Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Judge Christopher R. Cooper (D.D.C.) earlier this week in Rufer v. FEC granted a plaintiff's motion to send its First Amendment challenge to the restriction on contributions to political parties to the en banc D.C. Circuit for consideration. But in the same ruling, Judge Cooper denied a motion to temporarily enjoin the law.
The seemingly mixed ruling means that the court sees the challenge as both including "substantial, non-frivolous constitutional claims that are not clearly foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent" (thus meeting the statutory standard for appointment of an en banc circuit court under FECA) and "in tension with forty years of Supreme Court jurisprudence upholding contribution limits to political parties" (thus failing the likely-to-succeed-on-the-merits standard for a preliminary injunction).
In plain language, the ruling seems to reflect the court's view that while current Supreme Court doctrine supports contribution limits to political parties, that's likely to change.
He's probably right.
But Judge Cooper's decision is not a ruling on the merits. It only sends the constitutional question to the en banc D.C. Circuit ("after developing an appropriate factual record"), thus fast-tracking it to the Supreme Court, and presages the likely end result with this Supreme Court: the federal limit on contributions to political parties will almost surely go down.
The case was brought by the national and state Republicans and Libertarians challenging the federal restriction on base contributions to political parties. The plaintiffs argued that they could segregate contributions for independent expenditures in separate accounts, and therefore avoid quid pro quo corruption or its appearance--the two government interests that the Court has said justify contribution limits to candidates and political parties. Judge Cooper said it better:
This case sits at the confluence of two currents of First Amendment jurisprudence concerning federal campaign finance: the constitutional permissibility of limiting contributions to federal candidates and political parties, and the constitutional impermissibility of limiting contributions to independent entities whose campaign expenditures are not coordinated with candidates or parties. Plaintiffs rest their challenge on the latter current; the FEC resists it on the former.
Judge Cooper ruled that the plaintiffs' free speech challenge to the contribution limits raised significant enough questions to justify sending the issue to the en banc D.C. Circuit, a procedure available under FECA designed to get important issues quickly before a full circuit court and ultimately the Supreme Court. But at the same time, Judge Cooper denied a plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling that well settled (for now) Supreme Court precedent meant that the plaintiffs couldn't show that they were likely to succeed on the merits.
Taken together, the two sides of this ruling mean that the court understands the current state of the law, but can also read the tea leaves--which say that the law's likely to change.
Judge Cooper's decision isn't a ruling on the merits. Still, it fast-tracks the case to the en banc D.C. Circuit and then, inevitably, to the Supreme Court. It also presages the likely result in this Supreme Court: contribution limits to political parties will almost surely go down.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Can a city prohibit police officers from making monetary contributions to political campaigns, including contributions to their union's political action committee? The Third Circuit, in its opinion in Lodge No. 3, Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Philadelphia concludes that such a rule violates the First Amendment.
The history behind the prohibition is a fascinating one, which the court's opinion by Judge Thomas Hardiman discusses as great length because one "cannot understand" the prohibition without "reference to Philadelphia's efforts to combat patronage" given its unsavory history. As the court explains:
The nefarious relationship between Philadelphia’s Republican machine and its police force culminated in September 1917 with the scandal of the “Bloody Fifth” Ward, where officers beat an opposition candidate, terrorized his supporters, and killed a detective who attempted to intervene. The incident led to the arrest of the mayor and the conviction of six police officers, as well as public outcry for the insulation of the civic bureaucracy from politics. Amidst these calls for reform, in 1919 the Pennsylvania Assembly granted Philadelphia a new Charter, which enacted a series of reforms aimed at reducing corruption within government and the police department.
The present rule, adopted in 1951, prohibits political contributions by police officers as a method of combating corruption and promoting public confidence. The court analyzed the prohibition under United States v. National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), 513 U.S. 454 (1995), requiring the government "demonstrate that the recited harms are real, not merely conjectural, and that the regulation will in fact alleviate these harms in a direct and material way." The Third Circuit agreed with the district court, although not with much enthusiasm, that the recited harms were real. However, the Third Circuit disagreed with the district judge that the second prong was satisfied, holding that the regulation did not alleviate the harms in a sufficiently direct and material manner.
In part, the direct and material failure was based on the exclusive application to police officers:
The City also fails to persuade us why the contribution ban should apply only to the police, and not to the approximately 20,000 other individuals in its employ. The record shows that the Republican machine historically extracted political assessments from all civic employees: the practice was so pervasive that, in the early 20th century, the machine collected contributions from 94 percent of the city’s workforce. If the Charter ban’s purpose was to end such compulsory wage contributions, it is unclear why the City would enforce the ban only against the police. Moreover, the City has made no attempt to show that the Democratic Party’s recent dominance in Philadelphia politics was achieved through corruption.
As the court notes, the regulation also applied to firefighters, but the Philadelphia firefighters’ union "in a case remarkably similar to this one, successfully challenged the ban as an unconstitutional infringement on its members’ First Amendment rights" in 2003 and the city did not appeal. Moreover, the court notes that the city is "simultaneously condoning political activities by the police that have similar, if not more pernicious, implications" than the contribution bar.
The Third Circuit also relies on recent United States Supreme Court cases on campaign finance such as McCutcheon v. FEC and Citizens United v. FEC, gaining support for its conclusion that the regulation violates the First Amendment.
The opinion notes that the city has other ways to achieve its goals: "for example, the prohibition of automatic paycheck deductions, or greater enforcement of existing anti-solicitation measures." Even as it says it is "loath to disturb" a rule that has been in effect for decades given Philadelphia's history of corruption, the court makes clear that the rule has outlived its usefulness - - - and its constitutionality.
Monday, August 18, 2014
The Second Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Erie County, New York that a lower court's order sealing compliance reports on the treatment of prisoners in Erie County violated the First Amendment. The ruling means that intervenor New York Civil Liberties Union will have access to the compliance reports.
This First Amendment dispute arose out of an earlier case brought by the United States against Erie County, New York, over the County's treatment of its prisoners. In particular, the government alleged that Erie County failed to protect inmates from harm, failed to provide them adequate mental health care or medical care, and failed to engage in adequate suicide prevention.
The district court approved a settlement in that earlier case that included the appointment of compliance consultants. Pursuant to the settlement, the consultants would file written reports with the court every six months on the County's progress, or not, in remedying the issues that led to the suit and settlement. The court dismissed the suit but retained jurisdiction until the terms of the settlement were fulfilled. The settlement agreement allowed either party to move to reopen the case at any time ("should issues requring [the] Court's intervention arise"), and either party could move for relief, or the court could issue relief itself. The County moved, and the court ordered, that the reports be sealed.
The NYCLU moved to intervene and unseal the compliance reports. The district court granted the motion to intervene, but denied the motion to unseal the reports, ruling that they were akin to settlement negotiation documents and therefore not subject to the First Amendment right of access to judicial documents. The NYCLU appealed.
The Second Circuit reversed and ruled that the reports were covered by the First Amendment right of access. The court held that both experience and logic suggest that the reports ought to be available to the public, and that the County's only reason for maintaining the seal--that they are part of a settlement agreement--didn't have any relevance here, because, after all, the case already settled.
Here's the court:
Erie County wishes to keep the reports which measure its progress, or regress, under seal and, therefore, out of public view. Yet every aspect of this litigation is public. The United States Department of Justice is a public agency, which brought a claim before a public court . . . arguing that a public government, Erie County, failed to meet constitutional requirements in operating two public institutions, the Erie County correctional facilities. And, critically, although a settlement is now in place, the public court retains jurisdiction over the dispute, and indeed may be moved, or move itself, to reinstate civil proceedings. In a case where every aspect and angle is public, Erie County seeks, nonetheless, to keep the compliance reports under the darkness of a seal. But the First Amendment does not countenance Erie County's position. Neither experience nor logic supports sealing the documents, and the District Court erred in concluding otherwise.
Reversing the district judge's decision rendered more than 18 months ago which we discussed here, the Second Circuit's opinion in Central Rabbinical Congress v. NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene holds that the NYC regulation targeted at a certain circumcision practice is essentially one that as targeted at a certain religion and thus merits strict scrutiny under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.
The NYC regulation, §181.21, amended the NYC Health Code, by requiring specific consent and a warning for "oral suction" circumcision. Agreeing with the district judge, the Second Circuit rejected the claim that the regulation violated compelled speech doctrine. However, the unanimous panel, in an opinion authored by Judge Debra Ann Livingston, disagreed with the district judge and found that the regulation was not a neutral and generally applicable law.
The opening of the court's opinion is telling:
In Judaism, the “bris milah,” or ritual circumcision of infants, which has been practiced for millennia, celebrates a covenant with God and“derives explicitly from a commandment . . . in the Hebrew Bible.” 11 Encyclopedia of Religion, “Rites of Passage: Jewish Rites,” at 7818 (2d ed. 2005). As part of this ritual circumcision, some Orthodox Jews, particularly Satmar, Bobov, Lubavitch, and other Hasidic groups, perform direct oral suction of the circumcision wound in a ritual act known as metzitzah b’peh (“metzitzah b’peh” or “MBP”).
Relying on Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), the court reaches the conclusion that the
Regulation is not neutral because it purposefully and exclusively targets a religious practice for special burdens. And at least at this preliminary stage, the Regulation is not generally applicable either, because it is underinclusive in relation to its asserted secular goals: the Regulation pertains to religious conduct associated with a small percentage of HSV infection cases among infants, while leaving secular conduct associated with a larger percentage of such infection unaddressed.
Indeed, the court held that the question of whether the NYC Regulation singles out a specific religious practice is "simpler to address" than was true in Lukumi "in light of the Department’s own admission that metzitzah b’peh 'prompted' § 181.21 and that metzitzah b’peh is 'the only presently known conduct' covered by the Regulation."
The court notes that "the conclusion that the Regulation is subject to strict scrutiny does not mean that § 181.21 is constitutionally deficient, for strict scrutiny is not invariably fatal in the context of free exercise claims."
The Department has asserted interests that are substantial and may prove, on analysis, to be compelling. And the means it has chosen to address these interests (means that fall short of outright prohibition of MBP and that may further the goal of informed parental consent) may be appropriately tailored, albeit intrusive on a longstanding religious ritual. Mindful of the serious interests at stake on both sides, we express no view as to whether the plaintiffs have borne their burden of establishing a likelihood of success on the merits.
The court remanded, but denied the request for a stay of the enforcement of the regulation. The district judge's original 93 page order and opinion was largely devoted to the empirical evidence regarding the health effects of the practice; it looks as if she will be hearing the evidence on those very issues, but applying a heightened standard.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
ConLaw Profs Pen Letter Criticizing University of Illinois Rescission of Offer to Academic for Tweets
When University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign officials decided to rescind the offer of a tenured faculty appointment to Steven G. Salaita shortly before he was to begin, they must have known there would be controversy. Salaita himself has been no stranger to controversy while at Virginia Tech, but UI officials have focused on his recent tweets on the subject of Gaza.
While Salaita's area is not law, it's difficult not to be reminded of a similar situation involving Erwin Chemerinsky seven years ago. The new law school at UC-Irvine offered him a position as Dean but then rescinded it after reading his newest op-ed, this one criticising a plan by then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales regarding death row appeals.
There was much "outcry" over the Chemerinsky "rescission" (and of course Chemerinsky became Dean, a position he retains).
There is a good deal over Salaita. Peter Schmidt has a good discussion of the Salaita controversy for The Chronicle of Higher Education, with a follow up article noting that 300 scholars have vowed to boycott events at the university unless it rescinds its rescission.
Dorf and Katherine Franke have penned a five page Letter to the Chancellor of U of I from "scholars of free speech and constitutional law" discussing the First Amendment and urging the appointment be honored.
Faculty members who would like to be signatories should contact Katherine Franke by email: kfranke (AT) law.columbia.edu.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Third Circuit: Attorney Advertising Rule Regarding Excerpts from Judicial Opinions Violates First Amendment
The New Jersey Supreme Court's Guideline 3 governing attorney advertising provides:
An attorney or law firm may not include, on a website or other advertisement, a quotation or excerpt from a court opinion (oral or written) about the attorney’s abilities or legal services. An attorney may, however, present the full text of opinions, including those that discuss the attorney’s legal abilities, on a website or other advertisement.
The Third Circuit's opinion in Dwyer v. Cappell found this guideline violated the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech in a rather straightforward application of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 (1985). The court chose to analyze the regulation as one of mandated disclosure - - - the entire opinion must be provided - - - rather than one of prohibition, although the Guideline
bears characteristics of both categories. Yet we need not decide whether it is a restriction on speech or a disclosure requirement. This is because the Guideline is not reasonably related to preventing consumer deception and is unduly burdensome. Hence it is unconstitutional under even the less-stringent Zauderer standard of scrutiny.
The case arose because New Jersey attorney Andrew Dwyer, specializing in employee representation, ran afoul of Guideline 3 - - - which may have been specifically targeted at him - - - by using on his website language from judicial opinions in attorney fee award matters that duly assessed his competency. At bottom is the general concept of professional responsibility prohibiting judicial endorsement of attorneys, but in the context of fee award decisions, such assessment is explicitly required. One judge objected to the use of his comments in an opinion and Guideline 3 eventually resulted.
The Third Circuit implicitly rejected the notion that such excerpts were inherently misleading and noted that even if the excerpts were "potentially misleading to some persons," there is no explanation of how "Dwyer’s providing a complete judicial opinion somehow dispels this assumed threat of deception." Moreover, the Third Circuit found under Zauderer that the disclosure requirement was burdensome: accurately quoted material is not acceptable absent the full-length judicial opinion and even "a hyperlink to unquoted portions of the opinion fails the Guideline."
The Third Circuit's conclusion is well-founded in established First Amendment doctrine that robustly protects advertising, even by attorneys.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Here's the call for what looks like an important conference:
Call for Papers
The staff of the Lincoln Memorial University Law Review invites submissions related to its Spring 2015 Symposium entitled “The Snowden Effect: The Impact of Spilling National Secrets.” The Symposium will be held on Friday, January 30, 2015 at the LMU-Duncan School of Law in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.
The LMU Law Review’s goal for the Symposium is to facilitate discussion among scholars and practitioners regarding the implications of the national security disclosures by former government contractor Edward Snowden. Topics will include, but not necessarily be limited to: the protection of government sources and methods; Fourth Amendment and privacy issues; the effect of the Snowden disclosures and other such security leaks on U.S. foreign policy, particularly or relationships with our allies; surveillance state concerns; and the classification of government material.
The LMU Law Review will publish a dedicated symposium issue related to the Symposium’s theme. The Law Review welcomes submissions for this specially-themed issue, which will be comprised of several articles, notes, and essays bringing together leading experts on the theory, application, and scholarly analysis of these contemporary national security issues.
To be considered for publication in the symposium issue, please submit by October 15, 2014: (1) an abstract or a draft article; and (2) a curriculum vitae (CV). Participation in the Symposium is not a requirement for publication in the symposium issue. All materials should be submitted through the LMU Law Review’s website.
For more information contact the Editor in Chief of the law review at jacob.baggett (AT)lmunet.edu.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Eleventh Circuit: No Preliminary Injunction for Ordinance Aimed at Curbing Loud Sounds Outside Abortion Clinics
In its opinion in Pine v. City of West Palm Beach, a unanimous Eleventh Circuit panel affirmed the district judge's refusal to enjoin the enforcement of § 34-38 of the Code of the City of West Palm Beach which bans amplified sound within 100 feet of the property line of any health care facility.
The court held that the Sound Ordinance survived the First Amendment challenge as a valid time, place, or manner restriction on speech that is content-neutral, is narrowly tailored to advance the City’s substantial interest in protecting patients, and leaves open ample alternative avenues of communication, and further that it was not unconstitutional as applied to the abortion protesters.
The court relied upon Ward v. Rock Against Racism, which upheld a sound amplification regulation. It distinguished the Court's recent declaration of unconstitutionality of an abortion clinic buffer zone in McCullen v. Coakley:
This case raises issues sharply different from those addressed recently by the Supreme Court in McCullen. There, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibited activists from standing within thirty-five feet of the driveway or entrance of a reproductive health care facility. For a number of reasons, the Court held that the restriction was not narrowly tailored to the government’s interest in preventing obstructions and congestion outside of abortion clinics. The Court explained that the Massachusetts law “unnecessarily swe[pt] in innocent individuals and their speech” by “categorically exclud[ing] non-exempt individuals from the buffer zones.” Notably, Massachusetts had failed to pursue a variety of available, less-restrictive solutions for congestion problems. Finally, the law barred access to public sidewalks and ways, “areas historically open for speech and debate.” Massachusetts had taken “the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers.”
These considerations cut the other way in this case. Instead of casting a wide net that captures innocent speech, the Sound Ordinance targets only actions near health care facilities that produce types of noise that can endanger patients. In addition, here there are no less restrictive means: because the heart of the problem is loud, raucous, or disturbing noise, a restriction on that sound is narrowly tailored. Unlike in McCullen, the record here contains no evidence of feasible alternatives that protect patient health from such sound. Finally, the Sound Ordinance in no way prevents Petitioners from accessing public ways and sidewalks near the Center. They simply cannot create loud, raucous, or unreasonably disturbing noise while there.
[citations omitted]. The court had made clear that "the City’s noise control regulations indicate that the Sound Ordinance restriction on amplified sound applies only to 'loud and raucous noise, or any noise which unreasonably disturbs, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace, or safety' of others within a health care facility quiet zone." The court stated it the Sound Ordinance was not intended to have the "absurd" result that would prohibit "any electronic equipment that uses or produces amplified sound, from paging systems to administrators’ telephones to patient monitoring devices."
Thus construed, the court found that the Ordinance was not being enforced based on viewpoint when it was not enforced against "drive-through loudspeakers within the quiet zone by quick-service restaurants Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical." Instead, the protestors use of bullhorns was directly within the "loud and raucous noise" prohibition.
The court ended by emphasizing that the opinion was limited to the "extraordinary" remedy of a preliminary injunction and they plaintiffs were free to pursue a permanent injunction. But given that the court found that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate they had a likelihood of success on the First Amendment merits, the prospects for prevailing on those same First Amendment arguments are slight.
In a closely watched case with First Amendment implications, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Skinner held in an unanimous opinion that violent rap lyrics, written by a defendant before the events that led to his indictment, may not be admitted at his criminal trial as evidence of motive and intent.
The court's opinion takes the opportunity to explicitly outline the First Amendment issue:
The New Jersey Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appears in this case as amicus curiae on behalf of defendant. The ACLU asserts that defendant’s rap lyrics are a form of artistic expression and thus are entitled to heightened protection under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution. The ACLU emphasizes that defendant’s lyrics are not akin to a diary and therefore contain limited probative value. Moreover, because rap lyrics are often a vehicle for social and political commentary, the ALCU argues that admitting defendant’s lyrics would run the risk of chilling otherwise valuable speech. Accordingly, the ACLU urges the establishment of a strict guideline against the admissibility of expressive works in a criminal trial, in light of the First Amendment protections ordinarily afforded to such works. It urges that their admissibility should be limited to situations clearly indicating that the author engaged in the crimes about which he or she has written. In the ACLU’s view, to hold otherwise would unduly discourage, or even punish, lawful expression.
However, the remainder of the opinion does not explicitly engage with the First Amendment or free speech doctrine. Nevertheless, the court's ruling is infused with free speech perspectives. After articulating its holding under the NJ rules of evidence that "violent, profane, and disturbing rap lyrics that defendant wrote constituted highly prejudicial evidence against him that bore little or no probative value on any motive or intent behind the attempted murder offense with which he was charged," the court notes that the "use of the inflammatory contents of a person’s form of artistic self-expression as proof of the writer’s character, motive, or intent must be approached with caution."
The difficulty in identifying probative value in fictional or other forms of artistic self-expressive endeavors is that one cannot presume that, simply because an author has chosen to write about certain topics, he or she has acted in accordance with those views. One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song “I Shot the Sheriff,” actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. Defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment. In sum, we reject the proposition that probative evidence about a charged offense can be found in an individual’s artistic endeavors absent a strong nexus between specific details of the artistic composition and the circumstances of the offense for which the evidence is being adduced.
Again, while the rationale is firmly embedded in the evidentiary rules, the First Amendment perspectives are evident.
[image: Bob Marley via]
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday in Stop This Insanity, Inc., Employee Leadership Fund v. FEC that the federal restrictions on corporate PACs do not violate the First Amendment. But in the wake of Citizens United, which held that corporations didn't have to establish separate PACs to engage in political speech in the first place, the ruling probably won't much matter.
The case arose when Stop This Insanity, Inc., or "STII," a corporation, sought to establish a separate PAC to solicit and spend funds on political speech. But when STII realized that its PAC would be subject to federal regulations--in particular, restrictions on whom and when the PAC could solicit--it filed suit, arguing that the restrictions violated the First Amendment. On the other hand, STII did not complain (obviously) about the benefit its PAC received under federal regulations, that it did not have to disclose its fundraising expenses. The court summed up its claim:
Simply put, Stop This Insanity would like to use its segregated fund [its PAC] to solicit the entire public while concealing its expenses for such solicitation.
STII argued that Citizens United compelled this result. In particular, STII said that Citizens United prohibits restrictions based on distinctions between different organizational entities, and the regulations single out corporate PACs for restrictions on solicitation. STII claimed that the restrictions were therefore subject to the highest scrutiny, and failed.
The court disagreed. It said that the solicitation restrictions did not prevent a PAC from speaking (the way a corporation was prevented from speaking before Citizens United); instead, they simply regulated the speech in the nature of a disclosure. Moreover, the court noted that after Citizens United corporate PACs are functionally obsolete: they remain on the books, but they serve no particular purpose, because corporations can now spend on their own. Given that reality, restrictions on corporate PACs (which a corporation, like STII, voluntarily established) don't unduly restrict a corporation's speech, because the corporation itself can speak (with restrictions that "are less burdensome" than those on a corporate PAC). As the court said,
Despite the availability of a more robust option--at least, when it comes to independent expenditures--[STII] has decided to do things the hard way. And now, trapped in a snare it has fashioned for itself, STII decries its inability to use the [PAC] in the way it sees fit--without the limits Congress attached to the operation of these funds.
The ruling means that federal solicitation restrictions on corporate PACs stay on the books, at least unless and until the case is appealed.
But in practical terms the ruling probably won't mean much. That's because a corporation that wants to solicit and spend money for political speech today probably would opt for the more "robust option"--simply solicit and spend the money itself, the "less burdensome" way to do it--and not "do things the hard way" by establishing a corporate PAC. In other words, while corporate PACs and the restrictions on them stay on the books, it seems doubtful that any corporation today would use them for its political speech.
Friday, August 1, 2014
Affirming the opinion of United States District Judge Deborah Batts, the Second Circuit's opinion in American Atheists v. Port of Authority of NY and NJ held that there is no Establishment Clause violation when the National Museum at the former World Trade Center towers destroyed on September 11, often colloquially known as the "Ground Zero" Museum or the September 11 Museum, chose to display a large Latin cross.
Importantly, the cross is placed in the museum's Historical Exhibition in the section, “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,” as part of the September 11 historical narrative. On appeal, the American Atheists seemingly narrowed the original challenge and argued that the defendants "impermissibly promote Christianity in violation of the Establishment Clause and deny atheists equal protection of the laws by displaying The Cross at Ground Zero in the Museum unaccompanied by some item acknowledging that atheists were among the victims and rescuers on September 11."
The unanimous panel's 42 page opinion applies Lemon v. Kurtzman to the Establishment Clause issue and much more briefly considers the equal protection argument.
Here's the court's summary of its conclusion:
1. Displaying The Cross at Ground Zero in the National September 11 Museum does not violate the Establishment Clause because:
a. the stated purpose of displaying The Cross at Ground Zero to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy is genuine, and an objective observer would understand the purpose of the display to be secular;
b. an objective observer would not view the display as endorsing religion generally, or Christianity specifically, because it is part of an exhibit entitled “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero”; the exhibit includes various nonreligious as well as religious artifacts that people at Ground Zero used for solace; and the textual displays accompanying the cross communicate its historical significance within this larger context; and
c. there is no evidence that the static display of this genuine historic artifact excessively entangles the government with religion.
2. In the absence of any Establishment Clause violation or any evidence of discriminatory animus toward atheists, the Museum did not deny equal protection by displaying The Cross at Ground Zero and refusing plaintiffs’ request to fund an accompanying symbol commemorating atheists.
It would be doubtful if this case goes any further; the cross at the museum looks as if it is there to stay.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Supreme Court yesterday vacated the Ninth Circuit ruling over the weekend that ordered the delay of a scheduled execution until the condemned prisoner received details from the state about the method of execution.
Recall that the condemned prisoner, Joseph Rudolph Wood III, argued that the state's failure to provide him information violated his First Amendment right to receive information about the method of execution. The Ninth Circuit agreed--or at least agreed that he had a likelihood of success on the merits, or that he raised a "serious question" on the merits--and granted a preliminary injunction.
The Supreme Court's order vacates that ruling. It means that the execution can go forward without the information.
The order was short and unsigned, with no real legal analysis:
The application to vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granting a conditional preliminary injunction, presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, is granted. The district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Wood's motion for a preliminary injunction. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversing the district court and granting a conditional preliminary injunction is vacated.
Monday, July 21, 2014
The Ninth Circuit on Saturday ordered the delay of a scheduled execution until the condemned prisoner gets information about the two-drug cocktail that Arizona plans to use. The court ruled (on a motion for a preliminary injunction) that Joseph Rudolph Wood III had a likelihood of success on the merits, or that he raised a "serious question" on the merits, that the state's denial of information violated the First Amendment.
The order comes on the heels of a ruling last week by a California federal district judge that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. The court's opinion noted the recent botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio in recognizing the need for publicity and public scrutiny of methods of execution.
The court held that Wood likely had a First Amendment right to information about the cocktail. The court said that this right derived from the First Amendment right to information about different stages the criminal process, and in particular the right to view executions in California First Amendment Coalition, a Ninth Circuit case that says that "the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber . . . ."
The court also looked to historical practice in transparency in execution methods. It said that the "evidence does not conclusively establish a historical tradition of public access to the sources of lethal injection or the qualifications of executioners," but still
such exhaustiveness is not required at the preliminary injunction stage. Instead, we ask only whether Wood raises "serious questions" going to the merits.
Answer: Yes, he does.
The ruling means that Arizona has to provide more particular information about its method of lethal injection before it can execute Wood. The ruling is a victory for transparency in executions and will likely contribute to the growing public pressure against the death penalty.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a former teacher in the D.C. schools did not enjoy protection under the First Amendment after he was fired for sending an e-mail complaining about his principal's misrepresentation of student test scores to former Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
The teacher, Bruno Mpoy, had a long list of complaints against his principal, Donald Presswood, when he sent an e-mail to Rhee. Nearly all of these involved classroom conditions. But after Mpoy was fired (and undoubtedly aware of the first part of the Garcetti test and the D.C. Circuit's interpretation of it), he focused on this sentence in the e-mail:
Dr. Presswood, the principal of Ludlow Taylor, misrepresented students' performance and results on the DCCAS Alternative [the achievement test used to measure student learning and improvement].
Mpoy argued that this sentence was not written pursuant to his official responsibilities--and that he therefore jumped the first Garcetti hurdle by showing that he spoke "as a citizen." (As a threshold matter, in order for a public employee's speech to enjoy First Amendment protection, the employee must have spoken (1) as a citizen and (2) on a matter of public concern. Only then, if a plaintiff can so show, the court goes on to apply the free speech test, whether the government "had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public.")
The D.C. Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that Mpoy wrote this sentence in his capacity as an employee:
In [the context of the e-mail], the sentence about the misrepresentation of the students' results was also plainly a greivance about Presswood's interference with Mpoy's duty to assess and ensure the achievement of his students.
That means that Mpoy didn't even get out of the gate under Garcetti. No citizen speech; no protected speech; no First Amendment protection.
The court added a section to address the recently decided Lane v. Franks. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena," when testifying was outside the scope of the employee's "ordinary job responsibilities." The court considered the possibility that the adjective "ordinary" signalled a narrowing of the area of employee speech left unprotected by Garcetti.
But the court said that it didn't have to decide that; it ultimately didn't matter. That's because the school officials could reasonably believe that they could have fired Mpoy--and therefore enjoyed qualified immunity.
Monday, July 14, 2014
The Second Circuit ruled last week in Holland v. Goord that prison authorities substantially burdened a Muslim prisoner's free exercise of religion when they punished him for failing to complete a urine test within a three-hour window during fasting time for Ramadan. The plaintiff couldn't complete the test because he refused to drink water during his fast. (H/t to reader Jeff Wadsworth.)
The ruling means that the case goes back to the trial court to determine whether the prison authorities had a sufficient penalogical interest in requiring the urine test (and the water drinking, in order to facilitate the test) under Turner v. Safley. But that doesn't look good for the state: the Second Circuit noted that there was no good reason why the authorities couldn't administer the test (and require the plaintiff to drink water) after sundown (indeed, the plaintiff suggested this option himself). It also noted that the prison subsequently changed its own regulations to allow a religious accommodation to urine testing.
The Second Circuit rejected the plaintiff's invitation to disregard the "substantial burden" test from Employment Division v. Smith. Instead, the court ruled that the urine test met that requirement, drawing on its own cases saying that the denial of a religious meal is a substantial burden on religion.
The court also rejected the trial court's conclusion that the urine test and water drinking were mere de minimis burdens (because the plaintiff could have made up a drink of water during the fast with one extra day of fasting). The court said that the plaintiff sufficiently showed that this would have been a "grave sin," even if he could have made up for it.
Because the state changed its rules on urine testing to allow a religious accommodation, the court denied the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief under both his free exercise claim and his RLUIPA claim. The court rejected other claims, too. But it remanded the free exercise claim for determination whether the state had a sufficient penalogical interest in conducting the urine test the way that it did, and, if not (as is likely), for money damages.
Seventh Circuit Finds Indiana's Clergy-Only Marriage Solemnization Statute Violates the First Amendment
In its 11 page opinion today in Center for Inquiry v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk, a panel of the Seventh Circuit has held Indiana Code §31-11-6-1 violates the First Amendment. The provision specifies who can solemnize a marriage and includes "religious officials designated by religious groups but omits equivalent officials of secular groups such as humanist societies." The plaintiffs, a humanist group and a leader of the group deemed a "secular celebrant," were not allowed to solemnize a marriage unless they obtained clergy credentials or "called themselves a religion."
Judge Easterbrook, writing for the unanimous panel, stated that it is unconstitutional to make distinctions between "religious and secular beliefs that hold the same place in adherents’ lives," citing the well known conscientous objector cases of Welsh and Seeger, as well as Torasco v. Watkins, and the Seventh Circuit precedent regarding accommodations for atheists in prison. There is not, Easterbrook wrote, an "ability to favor religions over non-‐‑theistic groups that have moral stances that are equivalent to theistic ones except for non-‐‑belief in God or unwillingness to call themselves religions."
As for Indiana's argument that the humanists were not actually being excluded from solemnizing marriages under the statute, the court had this to say:
Adherents to faiths with clergy can be married in two steps: first they obtain a license, Ind. Code §31-11-4-1, and then they have the marriage solemnized by a priest or equivalent person in the list in §31-11-6-1. (Plaintiffs do not challenge the licensure statute, because religion is irrelevant to that procedure.) Humanists could achieve the same result in three steps: first get a license, then have a humanist celebrant perform a public ceremony appropriate to their beliefs, and finally have a clerk of court or similar functionary solemnize the marriage. That’s true enough—but it just restates the discrimination of which plaintiffs complain. Lutherans can solemnize their marriage in public ceremonies conducted by people who share their fundamental beliefs; humanists can’t. Humanists’ ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in a back office, does not address the injury of which plaintiffs complain.
Interestingly, the opinion also had something to say about the equal protection problems of the statutory scheme, noting that the distinctions between religions that have clergy and those that do not as well as "the state’s willingness to recognize marriages performed by hypocrites," violate the Equal Protection Clause:
It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a “religion.” It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the “values” of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.
The court found Indiana's reliance on the Supreme Court's most recent Establishment Clause decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway inapposite, easily distinguishing Galloway as not being about the regulation of private conduct as the Indiana solemnization statute was.
The decision could pave the way for other First Amendment challenges to solemnization statutes that provide a special status for religious clergy.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
In an emergency motion for a Temporary Restraining Order filed today in Hassan v. Obama in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the petitioner relies on Monday's controversial decision by the United States Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Petitioner, Imad Abdullah Hassan, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, invokes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to prevent the federal government from depriving him of " the right to participate in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan," a tenet of his religious faith.
As the motion outlines, the DC Circuit had previously held in Rasul v. Myers, 563 F.3d 527, 532-33 (D.C. Cir. 2009), that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not protected “person[s]” within the meaning of the RFRA. The court in Rasul "bypassed the dictionary definition of “person” and instead looked to prior case law prescribing the scope of the word “person” for purposes of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments— which did not, in the Rasul court’s view, apply to nonresident aliens."
However, the motion argues this is a "dead letter" after the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby which "eviscerates the reasoning in Rasul and makes clear that Petitioner, as a flesh-and-blood human being, is among the 'person[s]' protected by the RFRA." Indeed, the court in Rasul held that in RFRA Congress merely "intended to incorporate the standard governing free exercise claims that prevailed before the Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith," and that such claims did not include resident noncitizens. But in Hobby Lobby, the Justice Alito's opinion for the Court explicitly states:
the results would be absurd if RFRA merely restored this Court’s pre-Smith decisions in ossified form and did not allow a plaintiff to raise a RFRA claim unless that plaintiff fell within a category of plaintiffs one of whom had brought a free-exercise claim that this Court entertained in the years before Smith. For example, we are not aware of any pre-Smith case in which this Court entertained a free-exercise claim brought by a resident noncitizen. Are such persons also beyond RFRA’s protective reach simply because the Court never addressed their rights before Smith?
[Opinion at 33].
Thus, the motion argues that
a nonresident alien Guantánamo Bay detainee, who inarguably has constitutional rights in what is de facto sovereign U.S. territory, see Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), must also enjoy the protections extended by the RFRA.
Hobby Lobby leads inexorably to the conclusion that the nonresident alien detainees at Guantánamo Bay are “person[s]” protected by the RFRA. The Dictionary Act definition of “person” includes “individuals.” 1 U.S.C. § 1. The Dictionary Act does not confine “individuals” to U.S. citizens, just as it does not confine “corporations” to U.S. corporations; nor does it confine “individuals” to U.S. residents. The Guantánamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and- blood human beings, are surely “individuals,” and thus they are no less “person[s]” than are the for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby or the resident noncitizens whom Hobby Lobby gives as an example of persons to whom the RFRA must apply. The fact that the detainees are at Guantánamo Bay changes nothing, for Hobby Lobby makes clear that a “person” whose religious free exercise is burdened under color of law need not be a U.S. citizen or resident in order to enjoy the RFRA’s protections.
The application of Hobby Lobby to "persons" who are detainees at Guantánamo Bay might be an unforeseen consequence of the decision, but the motion makes a convincing argument that it is a logical one grounded in the Court's holding and language.
In its opinion in People v. Marquan M, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court), found that Albany Local Law 11 (2010) criminalizing cyberbullying was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The local law for Albany County criminalized cyberbullying against any "minor or person" (with "person" interestingly defined as including corporations) with cyberbullying defined as:
any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge Victoria Graffeo for four additional judges over a two-judge dissent, found that the law was overbroad under the First Amendment: "the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult."
The defendant and his actions here - - - a 15 year old who used Facebook to anonymously post "photographs of high-school classmates and other adolescents, with detailed descriptions of their alleged sexual practices and predilections, sexual partners and other types of personal information," with "vulgar and offensive" "descriptive captions" - - - were within the "cyberbullying" that the Local Law intended to proscribe. But even Albany County agreed that the local law was overbroad. However, the County argued that the severability clause of the local law should be employed to excise the word "person" so that the only covered victims were minors. But the court found that even that would not "cure all of the law's constitutional ills." The dissenters would have engaged in saving constructions.
In ruling that a local law intended to criminalize as a misdemeanor cyberbullying did not survive the First Amendment because it was overbroad, New York's highest court left open the possibility that a prohibition of cyberbullying could be more narrowly crafted to survive First Amendment review: "the First Amendment does not give defendant the right to engage in these activities."
However, the court's opinion offers little guidance about how such a law or policy should be drafted. New York's Dignity for All Students Act as amended in 2012 places the responsibility for developing "policies and procedures intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination" on school boards. While Albany's law was a general criminal statute, school boards will undoubtedly be considering Marquan M. as they review their current "cyberbullying" prohibitions in light of the First Amendment. They may also be recalling the Third Circuit's unhelpful intervention in a pair of "My Space" cases in which principals were arguably "bullied.
And undoubtedly, those interested in cyberbullying in and out of schools will be watching the "true threats on Facebook case," Elonis v. United States, to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next Term.
In an exceedingly brief per curiam opinion in Keating v. University of South Dakota, an Eighth Circuit panel reversed the conclusion of a district judge that the university's "civility code" was "impermissibly vague, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The university provision at issue provided:
Faculty members are responsible for discharging their instructional, scholarly and service duties civilly, constructively and in an informed manner. They must treat their colleagues, staff, students and visitors with respect, and they must comport themselves at all times, even when expressing disagreement or when engaging in pedagogical exercises, in ways that will preserve and strengthen the willingness to cooperate and to give or to accept instruction, guidance or assistance.
The plaintiff, a tenure-track physics professor, did not have his employment contract renewed because of a strained relationship with his supervisors, including becoming "quite angry" at a meeting, being the subject of a sexual harassment claim, and sending an email accusing his immediate supervisor of being a lying, back-stabbing sneak.
The panel held that although the "policy employs broad language, that alone does not necessarily prevent an ordinary person from recognizing that certain conduct will result in discharge or discipline." Instead,
the civility clause articulates a more comprehensive set of expectations that, taken together, provides employees meaningful notice of the conduct required by the policy. The outer contours of the civility clause perhaps are imprecise, but many instances of faculty misconduct would fall clearly within the clause’s proscriptions, thus precluding the conclusion that the policy is facially unconstitutional.
Moreover, the panel found as applied to Keating's conduct, the civility clause was not impermissibly vague.
The use of "civilty clauses" continues to be a contested issue on due process grounds as well as First Amendment grounds. Here, the Eighth Circuit provides a definitive stamp of approval to such a policy.
Monday, June 30, 2014
A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn that a state cannot require nonunionized home-healthcare workers, or personal assistants, in the state's Medicaid program to pay "fair share" union dues. The majority held that a fair-share-dues requirement for non-union members violates their First Amendment association rights.
The ruling is a victory for non-unionized home-healthcare workers, and for anti-union types generally. But on the other hand, the ruling did not go as far as it might have in striking public sector fair share requirements. The majority took another shot at public sector fair share requirements (it earlier took a shot in Knox), prompting the dissent to go to great lengths to defend the constitutionality of those requirements, and setting up those requirements (yet again) for reconsideration.
In other words, the majority strongly criticized Abood, but did not overrule it. The dissent vigorously defended it. We can expect more challenges, with the Court moving to overturn it. (Abood held that a state may require fair share fees for non-union members in a public sector union in the interests of preventing free-riding and labor peace.)
The majority (penned by Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) held that personal assistants were not full state employees--they're supervised principally by the individual clients they serve. Moreover, state law limits the union's role in representing them. As a result, the Court said that Abood's rationales don't apply, and declined to "extend" Abood. The Court applied "exacting scrutiny" and held that the state fair-share requirement failed.
The dissent (penned by Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor) disagreed that personal assistants were different than public employees for Abood purposes. Dissenters would have applied Abood in a straightforward way and upheld the state fair-share requirement.
But while the majority and dissent jousted over the status of personal assistants (in relation to public employees in Abood)--and while the majority ultimately hung its hat on its distinction between public employees and personal assistants--it was clear that the real struggle is over Abood itself. The majority left it hanging (once again) by a thread, while the dissent vigorously defended it.
As in Knox, the majority opinion here begs for another case, another chance to overturn Abood--a move that would strike a very serious blow to public sector unions. In the meantime, it continues to chip away at Abood's foundation, planting time bombs in Harris and Knox that it will use whenever it gets the next case that puts Abood squarely within its range.
Until that time comes, however, Abood stays on the books. And public sector fair-share requirements survived again, even if bruised and battered.