Friday, September 8, 2017
In a lengthy opinion in Petrello v. City of Manchester, United States District Judge Landya McCafferty found the City's efforts to control "panhandling" through its enforcement of a disorderly conduct statute and through an ordinance directed at panhandling both violated the First Amendment.
Ms. Petrello was arrested under the disorderly conduct statute although her panhandling was "passive" and she was not in the roadway. Any "disorder" was actually caused by a third party driving a Cadillac who stopped the car to hand something to Petrello, who did not step into the road.
The Cadillac then drove through the intersection, but the light turned red and the Jeep was unable to make it through the intersection. If the Cadillac had not stopped at the green light, then the Jeep would have made it through the intersection while the light was still green and would not have had to wait for the next green light.
Judge McCafferty found that the Manchester Police Department (MPD) policy was a sufficient basis for liability. The policy was clearly directed at enforcing the statute against even passive panhandling and under the First Amendment, she stated that the policy was content-neutral, because the discussions of the anti-handling policies were "not in terms of any message the panhandler is conveying, such as requests for donations." Nevertheless, she reasoned that "in the end," she "need not resolve the question of whether the MPD Policy is content based, because it does not survive scrutiny as a content-neutral regulation." Applying the doctrine of Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989), Judge McCafferty found that while public safety and free flow of traffic are significant government interests, the policy burdens more speech than necessary. Essential to this conclusion was the fact that the statute was applied to Ms. Petrello who did not step into the street, and that her speech should not be curtailed by third party driving a Cadillac or traffic lights that turned red too quickly. Judge McCafferty issued an injunction and ruled this could proceed to trial on damages.
In its other attempt to curtail panhandling. the City of Manchester passed an ordinance providing:
“No person shall knowingly distribute any item to, receive any item from, or exchange any item with the occupant of any motor vehicle when the vehicle is located in the roadway."
Again, Judge McCafferty found the ordinance content-neutral and again that the ordinance violated the First Amendment. Again, Judge McCaffery found that while the government interests were valid, the Ordinance was not sufficiently tailored to those interests for four main reasons: (1) the Ordinance bans roadside exchanges that do not obstruct traffic or pose safety risks; (2) the Ordinance is geographically overinclusive because it applies citywide; (3) the Ordinance is underinclusive because it penalizes only pedestrians, not motorists; and (4) the City has less speech- restrictive means available to address its concerns. In reaching these conclusions, Judge McCafferty relied in part on the Ninth Circuit en banc decision in Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach (2011) regarding day labor solicitation.
The opinion also addresses Petrello's standing to challenge the ordinance since she was not charged under it, but only the disorderly conduct statute, finding that she satisfied Article III standing although the City argued she had no imminent injury. The opinion rejects Petrello's Fourth Amendment claim based on her original arrest and an equal protection challenge to the implementation of the statute.
The City could certainly appeal to the First Circuit, but it probably has little chance of success.
[image: William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Petites Mendiantes (1880) via]
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Judge Orlando Garcia (W.D. Tx.) yesterday issued a preliminary injunction, in City of El Cenizo v. Texas, the case testing the constitutionality of Texas's anti-sanctuary cities law. The ruling temporarily halts key portions of the law; it's a victory for the plaintiffs.
But it's also preliminary--and so goes to the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits, and not the merits themselves--and is sure to be appealed.
In short, the ruling temporarily halts the provisions prohibiting local governments from preventing officers from assisting or cooperating with federal authorities, "endorsing" sanctuary policies, and adopting or enforcing policies that "materially limit" enforcement of immigration laws, and a provision requiring law enforcement agencies to "comply with, honor, and fulfill" any detainer request by ICE. Other provisions of the law remain effective.
Here's a more complete run-down:
Prohibition on Preventing Communication
Section 752.053(b) prohibits local departments and local entities from preventing their employees from obtaining certain information about the immigration status of a detainee, maintaining that information, and sharing it with federal and state authorities. In particular, the provision prohibits local governments from preventing their employees from:
(1) Inquiring into the immigration status of a person under a lawful detention or under arrest.
(2) With respect to information relating to the immigration status, lawful, or unlawful, of any person under a lawful detention or arrest, including information regarding the person's place of birth:
a. Sending the information to or requesting or receiving the information from [USCIS], [ICE], or another relevant federal agency;
b. Maintaining the information; or
c. Exchanging the information with another local entity or campus police department or a federal or state governmental entity.
(3) Assisting or cooperating with a federal immigration officer as reasonable or necessary, including providing enforcement assistance.
(4) Permitting a federal immigration officer to enter and conduct immigration enforcement activities.
The court said that the inquiry provision under (b)(1) and the information-sharing provision under (b)(2) were not preempted under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (but the court emphasized that the inquiry under (b)(1) could take place only during lawful detention or arrest).
But on the other hand, the court held that the enforcement-assistance-provision in (b)(3) was preempted (field and conflict), because federal law provides for "exacting requirements" for state and local officers to perform the functions of immigration officials--requirements that the state cannot circumvent through a law like (b)(3).
Section 752.053 says that a local entity (including an officer or employee of a division) or campus police department may not "adopt, enforce, or endorse a policy under which the entity or department prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws . . . ." A separate section provides for enforcement, including civil penalties and removal from office upon a violation, which could be shown "with evidence, including evidence of a statement of a public officer."
The court said that this provision violated free speech. The court held that "endorse" was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, and that the provision constituted illegal viewpoint discrimination (because it banned speech on one side of the issue, but not the other).
Prohibitions on Local Pattern or Practice Limiting Enforcement
Other sections of SB 4 prohibit localities from adopting a "pattern or practice" that "materially limit[s]" the enforcement of immigration laws, or that "materially limit[s]" officers from "assisting or cooperating" with a federal immigration officer "as reasonable or necessary . . . ."
The court said that "materially limit" is unconstitutionally vague on its face, even if other portions of the provisions were not, including the enumerated list of specifically prohibited activities in Section 752.053(b), discussed above.
Detainer Requests and Detention
Yet other sections, and some in Section (b), above, require local entities to fulfill all ICE detainer requests, and, as described above, prohibit local governments from preventing officers from inquiring as to detainees' immigration status.
The court said that ICE-detainer provisions violated the Fourth Amendment, because they "mandate that local officials effect seizures requested by ICE [without suspicion of a crime] while prohibiting those officials from making an independent, particularized assessment of whether probable cause of a crime exists to support that seizure in every case . . . ."
But as to the prohibition on preventing officers from inquiring into a detainee's immigration status, the court ruled that "it is possible to construe [this] to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment," and therefore that the plaintiffs failed to show that they were likely to succeed on the merits.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Libertarian and Green Party candidates in the 2012 presidential election lacked standing to challenge their exclusion from presidential debates under antitrust laws and the First Amendment. The ruling denies the candidates monetary damages and declaratory relief and ends their case.
The case arose when Libertarian Party candidates Gary Johnson and James Gray and Green Party Candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala failed to meet the threshold 15% support to participate in the 2012 national debates. They sued the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Obama and Romney campaigns, which set the 15% threshold, for violations of antitrust laws and the First Amendment.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked statutory standing to bring their antitrust claim. It wrote that "antitrust standing requires a plaintiff to show an actual or threatened injury 'of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent,'" but that the plaintiffs "define[d] their injuries as millions of dollars in free media, campaign donations, and federal matching funds--injuries to them as individual candidates in a political contest for votes." This wasn't the kind of injury to "commercial competition" contemplated by the Sherman Antitrust Act, so the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing.
Having ruled that the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing, the court declined to say whether they also lacked Article III standing. This was partly in order to avoid a constitutional question--whether a court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would infringe the Commission's First Amendment rights. As the court explained, quoting Perot v. Federal Election Commission (D.C. Circuit): "[I]f this [C]ourt were to enjoin the [Commission] from staging the debates or from choosing debate participants, there would be a substantial argument that the [C]ourt would itself violate the [Commission's] First Amendment rights."
As to the First Amendment claim, the court merely said that "[n]one of [the plaintiffs'] allegations articulate a clear legal claim, let alone identify a cognizable injury. To make matters worse, the Complaint omits entirely any allegation of government action, focusing entirely on the actions of the nonprofit Defendants."
Judge Pillard concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to argue that the court should have considered Article III standing, should have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on that point, and should have dismissed the complaint on the merits.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
In his opinion in Palin v. The New York Times, Senior United States District Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed Sarah Palin's complaint for defamation for failure to satisfy First Amendment requirements under New York Times v. Sullivan.
Sarah Palin's complaint was based on a New York Times editorial written after James Hodgkinson "opened fire on members of Congress" and others playing baseball in a field in Virginia in June. The editorial decried how "vicious" American politics had become. Importantly, it referenced a previous act of violence by Jared Lee Loughner, resulting in deaths and the injury of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords. The editorial stated that "the link to political incitement was clear" and that before the Loughner shooting "Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs." In the internet-published editorial, "circulated" was hyperlinked to a story which did not support that any link was established.
Judge Rakoff opined that on its face, the complaint was not sufficient to meet the plausibility standard for dismissal relevant to the First Amendment requirement of actual malice under New York Times v. Sullivan applicable to Palin, an "acknowledged public figure." But Judge Rakoff held an evidentiary hearing directed in part to determining actual malice of the editorial writer(s). The Judge found no actual malice, noting that research failures or mistakes do not rise to that level, that the hyperlink's lack of support for the proposition weighed against malice, and that the quick corrections by the newspaper also weighed against actual malice. Judge Rakoff rejected Palin's contention that the editor, James Bennet, was hostile noting that Bennet's "long association with liberal publications" and relation to a political figure opposed to Sarah Palin could not constitute actual malice. "If such political opposition counted as evidence of actual malice, the protections imposed by Sullivan and its progeny would swiftly became a nullity." Judge Rakoff rejected the argument that the New York Times' "collective knowledge and intent" was relevant, although the judge stated that even if it was, the malice standard was not met.
each and every item of alleged support for plaintiffs claim of actual malice consists either of gross supposition or of evidence so weak that, even together, these items cannot support the high degree of particularized proof that must be provided before plaintiff can be said to have adequately alleged clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.
We come back to the basics. What we have here is an editorial, written and rewritten rapidly in order to voice an opinion on an immediate event of importance, in which are included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin they’re very rapidly corrected. Negligence this maybe; a defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.
The court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. It is uncertain whether Palin would appeal.
Monday, August 28, 2017
Late Friday August 25, President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." By Monday, there were at least three lawsuits challenging the action on constitutional grounds.
A month before, Trump had tweeted his thoughts regarding transgender individuals in the military, reportedly taking military officials by surprise.
Soon after the tweets, the complaint in Doe v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging any military action on the basis of a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.
This complaint is now joined by two others: The complaint in Stone v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the ACLU in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, challenging the 3 policies of the military ban - - - existing troops, enlistment of new troops, and medical care - - - as well as the policies taken as a whole. Again, the two constitutional issues are equal protection and due process. The complaint in Karnoski v. Trump was filed by lawyers for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, challenging the policy on the basis of equal protection, due process, as well as the First Amendment's free speech clause.
On the core challenge of equal protection - - - as applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment - - - the complaints vary in their detail and possible theories. In Doe, the NCLR and GLAD complaint, paragraph 71 reads: "The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests." In Stone, the ACLU complaint, paragraph 140 contends that transgender classifications should be treated as sex classifications, deserving heightened scrutiny, and additionally in the next paragraph that transgender status itself warrants heightened scrutiny because "men and women who are transgender, as a class" have historically been subject to discrimination, have a defining characteristic that frequently bears no relation to an ability to contribute to society, exhibit immutable or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group, and are a minority with relatively little political power. In Karnoski, the complaint contends that in addition to sex-discrimination, discrimination on the basis of transgender status "bears all the indicia of a suspect classification requiring strict scrutiny by the courts," enumerating similar criteria including history of discrimination, discrete and insular minority, no relation to ability to contribute to society, and arguing the characteristic sometimes expressed as immutability in stating that "gender identity is a core, defining trait" so "fundamental to one's identity and conscience that a person should not be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment."
However, whatever standard of scrutiny is applied, all the complaints contend that there is not a sufficient government interest in the policy - - - an argument that may well lead into judicial inquiry into Trump's unorthodox announcement on Twitter as well as any details of thoughtful decision-making.
While there has been some reporting that military officials have discretion in implementing Trump's directives, professors of military law have issued a worth-reading policy statement that the discretion is quite limited; they also argue that the directives are discriminatory and based on inaccuracies.
This litigation is certain to accelerate. Expect more action from the NCLR and GLAD action filed before the Friday policy announcement and requests for preliminary relief.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
The Third Circuit ruled yesterday that a plaintiff couldn't bring a First Amendment claim against a TSA officer after the officer caused the plaintiff to be detained and charged with making a bomb threat at airport security. The case, which applied the Supreme Court's recent Bivens ruling, Ziglar v. Abassi, walks back circuit law authorizing a Bivens claim for First Amendment violations, and leaves plaintiffs with no federal judicial remedy for a TSA officer's violation of First Amendment rights.
The ruling is a faithful application of Ziglar, but also illustrates the sweep and significance of that decision in restricting constitutional tort claims, especially in areas in any way touching on national security.
The case arose when Roger Vanderklok attempted to pass through Philadelphia airport security with a length of PVC pipe, capped at both ends and containing a watch and heart-monitor for a half-marathon that he intended to run in Miami. TSA employee Charles Kieser performed a secondary screening, which Vanderklok alleged was unduly aggressive. Vanderklok said that he intended to file a complaint; Kieser then called the Philadelphia police and falsely reported that Vanderklok threatened to bring a bomb to the airport. Vanderklook was arrested and charged, but later acquitted, after airport surveillance footage undermined Kieser's story.
Vanderklok sued Kieser for a variety of violations, including a First Amendment violation, pursuant to Bivens. (The Third Circuit only addressed the First Amendment claim.) The court walked back its own circuit law, which applied Bivens to First Amendment claims, and ruled that Bivens didn't "extend" to Vanderklok's First Amendment claim.
The court noted that airport security created a new Bivens context, and that Bivens law had changed:
Our past pronouncements are thus not controlling in the specific circumstances now at issue. It is not enough to argue, as Vanderklok does, that First Amendment retaliation claims have been permitted under Bivens before. We must look at the issue anew in this particular context, airport security, and as it pertains to this particular category of defendants, TSA screeners.
Since Bivens was decided, judicial attitudes about the creation of new causes of action have changed considerably. Courts will no longer imply rights and remedies as a matter of course, "no matter how desirable that might be as a policy matter, or how compatible with the statute [or constitutional provision]." "Given the notable change in the [Supreme] Court's approach to recognizing implied causes of action . . . the Court has made clear that expanding the Bivens remedy is now a 'disfavored' judicial activity."
(Cites to Ziglar omitted.)
As to the Bivens analysis, the court said first that Vanderklok didn't have a remedy under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but may have had a remedy under the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.
Ultimately, it didn't matter, though, because Vanderklok's claim failed on the second Bivens inquiry. In particular, the court said second that the special factor of national security counseled against a Bivens remedy here:
A special factor counseling hesitation in implying a Bivens action here is that Vanderklok's claims can be seen as implicating "the Government's whole response to the September 11 attacks, thus of necessity requiring an inquiry into sensitive issues of national security." In language laden with separation-of-powers concerns in the context of foreign affairs, national security, and defense, the court wrote that it's up to Congress, not the courts, to create a remedy for constitutional violations in this kind of situation.
The court added a final "practical concern" to authorizing a Bivens remedy. It wrote that because TSA employees aren't typically law enforcement officers, they aren't trained in probable cause determinations of the type that would've been necessary here. Therefore, the court said, "a Bivens claim is poorly suited to address wrongs by line TSA employees. Indeed, the inherent uncertainty surrounding the probable cause standard is itself a factor counseling hesitation."
The ruling ends Vanderklok's First-Amendment portion of his lawsuit.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
In his opinion in González v. Douglas, United States Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima, sitting by designation in the District of Arizona, found that Arizona Revised Statutes §§15-111 and 15-112, the so-called anti-ethnic studies law eliminating the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program violated the Fourteenth and First Amendments.
Recall that the law, passed in 2010, prohibits any school or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
- Promote resentment toward a race or class of people;
- Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; or
- Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals
Recall also that in 2013, Judge Tashima upheld most of the statute in a facial challenge based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments on summary judgment.
On appeal, in Arce v. Douglas, the Ninth Circuit concluded that subsections (3) and (4) of the statute, while not facially discriminatory, raised Equal Protection Clause issues because of evidence of their discriminatory purpose in enactment or enforcement, and found there might be First Amendment viewpoint discrimination, and remanded the case.
In his opinion on remand, Judge Tashima found both an equal protection and First Amendment violation after a non-jury trial in an opinion with extensive findings of fact. As the Ninth Circuit had instructed, Judge Tashima considered the equal protection issue regarding racial intent in light of the Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) factors:
- (1) the impact of the official action and whether it bears more heavily on one race than another;
- (2) the historical background of the decision;
- (3) the specific sequence of events leading to the challenged action;
- (4) the defendant’s departures from normal procedures or substantive conclusions; and
- (5) the relevant legislative or administrative history.
Judge Tashima's opinion carefully analyzes each of the factors. He noted that the anonymous blog posts of then-Senator John Huppenthal, who was chairman of the Senate Education Accountability and Reform Committee at the time the statute was passed, were "the most important and direct evidence that racial animus infected the decision to enact A.R.S. § 15-112." Judge Tashima rejected the defendants' argument that Huppenthal’s public statements, which were facially neutral as to race, should be considered more probative of his true intent. Instead,
The blog comments are more revealing of Huppenthal’s state-of-mind than his public statements because the guise of anonymity provided Huppenthal with a seeming safe-harbor to speak plainly. Huppenthal’s use of pseudonyms also shows consciousness of guilt. Had Huppenthal, a public official speaking in a public forum on a public issue, felt that his inflammatory statements were appropriate, he would not have hidden his identity.
In looking at the legislative history, Judge Tashima also focused on Huppenthal, who along with other officials used "code words" to refer to Mexican-Americans. These code words included “Raza,” “un-American,” “radical,” “communist,” “Aztlán,” and “M.E.Ch.a,” were employed as derogatory terms. "In Huppenthal’s own words, the term “Raza” became “shorthand for . . . communicating with Republican primary voters” in the Tucson community." Then, considering the application of the statute to the Tucson program, Judge Tashima noted that Huppenthal had become Superintendent of Public Instruction, with an enforcement process rife with irregularities. Essentially, it seemed that Huppenthal and other officials, believed they knew what really happened in the classrooms, with no need to investigate or believe evidence contrary to their preconceived notions. In sum, "the passage and enforcement of the law against the MAS program were motivated by anti-Mexican-American attitudes."
On the First Amendment claim, Judge Tashima relied upon Island Trees Union Free Sch. Dist. No. 26 v. Pico (1982), that there may be a First Amendment violation if the reasons offered by the state, "though pedagogically legitimate on their face, in fact serve to mask other illicit motivations." Judge Tashima found that while the "stated policy" of the statute was to "reduce racism in schools, which is a legitimate pedagogical objective," the plaintiffs' argument that this was only a pretextual objective, and that the "statute was in fact enacted and enforced for narrowly political, partisan, and racist reasons was valid, "because both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus" as found in deciding the Fourteenth Amendment claim.
In its opinion in Centro de La Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley v. Town of Oyster Bay, a divided panel of the Second Circuit affirmed the district judge's holding that the town's ordinance prohibiting day labor solicitation unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
As the opinion by Judge Barrington Parker states:
We arrive at essentially the same conclusion as the district court. Specifically, we agree that: (i) the Ordinance restricts speech based on its content and is therefore subject to the First Amendment; and (ii) the Ordinance fails the Central Hudson test because it is an overbroad commercial speech prohibition.
Like the district judge, the Second Circuit carefully applied the well-established four prong Central Hudson test, Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Service Comm’n of New York (1980). The court rejected the Town's argument that "each proposed employment transaction by a day laborer whom the Ordinance targets would be an under-the-table illegal employment arrangement, in violation of immigration, tax, and labor laws," and thus concerned illegal activity removing it from Central Hudson's first prong. Instead, the court quoted the district judge's interpretation that the ordinance clearly applied to any person.The court also noted the similar conclusion by the Ninth Circuit in its 2013 decision in Valle Del Sol Inc. v. Whiting that the Arizona day labor solicitation provision in SB1070 was unconstitutional.
In applying the remainder of the Central Hudson test, while the Second Circuit majority found that there was a substantial interest in traffic safety and that the ordinance sought to directly advance that interest, it concluded that the ordinance was not narrowly drawn: "The Ordinance does not require any connection between the prohibited speech—solicitation of employment—and the asserted interest—traffic and pedestrian safety." Moreover, the court also found
it significant that the Ordinance does not apply to the most common forms of solicitation involving the stopping of vehicles on public rights of way, such as the hailing of a taxi or a public bus. These exemptions strongly suggest that in the great majority of situations, stopping a vehicle on a public right of way creates no inherent safety issue. Entirely prohibiting one speech-based subset of an activity that is not inherently disruptive raises the question whether the Town’s actual motivation was to prevent speech having a particular content, rather than address an actual traffic and pedestrian congestion issue.
Thus, the majority concluded that the ordinance violated the First Amendment.
The majority also affirmed the district judge's conclusion that the plaintiff organizations had standing to challenge the ordinance; dissenting Judge Dennis Jacobs vehemently disagreed. Judge Jacobs stressed that the Second Circuit disapproves of "representational standing," requiring that the organization have injury as an organization. He characterized plaintiff Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley (“Centro”) as an organization that barely exists except as a "vehicle" for the litigation. (To call it an “unincorporated membership organization” is "a boast."). He noted that the plaintiff, The Workplace Project, is not in the Town of Oyster Bay but in the Town of Hempstead and that any "supposed interference with the organizational mission of serving day laborers is conjectural, vague, and generalized." Without discussing Central Hudson, dissenting Judge Jacobs also concluded that while the majority's analysis has "persuasive force" as to a portion of the ordinance, its remedy of injunction against the entire ordinance was too broad.
Despite the split in the panel opinion, this may be the end of the litigation for the Oyster Bay ordinance.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
In its opinion in Contest Promotions v. City and County of San Francisco, a panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld San Francisco's sign ordinances prohibiting off-site advertising (billboards) with an exception for noncommercial notices.
The plaintiff company is an advertiser that rents the right to post signs on the premises of third-party businesses advertising "contests in which passing customers can participate by going
inside the business and filling out a form." It challenged two components of the Planning Code ordinances passed in 2002:
- a general prohibition of new billboards and other off-site signs with a general permission for business on-site signs advertising that business;
- an exemption for noncommercial signs.
Judge Susan Graber, writing for the unanimous panel and affirming the trial judge's dismissal of the complaint, rejected the plaintiff's primary argument that the First Amendment intermediate scrutiny standard of Central Hudson & Electric Corporation v. Public Service Commission of New York (1980) was elevated by IMS v. Sorrell (2011) and Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015). It relied on the June en banc Ninth Circuit in Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, rejecting a First Amendment challenge to a California prohibition of alcohol manufacturers and wholesalers from providing anything of value to retailers in exchange for advertising their alcohol products, in which the challengers had also argued that Sorrell required heightened scrutiny. It also relied on a 2016 panel opinion in Lone Star Security and Video v. City of Los Angeles, in which the Ninth Circuit upheld L.A.'s mobile billboard ordinances against a First Amendment challenge distinguishing Reed v. Town of Gilbert.
As in RDN v. Prieto and Lone Star Security and Video, once the Central Hudson standard was deemed appropriate, its four-step application was fairly straightforward. That the plaintiff's advertisements were legal and nonmisleading was not in dispute. Second, the court easily found that "a locality’s asserted interests in safety and aesthetics" met the requirement of substantial interests. The third step and fourth steps, both relating to the "fit" and often, as the court acknowledges, not "entirely discrete," were also satisfied. The court found that the ordinance directly advanced the government interests and there was no "constitutional infirmity in the ordinance’s failure to regulate every sign that it might have reached, had Defendant (or its voters) instead enacted another law that exhausted the full
breadth of its legal authority." The court rejected the plaintiff's analogy to City of Cincinnati v. Discovery Network, Inc. (1993) because in Discovery Network the newsracks that were banned were a small portion of newsracks (thus not actually serving the purpose of the ordinance) and that there was no requirement to ban all advertising, including noncommercial to achieve the purpose. In essence, the court found that San Francisco's ordinances were not underinclusive.
While the case seems relatively straightforward, it is yet another indication that the appellate courts are not interpreting Sorrell and Reed as expansively as they might and Central Hudson remains entrenched.
[image: "Ice Sitting Contest," N Y Public Library Collection, via]
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
The Seventh Circuit ruled that state workers' compensation arbitrators did not have a free-speech claim against the governor for not re-appointing them in retaliation for their earlier lawsuit against the governor for changes to the worker-compensation system.
The case is notable, because the court applied restrictive circuit law on policymakers' First Amendment retaliation claim (and not the more general, and more speech-friendly, Pickering test for most public employees), and because the court applied this law to a claim for retaliation for a lawsuit (and not a more familiar form of public speech, like an op-ed).
The case arose when Illinois changed its workers' compensation law. Among other changes, the state changed the appointment schedule for workers' compensation arbitrators. In particular, it terminated all arbitrators' six-year appointments effective July 1, 2011, and provided for executive appointments (with advice and consent of the state senate) for staggered three-year terms for future arbitrators.
Some of the arbitrators sued, arguing that the change violated due process. While that suit was pending, the governor appointed and reappointed arbitrators, but not the plaintiffs in the due-process suit. So they sued again, this time for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights in bringing the original due-process suit. They claimed that the governor declined to reappointment them only because they filed that earlier suit, which, they claimed, was "important to, in a public forum, hash out concerns . . . regarding the workers' compensation reforms and to outline that the governor of the State of Illinois had violated the United States Constitution."
The district court tossed the suit, concluding, under Pickering, that the earlier due-process suit was not speech on a matter of public concern.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed, but on a slightly different ground. The Seventh Circuit applied its "policymaker corollary" to Pickering--a circuit rule that derives from Elrod v. Burns and Branti v. Finkel. In those two cases, the Supreme Court said that as a general matter government employers can't fire public employees on the basis of political affiliation. But the Court also recognized an exception for employees who occupy policymaking or confidential positions, thus ensuring that elected officials wouldn't be "undercut by tactics obstructing the implementation of policies . . . presumably sanctioned by the electorate."
The Seventh Circuit's "policymaking corollary" takes the Elrod and Branti exception a step farther, to policymakers' speech:
Instead, under the "policy-maker corollary to the Pickering analysis, the First Amendment does not prohibit the discharge of a policy-making employee when that individual has engaged in speech on a matter of public concern in a manner that is critical of superiors or their stated policies."
The court concluded that the arbitrators were "policymakers," because "the position authorizes, either directly or indirectly, meaningful input into government decisionmaking on issues where there is room for principled disagreement," and because "the position entails the exercise of a substantial amount of political (as distinct from professional) discretion." It further concluded that the due-process lawsuit amounted to "speech . . . in a manner that is critical of superiors or their stated policies."
The ruling ends the arbitrators' case.
Friday, August 11, 2017
In its opinion in Phelps-Roper v. Ricketts, a panel of the Eighth Circuit, affirming the district judge, rejected First Amendment facial and as-applied challenges to Nebraska's funeral picketing law, §28-1320.01 et seq.
The Nebraska statute was prompted by the activities of the "Westboro Baptist Church" (WBC) organization, of which Shirley Phelps-Roper is a leader, in picketing military funerals as their opposition to "homosexuality." Recall that in 2011, the United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protected Reverend Fred Phelps's hateful and harmful speech at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder against state tort claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion upon seclusion. Recall also that the constitutionality of ordinances and statutes seeking to regulate funeral protests has been previously challenged by the WBC and Phelps.
Here, the unanimous panel, in an opinion authored by Judge Bobby Shepherd, held that the Nebraska statute survived a facial First Amendment challenge. The Eighth Circuit en banc had previously upheld the City of Manchester, Missouri's ordinance as a constitutional time, place, and manner restriction, but the Nebraska statute differed because the place restriction extends the distance between the picketers and the funeral from 300 to 500 feet and the time restriction is “from one hour prior to through two hours following the commencement of a funeral,” instead of Manchester’s “during or within one hour before or one hour after the conducting of a funeral.” Nevertheless, the court held that the Nebraska statute, like the Manchester ordinance, "serves a significant government interest, is narrowly tailored, and leaves open ample alternative channels for communication."
The as-applied challenge centered on one Omaha protest in 2011, with Ms. Phelps-Roper claiming that the Omaha police treated her differently than others (viewpoint discrimination), that she was forced well beyond the 500 foot buffer zone, and that the police allowed others to interfere with her message. The Eighth Circuit discussed the evidence for each claim and affirmed the trial judge's findings that there was no constitutional violation. On the interference claim, the Eighth Circuit discussed the Sixth Circuit en banc decision in Bible Believers v. Wayne County (2015), but found the situation clearly distinguishable and there was no violence at the WBC funeral event. as the opinion declared,
WBC is not entitled to its own bubble-ensconced pedestal surrounded by chalk lines or yellow tape any more than those opposed to WBC messages are entitled to a heckler’s veto. Law enforcement has a duty to enforce the laws equally without regard to the viewpoints expressed.
The opinion is thorough yet succinct, with little that merits continued litigation. Perhaps we might be nearing the end of the First Amendment funeral protest saga.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Eighth Circuit last week rejected a plaintiff's request for a temporary injunction against a Minnesota statute restricting robocalls. The court ruled that the plaintiff wasn't likely to succeed on his First Amendment claim.
The statute bans robocalls, except "(1) messages from school districts to students, parents, or employers, (2) messages to subscribers with whom the caller has a current business or personal relationship, or (3) messages advising employees of work schedules." A later amendment also exempts "messages from a nonprofit tax-exempt charitable organization sent solely for the purpose of soliciting voluntary donations of clothing to benefit disabled United States military veterans and containing no request for monetary donations or other solicitations of any kind."
A political consultant challenged the law, arguing that, given the exceptions, it was an illegal content-based restriction on speech.
The Eighth Circuit disagreed, at least at this preliminary stage. The court first severed the military-veteran-donation exception from the rest of the statute. It then ruled that the other exceptions weren't content-based; instead, they were based on assumed implied consent of the target of the robocall:
[T]he permissions granted in the Minnesota statute do not reflect a content preference; they are based on an assumption of implied consent. The State does justify the statute in part based on an interest in protecting residential privacy against disruptive calls, but this interest is not grounded in a preference for certain content. Where a subscriber has impliedly consented to receipt of pre-recorded mesages, the caller may place a robocall about political campaigns, work schedules, or any other topic. Where there is no such implied consent, automated calls are banned entirely, regardless of their content. [The plaintiff] does not contend that the statute forbids him to communicate with any subscriber who has impliedly consented to receipt of his robocalls.
The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that Citizens United, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, or Matal v. Tam change this result. "[T]he statute does not prefer certain speech based on content, and does not disfavor certain ideas over others. The statute as a whole disfavors robocalls to strangers, but it allows them with consent. . . . The exceptions depend on the relationship between the caller and the subscriber, not on what the caller proposes to say."
Thursday, July 27, 2017
In a well reasoned opinion in Davison v. Loudon County Board of Supervisors, United States District Judge James Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia found that a politician who reacted to a constituent's comment on her "official" Facebook post by deleting his comment and banning him from her Facebook page violated the First Amendment.
Phyllis Randall, Chair of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors, maintained a Facebook page, entitled "Chair Phyllis J. Randall." She generally "uses the Facebook page to share information of interest with the County she serves," and Judge Cacheris provided several examples of the types of postings - - - precisely the type of postings one would expect - - - relating to proclamations such as "Loudon Small Business Week" and photographs of herself at conferences or other events.
As a threshold matter, Judge Cacheris determined that there was state action. This state action, however, could not be attributed to the defendant County Board of Supervisors, but only as to Phyllis Randall. Although the Facebook page was not the "property" of the county and would not revert to it when Randall left office, Randall "used it as a tool of governance." The judge found that Randall used the page to communicate with her constituents and the page reflects her efforts to "swathe" it with "the trappings of her office." Further, there were other government employees who assisted with the page. Moreover, the specific act of banning the constituent Davison arose out of public rather than private circumstances. Davison had apparently complained about the corruption of Randall's colleagues on the Board (the actual post, having been deleted by Randall, was not before the judge).
Judge Cacheris referenced two of the Supreme Court's decisions last Term - - - Packingham v. North Carolina opinion, noting that Facebook had become a vital platform for speech and the exchange of ideas, and Matal v. Tam, noting that if anything is clear, "it is that speech may not be disfavored by the government simply because it offends." The judge held that it was unnecessary to decide what type of "forum" under the First Amendment the Facebook page might be, given that under no forum is viewpoint discrimination permissible. Here, the judge held, Randall clearly banned Davison because of the opinion he expressed. There was no neutral policy (such as a ban on profanity) which was being neutrally applied.
The judge observed that Davison was banned only for a short time - - - Randall retracted her ban the next morning - - - and that during this time, Davison had adequate means to communicate his message through other avenues. Nevertheless, the judge stated that
Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.
The judge issued a declaratory judgment in favor of Davison, who represented himself pro se, on the First Amendment claim, although the judge rejected a procedural due process claim that Davison had also advanced.
This case should serve as a wake-up call for politicians who use their "official" Facebook pages in ways that may violate the First Amendment. The case may also be a harbinger of decisions to come in the ongoing litigation challenging the President's practice of "blocking" people on Twitter.
[image by Matt Shirk via]
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
In a careful and well-reasoned opinion in Animal Defense Fund v. Herbert, United States District Judge for Utah, Judge Robert J. Shelby, has concluded that Utah's so-called "ag-gag" statute, Utah Code §76-6-112, is unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment.
The Utah statute criminalized "agricultural operation interference" if a person:
(a) without consent from the owner of the agricultural operation, or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation by leaving a recording device on the agricultural operation;
(b) obtains access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses;
(c) (i) applies for employment at an agricultural operation with the intent to record an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation;
(ii) knows, at the time that the person accepts employment at the agricultural operation, that the owner of the agricultural operation prohibits the employee from recording an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; and
(iii) while employed at, and while present on, the agricultural operation, records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; or
(d) without consent from the owner of the operation or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, an agricultural operation while the person is committing criminal trespass, as described in Section 76-6-206, on the agricultural operation.
The analysis separated these provisions into the lying provision - - - "false pretenses" under subsection (b) - - - and the recording provisions in the other subsections. As to both types, Utah argued that the First Amendment was not applicable.
Judge Shelby's analysis of First Amendment protection for the "lying provision" included a discussion of United States v. Alvarez (2012), the "stolen valor" case, settling on a reading of Alvarez that lies that cause "legally cognizable harm" could be outside the ambit of the First Amendment. Utah argued that the false pretenses caused two types of legally cognizable harm: danger to animals (and employees) and trespass. Judge Shelby dispatched the danger argument given that there was no connection between the lie and the danger: the "Act as written criminalizes lies that would cause no harm to animals or workers." Judge Shelby's analysis of the trespass rationale is more detailed, considering whether the misrepresentation negates consent so that the liar becomes a trespasser. For Judge Shelby, the answer is "not always." Relying on Fourth and Seventh Circuit pre-Alvarez cases, Judge Shelby essentially concludes that the Utah statute is overbroad:
It is certainly possible that a lie used to gain access to an agricultural facility could cause trespass-type harm; a protestor, for example, might pose as a prospective customer, and then, after being let in the door, begin causing a scene or damaging property. But the Act also sweeps in many more trivial, harmless lies that have no discernable effect on whether a person is granted access, and, consequently, on whether a person causes any trespass-type harm. Indeed, given its broad language (“obtain[ing] access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses”), the Act on its face criminalizes, for example, an applicant’s false statement during a job interview that he is a born-again Christian, that he is married with kids, that he is a fan of the local sports team. It criminalizes putting a local address on a resume when the applicant is actually applying from out of town. In short, the Act criminalizes a broad swath of lies that result in no harm at all, much less interference with ownership or possession of the facility . . . .
Judge Shelby also rejected Utah's argument that "recording" was not protected speech under the First Amendment, citing the Seventh Circuit police recording case recognizing a First Amendment protection (note a similar Third Circuit case in the past week).
Utah also argued that the First Amendment did not apply because the acts involved private property rights, although one of the plaintiffs had been charged while she was on public property filming. More importantly, however, Judge Shelby criticized Utah's argument as confusing a landowner's ability to exclude from her property someone who wishes to speak with the "government's ability to jail the person for that speech."
The applicability of the First Amendment proved to be the thorniest issue, with Judge Shelby then easily proceeding to find these were content-based provisions deserving of strict scrutiny and then easily finding that the Utah statute did not survive. Of special interest is Utah's reliance for its government interests on protecting animals and workers from injury, despite the legislative history that "appears devoid of any reference" to such interests, instead discussing harms caused by "the vegetarian people" and others. Judge Shelby found that the Utah statute was not necessary to serve these interests and was over- and under-inclusive:
Not only is the Act seemingly not necessary to remedy the State’s alleged harms, it is an entirely overinclusive means to address them. It targets, for example, the employee who lies on her job application but otherwise performs her job admirably, and it criminalizes the most diligent well-trained undercover employees. And it is simultaneously underinclusive because it does nothing to address the exact same allegedly harmful conduct when undertaken by anyone other than an undercover investigator.
While recognizing that Utah has an interest in addressing "perceived threats" to the state agricultural industry, Judge Shelby concluded that suppressing "broad swaths of protected speech" is not a constitutionally permissible tool to accomplish this goal. Thus, this opinion joins Idaho district Judge Winmill's 2015 decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter in a defeat for the so-called ag-gag laws.
[image "elk on farm" via]
Friday, July 7, 2017
In its opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit concluded that "Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public." As the panel majority opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro noted, "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public"; the Third Circuit joined "this growing consensus."
The court noted that police recording has become "ubiquitous" and that such documentation has "both exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from errant charges." In considering whether the recording was First Amendment expressive activity, the court noted that the case was "not about people attempting to create art with police as their subjects. It is about recording police officers performing their official duties." Thus, at stake is the First Amendment protection of the "public's right to know": "Access to information regarding public police activity is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse on public issues, “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”
Defendants offer nothing to justify their actions. Fields took a photograph across the street from where the police were breaking up a party. *** If a person’s recording interferes with police activity, that activity might not be protected. For instance, recording a police conversation with a confidential informant may interfere with an investigation and put a life at stake. But here there are no countervailing concerns.
Fields, using his iPhone, was noticed by an officer who then asked him whether he “like[d] taking pictures of grown men” and ordered him to leave. Fields refused, so the officer arrested him, confiscated his phone, and detained him. The officer searched Fields’ phone and opened several videos and other photos. The officer then released Fields and issued him a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” These charges were withdrawn when the officer did not appear at the court hearing.
Fields, along with Amanda Geraci who had been involved in a separate incident involving recording, brought 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights. Thus, the court confronted the question of qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of the incident - - - 2013 for Fields - - - it was not sufficiently "clearly established" so that the law "gave fair warning so that every reasonable officer knew that, absent some sort of expressive intent, recording public police activity was constitutionally protected."
Dissenting in part, Judge Nygaard concluded that the right was clearly established. In addition to the "robust consensus" before the conduct at issue, the Philadelphia Police Department's own "official policies explicitly recognized this First Amendment right well before the incidents under review here took place." For Judge Nygaard, "no reasonable officer could have denied at the time of the incidents underlying these cases that efforts to prevent people from recording their activities infringed rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Certainly, after Fields v. City of Philadelphia, no reasonable officer could now successfully argue that there is not a First Amendment right to record police activity.
Monday, June 26, 2017
In a per curiam opinion in the so-called "travel ban" or "Muslim ban" cases, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawai'i, the Court has granted the federal government's petitions for certiorari and granted the stay applications in part. The Fourth Circuit en banc and the Ninth Circuit had both found that the challengers to the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), known as EO-2.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit en banc in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project affirmed the injunction against EO-2 based on the Establishment Clause. As the Supreme Court's opinion phrases it, the Fourth Circuit
majority concluded that the primary purpose of §2(c) was religious, in violation of the First Amendment: A reasonable observer familiar with all the circumstances—including the predominantly Muslim character of the designated countries and statements made by President Trump during his Presidential campaign—would conclude that §2(c) was motivated principally by a desire to exclude Muslims from the United States, not by considerations relating to national security. Having reached this conclusion, the court upheld the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of §2(c) [of EO-2] against any foreign national seeking to enter this country.
Recall also that the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel similarly affirmed a district judge's injunction against EO-2, but on the grounds that EO-2 likely exceeded the president's statutory authority, thus only implicitly reaching the constitutional issue.
In today's opinion from the Court, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari in both cases, consolidated the cases, and set them for the October 2017 Term, as well as directing briefing on the issues of mootness.
Importantly, the Court narrowed the injunctive relief imposed by the appellate courts. As to §2(c) of EO-2, which suspended entry in the United States, the Court found the injunction balanced the equities incorrectly as to "foreign nationals abroad who have no connection to the United States at all." Thus, "§2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2."
Similarly, as to §6(b) refugee cap enjoined by the Ninth Circuit, the Court found that refugees who lack connection to the United States should not be covered. However, EO §6 "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship" with the United States.
In discussing §2(c), the Court provided examples of the narrowed injunction:
The facts of these cases illustrate the sort of relationship that qualifies. For individuals, a close familial relation- ship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member, like Doe’s wife or Dr. Elshikh’s mother-in-law, clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO–2. The students from the designated countries who have been admit- ted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. Not so someone who enters into a relationship sim- ply to avoid §2(c): For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.
The Court's decision may give both "sides" a basis for claiming victory, but of course the decision is a temporary one and awaits a full decision on the merits.
June 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)
SCOTUS in Trinity Lutheran Finds Missouri's Denial of Funding to Church Playground Violates First Amendment
In its opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision, a so-called Blaine Amendment, prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations.
Recall that at the oral arguments, most Justices seemed skeptical of Missouri's argument. However, recall that the Eighth Circuit had concluded that Trinity Church sought an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church." The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology." For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.
In the Trinity Lutheran opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court characterized the Missouri policy as one that "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character." Relying on the Free Exercise precedent it had discussed, it concluded that if such cases "make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny." The Court added that "Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government program without disavowing its religious character."
Yet the question of subsidy or funding caused some consternation amongst the Justices who joined the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court. Footnote 3, which provides in full "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination" is joined only by a plurality - - - Justices Thomas and Gorsuch explicitly exempted this footnote. In two brief concurring opinions, one by Thomas joined by Gorsuch and one by Gorsuch joined by Thomas, the continued vitality of Locke v. Davey is questioned.
In the Court's opinion, Locke v. Davey is distinguished because "Davey was not denied a state-funded scholarship of who he was but because of what he proposed to do - to use the funds to prepare for the ministry." (emphasis in original). For Gorsuch, this status-use distinction is not sufficient.
Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and almost twice as long as the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court, is rich with originalist history as well a discussion of Locke v. Davey and a citation to the 38 state constitutional provisions similar to the Missouri one. For Sotomayor,
Missouri has recognized the simple truth that, even absent an Establishment Clause violation, the transfer of public funds to houses of worship raises concerns that sit exactly between the Religion Clauses. To avoid those concerns, and only those concerns, it has prohibited such funding. In doing so, it made the same choice made by the earliest States centuries ago and many other States in the years since. The Constitution permits this choice.
Sotomayor points to the possible ramifications of the opinion, including the troublesome footnote 3:
The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and perhaps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.
It dies seem that Trinity Lutheran opens the floodgates for claims by religious entities that they are being "discriminated" against whenever there are secular provisions for funding.
The United States Supreme Court, after a longer than usual period, granted certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case in which a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, essentially asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses.
Recall the Colorado ALJ firmly rejected the arguments of the cakeshop owners reasoning that to accept its position would be to "allow a business that served all races to nonetheless refuse to serve an interracial couple because of the business owner’s bias against interracial marriage." The ALJ rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test.
A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a 66 page opinion.
Interestingly, the Court in 2014 denied certiorari to a similar case, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer.
The petitioner argues an intersection of doctrines including compelled speech and free exercise, arguing that the Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law offers a "stark choice" to those who "earn a living through artistic means: Either use your talents to create expression that conflicts with your religious beliefs about marriage, or suffer punishment under Colorado’s public accommodation law."
Friday, June 23, 2017
In its en banc opinion in Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a California prohibition of alcohol manufacturers and wholesalers from providing anything of value to retailers in exchange for advertising their alcohol products.
Plaintiff Retail Digital Network, RDN, installed and operated seven foot digital screen displays in liquor stores for the purpose of running advertisements for liquor products such as Moët Hennessy; the retail stores would would receive a portion of RDN's revenue. However, after originally participating in the advertising, Moët Hennessy withdrew, worried that the state would enforce California Business and Professions Code §25503(f)-(h) regarding such advertising arrangements.
The Ninth Circuit had upheld the provision more than thirty years ago in Actmedia, Inc. v. Stroh (1986), applying Central Hudson & Electric Corporation v. Public Service Commission of New York (1980). RDN argued, however, that Actmedia needed to be reconsidered, and contended that IMS v. Sorrell (2011) changed Central Hudson's commercial speech standard from "intermediate scrutiny" to "heightened scrutiny."
The en banc Ninth Circuit, with the exception of Chief Judge Sidney Thomas in a lone dissent, rejected the argument that Sorrell changed the commercial speech standard of Central Hudson. The court's opinion has an excellent rehearsal of the doctrinal relevance of Sorrell after Central Hudson, including arguments derived from Sorrell itself and a discussion of sister-circuit cases. In short, the court finds that Central Hudson "continues to set the standard for assessing restrictions on commercial speech."
Applying Central Hudson, the court does depart in one aspect from its previous application in the thirty-year old precedent of Actmedia. The court found that even assuming "promoting temperance" is a substantial government interest under Central Hudson, the state statute could not be said to "directly and substantially advance that interest" as required by Central Hudson.
However, the court agreed that the statute "directly and materially advances the State's interest in maintaining a triple-tiered market system" for wines and liquor and "because there is a sufficient fit between that interest and the legislative scheme." This "triple-tiered" distribution scheme was adopted by California after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to "prevent the resurgence of tied-houses." Tied-houses were retailers and saloons controlled by larger interests.
ConLawProfs looking for a good case to discuss commercial speech after Sorell might find RDN worth a look. As for whether the United States Supreme Court will take a look at RDN to clarify the commercial speech standard, RDN might also prove interesting.
Monday, June 19, 2017
In its opinion in Matal v. Tam, formerly Lee v. Tam, the United States Supreme Court has concluded that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. Recall that the underlying controversy involves the denial of trademark registration to a band called "The Slants" on the ground that the mark would be disparaging. Recall also that the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. The en banc majority found that the disparagement provision constituted viewpoint discrimination and failed strict scrutiny.
While all eight Justices participating in the decision agreed that the Federal Circuit should be affirmed, and all Justices agreed that the provision was subject to strict scrutiny as a viewpoint regulation, there was some disagreement regarding the applicability of other First Amendment doctrines as was apparent in oral argument.
Writing for the Court in most respects, Justice Alito's opinion concludes that the trademark disparagement provision applies to marks that disparage members of a racial or ethnic group (there was a statutory argument by Tam that this was not true) and is thus subject to the First Amendment. Justice Alito then proceeded to address three government arguments
- that the trademarks are government speech and thus not subject to the First Amendment;
- that trademarks are a form of government subsidy;
- that trademarks should be subject to a new "government program" doctrine.
As to the first discussion on government speech, all the Justices joined Alito's opinion. However, as to the second and third arguments made by the government, only Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Breyer joined. In the concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Kennedy writes that the "viewpoint discrimination rationale renders unnecessary any extended treatment of other questions."
The issue of whether First Amendment viewpoint discrimination doctrine applies to commercial speech has unanimous assent, with Alito's explanation for four Justices being a bit more extensive than Kennedy's explanation for four Justices, with the supplement of Thomas' additional concurrence to state that commercial speech should not be a separate First Amendment doctrine in cases content regulations.
The essence of the case is that the disparagement provision is viewpoint discrimination subject to strict scrutiny that it does not survive. For Justice Alito (in a plurality portion of the opinion), the matter is resolved thusly:
the disparagement clause is not “narrowly drawn” to drive out trademarks that support invidious discrimination. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: “Down with racists,” “Down with sexists,” “Down with homophobes.” It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.
[emphasis in original]
From the perspective of the other four Justices, Kennedy phrases the problem a bit differently in addressing the government's arguments that the disparagement clause was not actually a viewpoint discrimination. Kennedy ends by stating
A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
Is this a distinction without a difference? Doctrinally, it makes little difference. But it does convey a difference in the mood of the Court.