulation that caused his removal from a work program to solitary confinement.

June 8, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Daily Read: Clay v. United States (1971)

With the reported death of Muhammad Ali, f/k/a Cassius Clay, a look back at Clay v. United States (1971) seems appropriate. 

In Clay, the Court reversed Ali's conviction for "willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces." 

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Bust photographic portrait of Muhammad Ali in 1967. World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg via

The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali's claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the "religious" requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970).  The Department of Justice had stated:

‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant's claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’

However, the Department of Justice abandoned that argument before the United States Supreme Court:

In this Court the Government has now fully conceded that the petitioner's beliefs are based upon ‘religious training and belief,’ as defined in United States v. Seeger,  ‘There is no dispute that petitioner's professed beliefs were founded on basic tenets of the Muslim religion, as he understood them, and derived in substantial part from his devotion to Allah as the Supreme Being. Thus, under this Court's decision in United States v. Seeger, his claim unquestionably was within the ‘religious training and belief’ clause of the exemption provision.' [quoting the DOJ Brief].  This concession is clearly correct. For the record shows that the petitioner's beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them. They are surely no less religiously based than those of the three registrants before this Court in Seeger. See also Welsh v. United States.

[citations and footnote omitted]

A unanimous Supreme Court thus reversed the conviction in a per curiam opinion. (Thurgood Marshall, who had been Solicitor General, recused himself).

Justice William Douglas, in his inimitable style, concurred separately with a discourse on the Koran and the meaning of “jihad.” Douglas concluded:"What Clay's testimony adds up to is that he believes only in war as sanctioned by the Koran, that is to say, a religious war against nonbelievers. All other wars are unjust."

Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America, the 2000 book by Howard Bingham and Max Wallace and subsequent 2013 HBO televised drama center on the litigation.

 

 

June 4, 2016 in Books, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Sports, Supreme Court (US), Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ninth Circuit Revives Student Group's First Amendment Claim

The Ninth Circuit yesterday revived a student group's First Amendment retaliation complaint against the Arizona Board of Regents for pulling the plug on the group's funding in response to the group's public advocacy.

The ruling keeps this free speech case alive and sends it back to the district court.

The case arose when the Arizona Students' Association used its student-generated fees to push a ballot initiative that would increase funding for public education. In response, the state Board of Regents, which collected the fees and distributed them to the ASA, decided to withhold the fees that it already collected for the Spring 2013 semester and to make it harder for the ASA to collect future fees.

The ASA sued, but the district court dismissed the case. The court said that the Board enjoyed immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and, in any event, the complaint failed to state a claim.

The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that the ASA could (and did) state a Young claim for injunctive relief, but that the group failed to name individual Board members, as required under Young. The court said that the lower court should have granted ASA's motion to amend its complaint in order to name individuals and to comply with Young.

As to the merits, the appeals court ruled that ASA stated a plausible First Amendment retaliation claim. The court rejected the arguments that the Board had no obligation to pay for ASA's speech in the first place and that the fees were not a valuable government benefit:

ABOR had no affirmative obligation to collect or remit the ASA fee, but having done so for fifteen years at no cost, ABOR could not deprive the ASA of the benefit of its fee collection and remittance services in retaliation for the ASA's exercise of its First Amendment rights. ABOR's fee collection falls within the range of government benefits we have previously recognized as sufficiently valuable to give rise to a retaliation claim. Indeed, the ASA alleged that its student fees were allocated to its efforts to exercise core political speech. As we have previously held in other First Amendment retaliation cases, and as we now hold in this case, the collection and remittance of funds is a valuable government benefit, and a change in policy undertaken for retaliatory purposes that results in the deprivation of those funds implicates the First Amendment.

June 2, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

D.C. Circuit Rules Against Serbian PM Supporter in Defamation Suit

The D.C. Circuit ruled in Jankovic v. International Crisis Group that a supporter of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic failed to make out a defamation case against the International Crisis Group for critical statements in an ICG report.

The ruling means that plaintiff Milan Jankovic's case against the ICG is dismissed. (Jankovic is also known as Philip Zepter.)

Zepter, a prominent Serbian businessman, sued the ICG for defamation after the organization published a report that said that Zepter was a member of the "New Serbian Oligarchy" and that he was "associated with the Milosevic regime and benefited from it directly." The ICG report also said that individuals like Zepter continued to be in positions of power and to enjoy access to public resources, and that few of the "crony companies" had been subject to legal action, despite promises by post-Milosevic reformers. The district court concluded that a reasonable reader could construe the statements as saying that Zepter was a crony of Milosevic and supported the regime in exchange for favorable treatment.

As an initial matter, the D.C. Circuit applied its three-part rule and concluded that Zepter was a limited-purpose public figure. The court said that (1) the controversy was public, (2) Zepter played a significant role in it, and (3) the defamatory statement was germane to Zepter's participation. As to (2), the court said that "[t]he evidence . . . shows that [Zepter] was an outspoken supporter, financial backer, and advisor of Prime Minister Djindjic [who] paid over $100,000 to a lobbyist to support [Djindjic's] effort to improve relations between the United States and Serbia." "The evidence shows that Zepter had voluntarily thrust himself into ensuring that Serbia underwent reforms in the post-Milosevic era."

If there seems to be a disconnect between Zepter's role as a Djindjic supporter and a Milosevic crony, here's what the court said: "Yet even if Zepter was an important figure in the Serbian reform effort mainly due to his relationship with Prime Minister Djindjic, his relationship to Milosevic is relevant to Zepter's role in the controversy. Linking Zepter to Milosevic would be relevant to understanding Zepter's role and why he wanted to be involved in the reform effort led by Prime Minister Djindjic."

The court went on to say that Zepter failed to show evidence of actual malice. "What is still missing is evidence that ICG had 'serious doubts' about the truth of the defamatory statement or that it published the statement with a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity, such that ICG acted with reckless disregard for the statement's truth."

The ruling ends Zepter's case against the ICG.

May 10, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Base Campaign Contribution Limit Challenge Headed to Full D.C. Circuit

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Holmes v. FEC that a lower court erred in not certifying a challenge to federal base contribution limits to the en banc D.C. Circuit.

The ruling means that the full D.C. Circuit will take up the question whether federal base contribution limits violate the First Amendment.

The case arose when the plaintiffs challenged the federal base contribution limit of $2,600 "per election" as violating free speech. They wanted to contribute $5,200 to a congressional candidate in the general election, but the "per election" limit prohibited this. (They could have contributed $2,600 in the primary, then another $2,600 in the general, but they didn't want to contribute in the primary.) They argued that language in the plurality opinion in McCutcheon supported their claim: "Congress's selection of a $5,200 base limit [the combined limit for a primary and general election, according to the plaintiffs] indicates its belief that contributions of that amount or less do not create a cognizable risk of corruption."

The district court declined to certify the question to the D.C. Circuit, because the plaintiffs' argument contradicted "settled law," that is, Supreme Court precedent.

The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said,

We therefore do not think a district court may decline to certify a constitutional question simply because the plaintiff is arguing against Supreme Court precedent so long as the plaintiff mounts a non-frivolous argument in favor of overturning that precedent. That the plaintiff will be fighting a losing battle in the lower courts does not necessarily make the question "obviously frivolous," or "wholly insubstantial," or "obviously without merit." The plaintiff has to raise the question to ensure that it is preserved for Supreme Court review. And certifying the question fulfills Section 30110's evident purpose of accelerating potential Supreme Court review.

At the same time, the court declined to order certification for a related Fifth Amendment claim against base limits. The court said that this claim was based on regulations, not the Act, and therefore not subject to certification.

April 27, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Supreme Court Decides First Amendment Protects "Mistaken" Perception of Political Activity by Public Employee

In its relatively brief opinion in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, NJ, the Court decides that the First Amendment is applicable when a government employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee for perceived (but not actual) political activity.  Heffernan, a police officer, was demoted for his perceived political activity: he had decided to stay neutral but was seen picking up a mayoral campaign sign at the request of his "bedridden mother" to "replace a smaller one that had been stolen from her lawn" and was therefore demoted.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Breyer, began by noting that the First Amendment "generally prohibits"government officials from "dismissing or demoting an employee because of the employee’s engagement in constitutionally protected political activity" and posing the question of whether "the official’s factual mistake makes a critical legal difference." 

In determining that the factual mistake is not a critical legal difference, Breyer's 8 page opinion for the Court concludes that it is the "government's reason" that "counts."  Supporting this conclusion is the language of the First Amendment itself: 

Unlike, say, the Fourth Amendment, which begins by speaking of the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects . . . ,” the First Amendment begins by focusing upon the activity of the Government. It says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”

(This point was made by Justice Ginsburg in oral argument). Additionally, the conclusion focusing on the government's rationale supports the underlying rationale of the rule:

The constitutional harm at issue in the ordinary case consists in large part of discouraging employees—both the employee discharged (or demoted) and his or her colleagues—from engaging in protected activities . . . . The upshot is that a discharge or demotion based upon an employer’s belief that the employee has engaged in protected activity can cause the same kind, and degree, of constitutional harm whether that belief does or does not rest upon a factual mistake.

Finally, Breyer's opinion for the Court noted that the recognition of mistaken employer beliefs will not open the floodgates (or as the Court phrases it "impose significant costs on the employer"), because "the employee will, if anything, find it more difficult to prove that motive, for the employee will have to point to more than his own conduct to show an employer’s intent to discharge or to demote him for engaging in what the employer (mistakenly) believes to have been different (and protected) activities."

In remanding the case, the Court did recognize that Heffernan may have been dismissed under a "different and neutral policy," but did not express its views on that issue.

Dissenting, Justice Thomas joined by Justice Alito - - - in an opinion as long as the one for the Court - - - stressed that Heffernan did not have a constitutional right that had been violated: "The mere fact that the government has acted unconstitutionally does not necessarily result in the violation of an individual’s constitutional rights, even when that individual has been injured." 

In oral argument, Justice Alito had described the issue as being "like a law school hypothetical."  The Court, however, has decisively answered the question in favor of construing the First Amendment to prohibit government "wrongs" rather than requiring the actual exercise of  individual "rights."

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 image via

April 26, 2016 in First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fifth Circuit Finds Local Federal Rule Violates First Amendment as Applied to Attorney

In its relatively brief but important opinion in In re William Goode, the Fifth Circuit found that Western District of Louisiana Local Criminal Rule 53.5 (“L. Crim. R. 53.5”), violated the First Amendment as applied to Goode.

The rule provides:

During the trial of any criminal matter, including the period of selection of the jury, no lawyer associated with the prosecution or defense shall give or authorize any extrajudicial statement or interview, relating to the trial or the parties or issues in the trial, for dissemination by any means of public communication, except that the lawyer may quote from or refer without comment to public records of the court in the case.

In Goode's situation, he was an attorney "associated" with the defense although not defense counsel in the criminal case. Instead, he was assisting the two defendants, both of whom were also attorneys. 

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image via

During the trial, one of the defendant attorneys  "suffered from a self-inflicted gunshot wound."  The prosecution stated it would not oppose a mistrial, but before the judge ordered a mistrial, Goode "gave interviews to two media outlets."  Goode contended he was under the belief that a mistrial would be granted and that a reporter had promised to hold the story until the mistrial was granted, although the story ran online before the mistrial was granted. The Chief Judge of the district later suspended Goode from practice in the district court for six months.

The Fifth Circuit discussed Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada (1991) as well as Fifth Circuit precedent that held that "prior restraints on trial participants must be narrowly tailored to only prohibit speech that has a “meaningful likelihood of materially impairing the court’s ability to conduct a fair trial.” and that the "prior restraint must also be the least restrictive means available."  The unanimous Fifth Circuit panel found that the application of the "expansive" Rule 53.5 that was applied to Goode was a prior restraint and was neither narrowly tailored nor the least restrictive means possible.

While the Fifth Circuit did not address the facial challenge and while Goode's situation has unique features, the Fifth Circuit's opinion casts the shadow of unconstitutionality on the local Rule 53.5.

April 18, 2016 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tenth Circuit: Utah's Ban on Polygamous Cohabitation and Marriage Stands

The Tenth Circuit has ruled that the Browns - - - of Sister Wives reality television fame - - - cannot challenge Utah's ban on polygamous cohabitation and marriage under Article III judicial power constraints.  In its opinion in Brown v. Buhman, the unanimous three judge panel found that the matter was moot. 

Recall that federal district judge Clark Waddoups finalized his conclusion from his previous opinion that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional. The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:

  •             (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
  •             (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
  •             (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

 [emphasis added].  Judge Waddoups concluded that the "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis."  This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:

Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit panel held that the district judge should not have addressed the constitutional claims because the case was moot.  Even assuming the Browns had standing when the complaint was filed, any credible threat of prosecution was made moot by a Utah County Attorney's Office (UCAO) 2012 policy which stated that "the UCAO will prosecute only those who (1) induce a partner to marry through misrepresentation or (2) are suspected of committing a collateral crime such as fraud or abuse."  The opinion stated that nothing "in the record" suggested that Browns fit into this category and additionally, there was an affirmation from the defendant that "the UCAO had 'determined that no other prosecutable crimes related to the bigamy allegation have been or are being committed by the Browns in Utah County as of the date of this declaration. ' ”

The opinion found that the "voluntary cessation" exception to mootness was not applicable because that was intended to prevent gamesmanship: a government actor could simply reenact the challenged policy after the litigation is dismissed. 

Yet the problem, of course, is that the statute remains "on the books" and the policy is simply not to enforce it except in limited cases.  The court rejected all of the Browns' arguments that the UCAO statement did not moot the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute including a precedential one; the possibility that a new Utah County Attorney could enforce the statute; the failure of defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, to renounce the statute's constitutionality; and the tactical motives of the defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, in adopting the policy.  The court stated:

The first point misreads the case law, the second is speculative, the third is minimally relevant, and the fourth may actually assure compliance with the UCAO Policy because any steps to reconsider would almost certainly provoke a new lawsuit against him. Such steps also would damage Mr. Buhman’s credibility as a public official and might even expose him to prosecution for perjury and contempt of federal court for violating his declaration. Assessing the veracity of the UCAO Policy must account for all relevant factors, which together show no credible threat of prosecution of the Browns.

Thus, like other criminal statutes that are said to have fallen into "desuetude," the statute seems immune from constitutional challenge.

In a very brief section, the court does note that the plaintiffs no longer live in Utah, but have moved to Nevada, another rationale supporting mootness.  The Nevada move is discussed in the video below featuring some of the children involved.

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexuality, Standing, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Union Fair Share Fees Survive, by Equally Divided Court

An equally divided Supreme Court today affirmed the Ninth Circuit's ruling upholding public-sector union fair-share fees against a First Amendment challenge. The one-sentence per curiam ruling said nothing on the merits.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, almost surely represented the end of public-sector union fair-share fees. The Court had sent a couple signals in recent Terms that it was prepared to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 case upholding fair-share fees, and oral arguments earlier this year suggested that this was the case to do it.

But with Justice Scalia's passing (after oral arguments in the case), the Court divided four to four, upholding the lower court, which upheld fair-share fees.

The ruling today leaves fair-share fees on the books--at least for now, unless and until Justice Scalia's replacement votes with the four traditional conservatives to overturn it in a future case. But the Court's more recent cases--the ones that teed up the challenge in Friedrichs--also stay on the books. So Abood and the Ninth Circuit ruling in Friedrichs still represent the law, but under Harris and Knox, Abood is still hanging by a thread.

The new justice will be the swing vote on this issue, and will say whether public-sector union fair-share fees stay, or go.

March 29, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)