Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fourth Circuit En Banc Upholds Injunction Against President's "Travel Ban"

In its opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)  v. Trump, heard by the en banc court without an intervening panel decision, the court affirmed in almost every respect Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang's Opinion and nationwide injunction against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0."  The court heard oral argument on May 8. 

The court's opinion finding that the plaintiffs have standing and that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause challenge to the Executive Order was authored by Chief Judge Roger Gregory with six other judges joining in full in the almost 80 page opinion.  Additional opinions bring the total opinion pages to over 200: three other judges concurred in separate opinions;  Three judges dissented in separate opinions (with the dissenters joining each of the dissenting opinions). Recall that two other judges recused. 

On the merits of the Establishment Clause claim as applied to an Executive Order involving immigration, Judge Gregory's opinion for the court agreed with the United States that the deferential standard in Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972) is the appropriate starting point but disagreed with the government that it ended the inquiry.  Instead, "Mandel's requirement that an immigration action be 'bona fide' may in some instances compel more searching judicial review."  The court found that while the national security interest was facially legitimate, the plaintiffs made a requisite showing that it was provided in "bad faith."

Plaintiffs point to ample evidence that national security is not the true reason for EO-2, including, among other things, then-candidate Trump’s numerous campaign statements expressing animus towards the Islamic faith; his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States; his subsequent explanation that he would effectuate this ban by targeting “territories” instead of Muslims directly; the issuance of EO-1, which targeted certain majority-Muslim nations and included a preference for religious minorities; an advisor’s statement that the President had asked him to find a way to ban Muslims in a legal way; and the issuance of EO-2, which resembles EO-1 and which President Trump and his advisors described as having the same policy goals as EO-1. [citations to record omitted].  Plaintiffs also point to the comparably weak evidence that EO-2 is meant to address national security interests, including the exclusion of national security agencies from the decisionmaking process, the post hoc nature of the national security rationale, and evidence from DHS that EO-2 would not operate to diminish the threat of potential terrorist activity.

Having cleared the hurdle of Mandel, the court then considered the application of the Establishment Clause test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, noting that "in the context of this case, there is an obvious symmetry between Mandel's "bona fide" prong and the constitutional inquiry establishment in Lemon. Both tests ask courts to evaluate the government's purpose for acting."

Thus, Judge Gregory's opinion analyzed some of the same material regarding the EO's bona fide quality to determine whether the EO had a primary secular government purpose as required under Lemon's first prong.  But the analysis the court conducted under Lemon was much more detailed.  The court relied upon McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005), in which the United States Supreme Court concluded that a judge's initial removal of his posting of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse was not cured by his subsequent posting of the biblical text surrounded by other texts.  In McCreary, the Court articulated the correct viewpoint as the "reasonable objective observer" who should take into account the traditional external signs but should not perform judicial psychoanalysis. 

It is this portion of the opinion (Part IVA2; pages 54-70 in text) regarding the purpose of EO-2 that is central.  The court finds there is a "compelling case" that EO-2's "primary purpose is religious."  It begins by discussing the candidate's campaign statements, later rejecting the argument that these statements should be subject to a "bright-line rule" that they should not be considered.  Instead, the court states that the "campaign statements here are probative of purpose because they are closely related in time, attributable to the primary decisionmaker, and specific and easily connected to the challenged action." 

Just as the reasonable observer’s “world is not made brand new every morning,” McCreary,  nor are we able to awake without the vivid memory of these statements. We cannot shut our eyes to such evidence when it stares us in the face, for “there’s none so blind as they that won’t see.” Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation 174 (Chiswick Press ed., 1892). If and when future courts are confronted with campaign or other statements proffered as evidence of governmental purpose, those courts must similarly determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether such statements are probative evidence of governmental purpose. Our holding today neither limits nor expands their review.

Moreover, the court considered the by now familiar statements by spokespeople: advisor and former mayor Rudolph Guiliani on EO-1; Senior Policy Advisor Miller and White House Press Secretary Spicer on EO-2.  The court further found that the government's argument that EO-2's primary purpose was national security rather than religious

is belied by evidence in the record that President Trump issued the First Executive Order without consulting the relevant national security agencies, J.A. 397, and that those agencies only offered a national security rationale after EO-1 was enjoined. Furthermore, internal reports from DHS contradict this national security rationale, with one report stating that “most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns.” According to former National Security Officials, Section 2(c) serves “no legitimate national security purpose,” given that “not a single American has died in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil at the hands of citizens of these six nations in the last forty years” and that there is no evidence of any new security risks emanating from these countries. Corrected Brief for Former National Security Officials as Amici Curiae Supporting Appellees 5–8, ECF No. 126-1. Like the district court, we think this strong evidence that any national security justification for EO-2 was secondary to its primary religious purpose and was offered as more of a “litigating position” than as the actual purpose of EO-2. See McCreary, 545 U.S. at 871 (describing the government’s “new statements of purpose . . . as a litigating position” where they were offered to explain the third iteration of a previously enjoined religious display). And EO-2’s text does little to bolster any national security rationale: the only examples it provides of immigrants born abroad and convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States include two Iraqis—Iraq is not a designated country in EO-2—and a Somalian refugee who entered the United States as a child and was radicalized here as an adult. EO-2, § 1(h). The Government’s asserted national security purpose is therefore no more convincing as applied to EO-2 than it was to EO-1.

In short, the court found that EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it," and thus EO-2 "likely fails Lemon's purpose prong" and is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

The court affirmed the preliminary injunction as appropriately nationwide, but did agree with the government that the injunction should not be issued "against the President himself."  Thus, the injunction was lifted in that regard, although the court noted that while the President was not directly bound, the court assumes "it is substantially likely" that the President would abide by the the court's authoritative interpretation of section 2 of EO-2.

Recall that a Ninth Circuit panel is also considering the constitutionality of EO-2; it heard oral arguments on May 15 in Hawai'i v. Trump.

May 25, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Standing, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ninth Circuit Oral Arguments in Hawai'i v. Trump

A panel of the Ninth Circuit - - - Judge Ronald Gould, Judge Richard Paez, and Senior Judge Michael Hawkins - - - heard oral arguments in Hawai'i v. Trump, the appeal from the preliminary injunction against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780) (colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0").

Arguing for the DOJ in favor of the United States was Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who also argued the same position a week ago in the Fourth Circuit en banc argument in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).  Indeed, there were specific references in the Ninth Circuit argument to that argument with regard to the scope of the injunction in Hawai'i v. Trump.  The argument spent a fair amount of time on the statutory claims, which were a basis of Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang's injunction on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, but were not the basis of the injunction by Hawai'i District Judge Derrick Watson, who ruled on the basis of the Establishment Clause.  The issue of standing also peppered the arguments.  Wall's argument in the Ninth Circuit seemed less emphatic about the "presumption of regularity" entitled to the President than the argument last week, perhaps because of intervening events. Wall certainly did, however, hammer the Government's point that the deferential standard of Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972) should apply.  And although it was not specifically referenced, the dissent from en banc review in a Ninth Circuit precursor case, Washington v. Trump, which largely rested on Mandel, implicitly shaped the arguments.

For his part, arguing for Hawai'i, Neal Katyal, formerly with the Department of Justice, stressed that the Ninth Circuit's panel opinion in Washington v. Trump should be the model.  Katyal argued that the EO was unprecedented.

The video of the argument is worth watching, not only for its explication of the issues, but also as examples of excellent appellate advocacy.

 

However, there was a quite odd interchange regarding Neal Katyal's previous litigation stances.  At around 52:03 in the video above, Senior Judge Hawkins said to Katyal, "You have argued in the past to give deference to the Executive in immigration matters." After Katyal's acknowledgement, Judge Hawkins refers to an amicus brief in United States v. Texas and reads a passage.  The brief to which Hawkins seems to have been referring is Brief of Former Commissioners of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service as Amici Curiae In Support Of Petitioners and the portions seem to be from page 12 of the brief, supporting the Congressional grant of wide authority to make decisions regarding deferred action in immigration deportations.  After Katyal's response, Judge Hawkins made a second reference: "You also wrote a brief in Flores-Villar."  The brief to which Hawkins refers is Katyal's brief as Acting Solicitor General for the Respondent United States in Flores-Villar v. United States, involving a mother-father differential for unwed parents.  Judge Hawkins reads the following passage without the case references or citations:

[T]he United States’ “policy toward aliens” is “vitally and intricately interwoven with * * * the conduct of foreign relations,” a power that likewise is vested in the political Branches. Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 588-589 (1952). “Any rule of constitutional law that would inhibit the flexibility of the political branches of government to respond to changing world conditions should be adopted only with the greatest caution.” Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. 67, 81 (1976).

Katyal responds that when he was with the United States Government he tried to convince the United States Supreme Court of this, but the Court "did not bite."  Recall that Flores-Villar was a 4-4 affirmance of the Ninth Circuit.

Certainly, both United States v. Texas, which has usually surfaced in the context of a state's standing, and Flores-Villar are somewhat pertinent immigration cases involving the scope of judicial deference.  Nevertheless, specific references to an individual attorney's briefs does seem unusual.

 

May 15, 2017 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Recent Cases, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fourth Circuit En Banc Hears Appeal from Injunction Against "Muslim Ban 2.0"

The Fourth Circuit en banc heard almost two hours of intense oral arguments in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAPfrom Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang's Opinion and nationwide injunction against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0."  

The court of 13 Judges (there were recusals from Harvey Wilkinson III whose son-in-law is Jeffrey Wall, Acting Solicitor General arguing for the United States, and Allison Duncan), were very active and asked the questions which are by now familiar, including standing, the constitutional "choice" between Executive power in immigration and Establishment Clause doctrine, and the statutory under Immigration and Nationality Act.  (We discuss these issues and Judge Chuang's ruling here).  The opening question, however - - - before Wall even had a chance to introduce himself - - - concerned the scope of Judge Chuang's injunction.

In its most basic terms, Wall defended the President's Executive Order by repeating that once the President takes the oath of office, his actions are entitled to a "presumption of regularity," thus the judiciary should not inquire further regarding any motive.  Representing the plaintiffs, ACLU attorney Omar C. Jadwat was pressed on how the court should look beyond the four corners of the EO and how long any taint from animus should last. 

The oral argument is available on C-SPAN, with an official transcript from the court forthcoming.

 

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Next Monday, a panel of the Ninth Circuit will hear the appeal in Hawai'i v. Trump.

 

May 8, 2017 in Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Colbert, the FCC, and the First Amendment

Comedian Stephen Colbert has drawn ire and FCC scrutiny for a joke in his monologue implying the President of the United States is in a specific sexual position vis-a-vis the President of Russia.

The remark, which occurred on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" is within the so-called safe harbor provisions of the FCC regulation of indecent speech by "radio communication" (including traditional television such as CBS). 

The constitutionality of such regulation was upheld by the Court in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (1978), involving comedian George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" monologue, which had provoked complaints to the FCC by listeners.  But Pacifica's continued viability seems questionable.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concurring in FCC v. Fox Television Stations II (2012), which did not reach the First Amendment issues involving fleeting expletives, argued that Pacifica "was wrong when it issued," and further that time, technological advances, and FCC's "untenable rulings" show why Pacifica "bears reconsideration."  Ginsberg cites the concurring opinion of Justice Thomas in the FCC v. Fox Television Stations I, decided three years earlier, in which Thomas highlights the "dramatic technological advances" that "have eviscerated the factual assumptions" underlying Pacifica: traditional broadcast media is no longer pervasive or even dominant. 

Some might argue that the Colbert remark is “obscene” and that obscenity is categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.  But to be obscene, speech must meet the classic test from Miller v. California (1973), requiring that the average person find the speech appeals to the prurient interest, describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and that the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.  Here, Colbert’s comment would not likely to be found obscene.  It does not appeal to the prurient interest, meaning some excessive or unhealthy interest in sex; it is not sexually arousing. 

Perhaps more importantly, it would be very difficult to find that the Colbert monologue “taken as a whole” lacks serious “political value.” In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988), based on a parody about evangelist Jerry Falwell implying that his first sexual experience was with his mother in an outhouse,  Justice Rehnquist, wrote for the nearly unanimous Court about the importance of caustic humor for free political speech:

Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate. Nast's castigation of the Tweed Ring, Walt McDougall's characterization of Presidential candidate James G. Blaine's banquet with the millionaires at Delmonico's as "The Royal Feast of Belshazzar," and numerous other efforts have undoubtedly had an effect on the course and outcome of contemporaneous debate. Lincoln's tall, gangling posture, Teddy Roosevelt's glasses and teeth, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's jutting jaw and cigarette holder have been memorialized by political cartoons with an effect that could not have been obtained by the photographer or the portrait artist. From the viewpoint of history, it is clear that our political discourse would have been considerably poorer without them.

Colbert's remark, subject to critique as crude as well as homophobic, is nevertheless the type of political discourse protected by the First Amendment.

Here's the full clip, with the relevant passage starting at about 11:40, albeit with the offending language bleeped out as it was in the broadcast.

 



May 7, 2017 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Recent Cases, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ninth Circuit Upholds Berkeley Ordinance Requiring Cell Phone Retail Disclosures

In its opinion in CTIA - The Wireless Ass'n v. City of Berkeley, a panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected First Amendment and preemption challenges to an ordinance requiring retailers to provide notices to consumers about their cell phone purchase.  The notice, to be on a poster or handout, with the seal of the city, must read:

The City of Berkeley requires that you be provided the following notice:

To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radiofrequency (RF) exposure guidelines. If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.

As the notice implies, the FCC disclosures required to be included with the phone are similar if more extensive. 

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Affirming the district judge, the divided Ninth Circuit panel found that the required notice did not violate the First Amendment. As a compelled disclosure in a commercial context, the choice of standards was between the commercial speech test of Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of New York (1980) or the more lenient test for disclosure of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio (1985). Writing for the majority, Judge William Fletcher found that the Zauderer test was appropriate, despite the fact that the disclosure did not involve "consumer deception."  Judge Fletcher agreed with "sister circuits that under Zauderer the prevention of consumer deception is not the only governmental interest that may permissibly be furthered by compelled commercial speech," citing the D.C. Circuit's en banc opinion in American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Judge Fletcher's opinion reasoned that the Zauderer's language that the disclosure be “uncontroversial” should not be over-emphasized:

Given that the purpose of the compelled disclosure is to provide accurate factual information to the consumer, we agree that any compelled disclosure must be “purely factual.” However, “uncontroversial” in this context refers to the factual accuracy of the compelled disclosure, not to its subjective impact on the audience. This is clear from Zauderer itself.

Applying the deferential Zauderer standard, the court again confronted whether the disclosure was "purely factual" as well as being reasonably related to a substantial governmental interest.  Judge Fletcher's opinion concluded the mandated notice was "literally true," based on FCC findings.  The court rejected CTIA's argument that while it might be "literally true," the statement was "inflammatory and misleading." Judge Fletcher analyzed the compelled notice sentence by sentence, finding it true. For example, CTIA objected to the phrase “RF radiation,” but  Judge Fletcher's opinion noted this is "precisely the phrase the FCC has used, beginning in 1996, to refer to radio-frequency emissions from cell phones," and that the city could not be faulted for using the technically correct term that the FCC itself uses.

It was on this point that the brief partial dissent by Judge Michelle Friedland differed.  For Judge Friedland, consumers would not read the disclosure "sentences in isolation the way the majority does."  She argues that taken as a whole,"the most natural reading of the disclosure warns that carrying a cell phone in one’s pocket is unsafe," and that "Berkeley has not attempted to argue, let alone to prove, that message is true."  She accuses the city of  "crying wolf" and advises the city if it "wants consumers to listen to its warnings, it should stay quiet until it is prepared to present evidence of a wolf."

In addition to the First Amendment claim, CTIA argued that the mandated disclosure was preempted by federal regulations.  The court noted procedural problems regarding when the argument was advanced.  Nevertheless, the court clearly concluded:

Berkeley’s compelled disclosure does no more than to alert consumers to the safety disclosures that the FCC requires, and to direct consumers to federally compelled instructions in their user manuals providing specific information about how to avoid excessive exposure. Far from conflicting with federal law and policy, the Berkeley ordinance complements and reinforces it.

But surely it is the First Amendment issues that are central to the case. The panel essentially divides on the limit to government mandated disclosures to consumers, an issue that vexed the DC Circuit not only in the American Meat Institute case mentioned above, but also in National Association of Manufacturers v. SEC (conflict minerals) and in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. FDA (cigarette labeling), both of which held the labeling requirements violated the First Amendment.  One measure of the importance of the issue is the attorneys who argued CTIA in the Ninth Circuit: Theodore Olsen for the trade association of CTIA and Lawrence Lessig for the City of Berkeley.  The Ninth Circuit's majority opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but as the divided panel evinces, there are fundamental disputes about warning labels.

April 21, 2017 in Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church Free Exercise Challenge

The nine Justice Court heard oral arguments this morning 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 prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations. 

The state Department of Natural Resources had denied the grant application of Trinity Lutheran Church for funds to purchase of recycled tires to resurface its preschool playground.  The state officials had reasoned that supplying such funds would violate the state constitutional provision, a provision often called a Blaine Amendment, and which the attorney for Trinity Lutheran Church noted was often rooted in "anti-Catholic bigotry."  In upholding the Missouri denial of resources the Eighth Circuit had relied in part on Locke v. Davey (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.   

Locke v. Davey arose frequently in the argument. The attorney for the church argued that Locke's "play in the joints" was pertinent, but distinguished the program in Locke as being more inclusive of religion.  Justice Kennedy seemed to distinguish Locke v. Davey, stating that "this is quite different than Locke, because this is a status-based statute."  Later, Chief Justice Roberts broached Locke, in a colloquy with James Layton, representing Missouri, who argued that Locke was a closer case than the present one because here the state's money was a "direct payment" to the church rather a scholarship to a student as in Locke.  But Justice Kagan, evoking Locke, seemed troubled by Missouri's argument:

JUSTICE KAGAN: But here's the deal. You're right that this is a selective program. It's not a general program in which everybody gets money. But still the question is whether some people can be disentitled from applying to that program and from receiving that money if they are qualified based on other completely nonreligious attributes, and they're disqualified solely because they are a religious institution doing religious things. Even though they're not --they could --they could promise you, we're not going to do religious things on this playground surface, and you're still saying, well, no, you --you can't get the money.

Soon thereafter, Justice Kagan stated:

JUSTICE KAGAN: But I don't understand -I --I think I understand how the States' interests might differ some, but essentially this is a program open to everyone. Happens to be a competitive program, but everyone is open to compete on various neutral terms, and you're depriving one set of actors from being able to compete in the same way everybody else can compete because of their religious identification.

Layton, representing the State, also had his own status and the status of the litigation to discuss.

    [Sotomayor]:  Mr. Layton, I'm --I'm --I know the Court is very grateful that you took up the request of the Missouri Attorney General to defend the old position, but I --I am worried about the, if not the mootness, the adversity in this case. If the Attorney General is in favor of the position that your adversary is taking, isn't his appointment of you creating adversity that doesn't exist?
MR. LAYTON: Well, I don't know the answer to that --that, but let me --let me give some of the factual background here.
The Attorney General himself is recused because he actually appears on one of the briefs on the other side. The first assistant in this instance is the Acting Attorney General, and the Acting Attorney General, at a time before governor --the governor gave his new instruction, asked me to defend the position, because at that point, it was still the position of the State, and was not being disavowed.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, but that's the question. It doesn't appear to be the position of the State right now. Reading through the lines of the Acting Attorney General to us, it doesn't appear that he believes that you're taking the right position.

The problem of whether the case is moot because the Governor of Missouri announced this week a change of policy was the subject of a Court instruction to the attorneys to respond by letter regarding the issue.  It dominated very little of the discussion, but Chief Justice Roberts did ask this:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You --do you agree that this --this Court's voluntary cessation policies apply to the mootness question?
MR. LAYTON: I agree . . .

Justice Gorsuch, new to the bench this week, then brought the matter back to the substantive issue.

Whether or not the Court will dismiss the case or rule on the merits was not evident from the oral argument, although it did seem as if there was not much enthusiasm for Missouri's now-previous position that prevailed in the Eighth Circuit.

 

April 19, 2017 in Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stone on Spencer's Speech at Auburn

Check out Geoff Stone's op-ed in the NYT on Auburn's invitation, then dis-invitation, to white nationalist Richard B. Spencer to speak on campus.

April 19, 2017 in First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Federal Judge Enjoins Arkansas' Eight Scheduled Executions

In an opinion in excess of 100 pages in McGehee v. Hutchinson, United States District Judge Kristine Baker enjoined the scheduled execution of McGehee and eight other plaintiffs based on their likelihood to succeed on their Eighth Amendment and First Amendment claims.

The case arises from a highly unusual compressed execution schedule: "Governor Hutchinson set eight of their execution dates for an 11-day period in April 2017, with two executions to occur back-to-back on four separate nights."  Judge Baker rejected the claim that the schedule alone violated any "evolving standards of decency" under the Eighth Amendment.

However, this unusual schedule did play some part in Judge Baker's conclusion that there was a likelihood of success on the merits of the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment challenge to the use of midazolam as cruel and unusual punishment.

Le-Boureau-GillrayIn a detailed recitation of the facts, including expert testimony rendered by both the plaintiffs and the State, Judge Baker noted that she "received much evidence in the last four days " and "filtered that evidence, considerable amounts of which involved scientific principles," and converted it into lay terms in the opinion.  At times, Judge Baker's assessment of the expert testimony is quite precise: "Defendants’ witness Dr. Antognini’s reliance on animal studies while defense counsel simultaneously challenged plaintiffs’ witness Dr. Steven’s reliance on animal and in vitro studies seems inconsistent. This inconsistency went largely unexplained."

This factual record is important for applying the test for a challenge to a method of execution as the United States Supreme Court articulated in Glossip v. Gross (2015). As Judge Baker explained, plaintiffs have the burden of proving that “the State's lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain” and “the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.”  On the first prong, Judge Baker concluded there is a "significant possibility" that plaintiffs will succeed in showing that the use of midazolam in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) "current lethal injection protocol qualifies as an objectively intolerable risk that plaintiffs will suffer severe pain."  She continued that the

risk is exacerbated when considering the fact that the state has scheduled eight executions over 11 days, despite the fact that the state has not executed an inmate since 2005. Furthermore, the ADC’s execution protocol and policies fail to contain adequate safeguards that mitigate some of the risk presented by using midazolam and trying to execute that many inmates in such a short period of time.

The second prong under Glossip requires plaintiffs to show that “the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.”  Judge Baker stated that the "Supreme Court has provided little guidance as to the meaning of 'availability' in this context, other than by stating that the alternative method must be 'feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain.’"  She then discussed the conflicting standards in the Circuits, concluding that the "approach taken by the Sixth Circuit provides a better test for 'availability' under Glossip," because the "Eleventh Circuit’s understanding of “availability” places an almost impossible burden on plaintiffs challenging their method of execution, particularly at the preliminary injunction stage."  In deciding that there were alternatives available, Judge Baker found that "there is a significant possibility that pentobarbital is available for use in executions."  The opinion noted that other states have carried out executions with this drug.  The opinion also noted that "plaintiffs have demonstrated a significant possibility that the firing squad is a reasonable alternative."

Thus, Judge Baker found that both prongs of Glossip were likely to be satisfied under the Eighth Amendment claim.

On the First Amendment claim, the essence was that the limitations placed on counsel viewing the execution would deprive plaintiffs of their access to the courts during that time.  Judge Baker noted there was some confusion regarding the actual viewing policy that would be operative, with the Director having "taken three or four different positions regarding viewing policies" during litigation.  But, the "key aspect" of any policy "would force plaintiffs’ counsel to choose between witnessing the execution and contacting the Court in case anything should arise during the course of the execution itself."

In analyzing the First Amendment claim, Judge Baker used the highly deferential standard of Turner v. Safely (1987), with its four factors:

  • First, “there must be a ‘valid, rational connection’ between the prison regulation and the legitimate government interest put forward to justify it.”
  • Second, courts must consider “whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates.” 
  • “A third consideration is the impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally.”
  • Finally, “the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the reasonableness of a prison regulation.”

Judge Baker held that while there was a valid rational connection, there were alternative means and no impact on other prisoners.  Thus, Judge Baker enjoined the Director "from implementing the viewing policies insofar as they infringe plaintiffs’ right to counsel and right of access to the courts," and charged the Director "with the task of devising a viewing policy that assures plaintiffs’ right to counsel and access to the courts for the entire duration of all executions."

Judge Baker issued her Preliminary Injunction on Saturday, April 15.  Reportedly, there is already an emergency appeal to the Eighth Circuit, as well as an appeal of a stay by a state court judge to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

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April 16, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Court Gives No First Amendment Protection to Competition Art at U.S. Capitol

Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) ruled today that a student whose painting was displayed at the U.S. Capitol after winning an congressional art competition enjoyed no First Amendment right against the Architect of the Capitol when the Architect took the painting down based on its viewpoint.

Judge Bates said that the painting amounted to government speech, and that it was therefore not protected by the First Amendment.

The ruling is just the latest chapter in a dispute over the painting between a group of Republican lawmakers and law enforcement advocates, and the Congressional Black Caucus.

The case arose when high school student David Pulphus's painting was selected to represent Missouri's First Congressional District in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition. As a result, Pulphus's painting hung, along with other selected works, in the Cannon Tunnel in the U.S. Capitol complex. But this didn't sit well with some members of Congress, who saw the painting as anti-police. They took it upon themselves to remove the painting and deliver it to the office of Congressman William Clay, who represents the First District. After each removal, Clay, whose district includes Ferguson, then took it upon himself to return the painting to its place in the Cannon Tunnel.

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Zach Gibson, AP

Eventually the Architect removed the painting, but did not explain exactly why. Clay and Pulphus then sued, arguing that the removal constituted viewpoint discrimination in a designated public forum and therefore violated free speech.

Judge Bates disagreed. Applying three factors from Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans and Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, Judge Bates said (1) that the "traditional use of the medium" was "inconclusive," but (2) that "[t]he government, then, is understood by the public as speaking through that exercise of choosing which works are displayed in the art competition," and (3) that the Architect "retains editorial control over the art submitted in the competition." He concluded that Pulphus's piece therefore amounted to government speech (and not private speech in a limited public forum), and therefore enjoyed no First Amendment protection.

Judge Bates also rejected the plaintiffs' vagueness challenge, writing that "[w]hen the government speaks, it is free to promulgate vague guidelines and apply them arbitrarily."

April 14, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Third Circuit Rules for Officials in Retaliatory Speech and Petition Case

The Third Circuit granted qualified immunity to local government officers against plaintiffs' First Amendment claims that the officers retaliated against them for exercising their speech and petition rights and directly violated their right to petition the government.

The ruling most likely ends this case.

The case arose when the Mirabellas, husband and wife who happen to be attorneys, got into a dispute with their neighbors over the neighbor's use of protected wetlands. The Mirabellas sought local government assistance in the dispute, but government officials sided with the neighbors. The Mirabellas then threatened to sue the neighbors and join the local government. So local government officials wrote to the Mirabellas that they were barred from communicating with the government or government officials (except the township attorney), and that government counsel should seek sanctions against the Mirabellas if they sued.

The Mirabellas did sue--but on First Amendment grounds, and not the underlying land-use dispute. They alleged that government officials retaliated against them for communicating with the government and directly violated their right to petition the government.

The Third Circuit ruled that the officials enjoyed qualified immunity and dismissed both claims. The court ruled that the officials did, in fact, retaliate against the Mirabellas for exercising their free speech and petition rights (based on the no-contact communication, but not on the communication threatening sanctions), but that the law wasn't clearly established at the time. In particular, the court said that "the right to be free from a retaliatory restriction on communication with one's government, when the plaintiff has threatened or engaged in litigation against the government" wasn't clearly established at the time.

The court similarly ruled that the officials violated the plaintiffs' right to petition the government, but that that right wasn't clearly established, either. The court said that "the right to be free from a restriction on communicating with one's government, when the plaintiff has threatened or engaged in litigation against the government" wasn't clearly established.

In defining the rights in this very specific way for purposes of the clearly-established prong of the qualified immunity test, the court said that Ashcroft v. al-Kidd prohibited it from "defin[ing] clearly established law at a high level of generality."

The court said that it wanted to address both prongs of the qualified immunity test--actual constitutional violation and clearly established--in order to provide some guidance on the actual contours of the rights at issue. (The court could have ruled the same way by addressing the clearly-established prong only, and punting on the actual constitutional violation prong.)

April 5, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

United States District Judge Refuses to Dismiss Complaint Against Trump on First Amendment Grounds

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order, Judge David Hale ruled on a motion to dismiss the complaint in Nwanguma v. Trump which includes a count of incitement to riot by then-candidate Trump during a campaign event in Louisville, Kentucky on March 1, 2016. The complaint alleges that the candidate told the crowd “Get ’em out of here,” when the plaintiffs were "peacefully protesting" at a campaign rally.  Allegedly as a result of the candidate's encouragement, three individual defendants pushed, shoved, and struck the three plaintiffs.  The complaint contended that candidate Trump should be held vicariously liable for the tortious actions of the individual defendants; Judge Hale dismissed this count as not having sufficient allegations that the candidate (or his campaign) "had the right to control the other defendants’ actions." The complaint also contained a count regarding the candidate's negligence and failure to protect, which Judge Hale did not dismiss.

Most important from a constitutional standpoint, Judge Hale denied Trump's motion to dismiss the incitement to riot claim despite the defendant's argument that Trump's statement "Get ’em out of here” was protected by the First Amendment. As Judge Hale relates, under the landmark case of Brandenberg v. Ohio (1969), as well as the Sixth Circuit's en banc decision in Bible Believers v. Wayne County (2015), speech may not be “sanctioned as incitement to riot unless

(1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action,
(2) the speaker intends that his speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and
(3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of his speech.”

 Judge Hale analyzes each of these prongs in turn.

First, Judge Hale concludes that Trump's statement, “Get ’em out of here,” is phrased in the "imperative; it was an order, an instruction, a command."  It is therefore unlike the protected speech in  NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982) (“If we catch any of you going in any of them racist stores, we’re gonna break your damn neck.”); Hess v. Indiana (1973) (“We’ll take the fucking street again.”); or Watts v. United States (1969) (“If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.”).

Second, Judge Hale concludes that the complaint states sufficient allegations of Trump's intent, although whether "he actually intended for violence to occur is beyond the scope of the Court’s inquiry at the motion-to-dismiss stage."

Third, Judge Hale rules that "the complaint adequately alleges that Trump’s statement was likely to result in violence—most obviously, by alleging that violence actually occurred as a result of the statement."  Additionally, the complaint describes "a prior Trump rally at which a protestor was attacked."

The case is now on course to proceed.

 

 

April 2, 2017 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 31, 2017

D.C. Circuit Rejects Media Claim to Guantanamo Force-Feeding Tapes

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in the long-running Dhiab case that media intervenors had no First Amendment right to access redacted and videotapes classified as "secret" of force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay. The ruling overturns the district court order releasing the tapes after government redaction and ensures that the tapes won't be released (at least unless the full D.C. Circuit or Supreme Court reverses). We last posted on the case here.

The court rejected the internors' First Amendment claim under Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court. The court distinguished that case, holding that it dealt with sealed testimony and exhibits in a murder case (not classified national security information, as here) and that it was a criminal prosecution (and not a habeas corpus case, as here). As to the former difference, the court noted that national security information is traditionally well protected, citing the State Secrets Privilege from Reynolds and Totten, the closed hearings in Guantanamo habeas cases, and the classified-material exception in FOIA. As to the latter difference, the court reviewed the history and concluded that "[i]n habeas corpus cases, there is no tradition of public access comparable to that recounted in Press-Enterprise II with respect to criminal trials."

The court went on to say that even if the intervenors had a First Amendment right of access to the tapes, the government's interests in protecting national security justified withholding them. In particular, the court said that the government provided sufficient evidence that the tapes could threaten security at Guantanamo Bay, incite violence against American troops abroad, and serve as propaganda to recruit fighters.

March 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hawai'i District Judge Extends Injunction Against Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

In an opinion and order in Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson has granted the motion to convert the previously issued Temporary Restraining Order  against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780) (colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0") into a Preliminary Injunction.  This has the effect of extending the time frame of the injunction as well as making appeal likely.

Judge Watson incorporated the rationales as stated in the previous TRO as we previously discussed, but elaborated on several matters.  First, Judge Watson again considered the standing issues and again concluded that both the state of Hawai'i and the individual plaintiff, Dr. Ismail Elshikh, had standing.

On the likelihood of success on the merits, Judge Watson again set out the classic Establishment Clause test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) and again concluded that the first prong requiring the government action to have a primary secular purpose was not met.

650px-Seal_of_the_State_of_Hawaii.svgJudge Watson declared that "As no new evidence contradicting the purpose identified by the Court has been submitted by the parties since the issuance of the March 15, 2017 TRO, there is no reason to disturb the Court’s prior determination" (emphasis in original).

Instead, the Federal Defendants take a different tack. They once more urge the Court not to look beyond the four corners of the Executive Order. According to the Government, the Court must afford the President deference in the national security context and should not “‘look behind the exercise of [the President’s] discretion’ taken ‘on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason.’” Govt. Mem. in Opp’n to Mot. for TRO 42–43 (quoting Kliendienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 770 (1972)), ECF No. 145. No binding authority, however, has decreed that Establishment Clause jurisprudence ends at the Executive’s door. In fact, every court that has considered whether to apply the Establishment Clause to either the Executive Order or its predecessor (regardless of the ultimate outcome) has done so.

(emphasis in original).  The footnote to this passage includes citations to the recently decided Sarsour v. Trump (Virginia District Judge upholds EO 2) and Int’l Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump  (Maryland District Judge enjoins part of EO 2). Judge Watson adds

The Court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has.

While future Executive action could cure the defects, the attempt by this second EO to merely sanitize the first EO was not sufficient. 

Judge Watson declined to narrow the TRO's scope and the injunction is a nationwide one including sections 2 and 6. The judge stated he was

cognizant of the difficult position in which this ruling might place government employees performing what the Federal Defendants refer to as “inward-facing” tasks of the Executive Order.
Any confusion, however, is due in part to the Government’s failure to provide a workable framework for narrowing the scope of the enjoined conduct by specifically identifying those portions of the Executive Order that are in conflict with what it merely argues are “internal governmental communications and activities, most if not all of which could take place in the absence of the Executive Order but the status of which is now, at the very least, unclear in view of the current TRO.” Mem. in Opp’n 29. The Court simply cannot discern, on the present record, a method for determining which enjoined provisions of the Executive Order are causing the alleged confusion asserted by the Government. 

In other words, the federal government cannot complain about the injunction's breadth if the government does not take steps necessary to narrow it. Quoting the Ninth Circuit panel on the original EO in Washington v. Trump, Judge Watson stated that "even if the [preliminary injunction] might be overbroad in some respects, it is not our role to try, in effect, to rewrite the Executive Order.”

Judge Watson's order and opinion set the stage for the case to be appealed to the Ninth Circuit, even as IRAP v. Trump is beginning to proceed in the Fourth Circuit.

March 29, 2017 in Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Rules First Amendment Applies to New York's Credit Card Surcharge Statute

In its opinion in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, a unanimous Court reversed the Second Circuit's conclusion that the First Amendment was not applicable to a New York statute prohibiting a credit card surcharge. 

At issue is New York General Business Law § 518 prohibiting sellers from imposing a surcharge on customers who use credit cards.  On the other hand, the statute allowed a "cash discount." United States District Judge Jed Rakoff had held that the New York statute regulated speech, limiting how merchants could express their differential pricing, and concluded that the statute failed the test for constitutional commercial speech under Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission (1980). The Second Circuit did not reach the Central Hudson analysis given its conclusion that there was no speech, commercial or otherwise, only conduct.  The United States Supreme Court holds the statute regulates speech, at least as applied here.

800px-thumbnailChief Justice Roberts's relatively brief (11 pages) opinion explains the Court's determination that §518 regulates speech thusly:

The law tells merchants nothing about the amount they are allowed to collect from a cash or credit card payer. Sellers are free to charge $10 for cash and $9.70, $10, $10.30, or any other amount for credit. What the law does regulate is how sellers may communicate their prices. A merchant who wants to charge $10 for cash and $10.30 for credit may not convey that price any way he pleases. He is not free to say “$10,with a 3% credit card surcharge” or “$10, plus $0.30 for credit” because both of those displays identify a single sticker price—$10—that is less than the amount credit card users will be charged. Instead, if the merchant wishes to post a single sticker price, he must display $10.30 as his sticker price. Accordingly, while we agree with the Court of Appeals that §518 regulates a relationship between a sticker price and the price charged to credit card users, we cannot accept its conclusion that §518 is nothing more than a mine-run price regulation. In regulating the communication of prices rather than prices themselves, §518 regulates speech.

 The Court did not proceed further, but remanded the case to the Second Circuit to assess 518's constitutionality, presumably under Central Hudson.  However, in a footnote the Court made clear that there is a question as to whether 518 would prohibit a "two-sticker pricing scheme" such as the one that Hair Expression uses.

Justice Breyer's brief concurring opinion points out that the speech/conduct distinction may not be the wisest path, but instead the courts should consider how the challenged government action "affects an interest that the First Amendment protects." Here, Justice Breyer contends that 518 is unclear as to whether it is actually regulating disclosure (in which case the rational basis standard of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio (1985) would apply) or whether it is more traditional commercial speech under Central Hudson.  

This lack of clarity in the statute causes Justice Breyer to agree with the concurring opinion by Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Alito, that the interpretation of the statute should be certified to New York's highest court.  Sotomayor's opinion criticizes the Second Circuit for not certifying the question previously, but for choosing a "convoluted course": it "rejected certification, abstained in part,' and decided the question in part," requiring a division in the petitioners' First Amendment challenge.

Sotomayor makes it clear that the "Court's opinion does not foreclose" the Second Circuit from choosing the certification route on remand.  It remains to be seen what the Second Circuit will do, but it would probably be well-advised to avail itself of the certification process.

 

March 29, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Federalism, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Second Circuit Rejects First Amendment Claim of Law Firm to Accept Investment from NonLawyers

In its opinion in Jacoby & Myers, LLP v. The Presiding Justices of the First, Second, Third & Fourth Depts, the Second Circuit upheld the New York Rules of Professional Responsibility prohibitions of nonlawyers investing in law firms, rejecting the firm's First Amendment challenges.  The law firm argued it had rights to associate, to access the courts, and to petition the courts.

Writing for the panel, Judge Susan Carney noted that while cases such as NAACP v. Button (1963) "might casually be characterized as reflecting lawyers’ expressive rights in the causes they pursue—when those causes implicate expressive values," the Supreme Court has "never held, however, that attorneys have their own First Amendment right as attorneys to associate with current or potential clients, or their own right to petition the government for the redress of their clients’ grievances when the lawyers are acting as advocates for others, and not advocating for their own cause." 

Clients have First Amendment expressive rights for which litigation may provide a vehicle. When the lawyers’ own expressive interests align with those rights, the lawyers themselves may have a cognizable First Amendment interest in pursuing the litigation. We are not aware of any judicial recognition of such an interest, however, when it comes to the lawyer’s generic act of pursuing litigation on behalf of any client.

Of course attorneys have First Amendment rights regarding their professional advertising, but the court distinguished those precedents and further rejected the asserted rights to association, access to the courts, and to petition.  Moreover, the court found that even if such rights were to be recognized as asserted by the law firm, "the regulations are supported by a substantial government interest and impose an insubstantial burden on the exercise of any such First Amendment rights."  Yet the court clearly stated that "rational basis review applies," and that the regulations "serve New York State’s well‐established interest in regulating attorney conduct and in maintaining ethical behavior and independence among the members of the legal profession."

Affirming the district judge, the Second Circuit decision means that the law firm's challenge has yet to  survive a motion to dismiss.  Yet this is most likely only the beginning of challenges to professional rules regarding lawyer and non-lawyer business relationships.

 

March 28, 2017 in First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Virginia District Judge Upholds Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

In his opinion in Sarsour v. Trump, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia Anthony Trenga denied the Plaintiffs' motion for Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction.

At issue is the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0." 

Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," was enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump,; our backgrounder on the issues is here.  The President withdrew the initial EO and the Ninth Circuit denied the sua sponte motion for en banc review, but in a somewhat unusual step there was a substantive dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee.

Recall also that regarding the March 6, 2017 EO ("Muslim Travel Ban 2.0"), two other federal district judges issued injunctions before the EO became effective.  In Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson issued a TRO of sections 2 and 6 of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their Establishment Clause challenge.  In International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a preliminary injunction of section 2(e) of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their statutory claim under the Immigration and Nationality Act and their constitutional claim under the Establishment Clause.Judge Trenga disagrees with both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, although the opinion does not engage in a substantial dialogue with these opinions. 

Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour, plaintiff via

For example, on the statutory claim in Sarsour v. Trump, Judge Trenga concludes after reviewing "the text and structure of the INA as a whole, and specifically, the practical, operational relationships" of the provisions, that the nondiscrimination restrictions of §1152 do not "apply to the issuance or denial of non-immigrant visas or entry under §1182(f).  In a footnote, Judge Trenga acknowledges that the judge in IRAP v. Trump "attempted to reconcile these seemingly contradictory provisions," and simply adds, "There, the court concluded that Section 1152 bars the President from discriminating on the basis of nationality in the issuance of immigrant visas only." (footnote 12).  Judge Trenga characterized the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as a "legislative rabbit warren that is not easily navigated," but his ultimate conclusion seems to be based on a broad view of Executive authority. Judge Trenga writes that the he "also has substantial doubts that Section 1152 can be reasonably read to impose any restrictions on the President’s exercise of his authority under Sections 1182(f) or 1185(a)."

Similarly, on the Establishment Clause claim Judge Trenga accorded the Executive broad deference.  Unlike the judges in both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, Judge Trenga found that the facial neutrality of "EO-2" was determinative.  Judge Trenga held that past statements - - - or the EO-2 statements (described in a footnote as including the President's statement that EO-2 was a "watered-down version" of EO-1, and Presidential Advisor Stephen Miller's statements) - - - have not "effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority":

In other words, the substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that Plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose. To proceed otherwise would thrust this Court into the realm of “‘look[ing] behind’ the president’s national security judgments . . . result[ing] in a trial de novo of the president’s national security determinations,” Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at *8, and would require “a psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts,” all within the context of extending Establishment Clause jurisprudence to national security judgments in an unprecedented way.

Likewise, on the Equal Protection claim, Judge Trenga concluded that although the EO would have a differential impact on Muslims, it was facially neutral.  The Judge relied on an earlier Fourth Circuit case, Rajah v. Mukasy (2008) and articulated the standard as requiring merely a rational national security basis for an immigration measure to survive an Equal Protection Clause challenge.  And again, Judge Trenga accorded the Executive wide discretion: "These are judgments committed to the political branches - - - not to the courts."

In sum, Judge Trenga's opinion aligns with the Ninth Circuit dissent from en banc review by Judge Bybee and is in opposition to the other district judges who have rendered opinions on the second EO which have enjoined its enforcement.  

March 25, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fourth Circuit: No First Amendment Protection for Fire Battallion Chief's Disruptive Facebook Posts

The Fourth Circuit today dismissed a fire department battalion chief's First Amendment retaliation claim for his Facebook activity in violation of the Department's Social Media and Code of Conduct policies. The court also dismissed his facial challenge against the policies as moot.

The case arose when Howard County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Services Battalion Chief Kevin Patrick Buker posted a series of statements and "likes" on his Facebook page. On January 20, 2013, Buker posted this while on duty (sics omitted):

My aide had an outstanding idea . . lets all kill someone with a liberal . . . then maybe we can get them outlawed too! Think of the satisfaction of beating a liberal to death with another liberal . . . its almost poetic . . .

He then "liked" a colleague's post that added ugly racial comments to this.

The assistant chief directed Buker to remove the posts pursuant to the Department's Social Media Policy. That Policy, relatively new at the time, prohibited employees from posting anything that "might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent when such statements, opinions or information, may place the Department in disrepute or negatively impact the ability of the Department in carrying out its mission."

Buker removed the posts, but then posted comments criticizing the Social Media Policy and the "liberals" who were behind it. The Department moved Buker out of field operations and into an administrative assignment and began an investigation.

About three weeks later, another colleague posted to his own Facebook page a picture of an elderly woman with her middle finger raised, with a caption saying that he'll post whatever he wants, and a note stating, "for you Chief." Buker "liked" it.

Shortly after that, Buker was fired for violating the Social Media Policy and the Code of Conduct. (The Code of Conduct banned "conduct unbecoming," that is, "any conduct that reflects poorly on an individual member, the Department, or County government, or that is detrimental to the public trust in the Department or that impairs the operation and efficiency of the Department.")

Buker sued, arguing that the Department fired him in retaliation for his speech, and that the Social Media Policy and Code of Conduct Policy were facially unconstitutional. The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

Applying Pickering, the court held that two of Buker's posts (the one about assaulting liberals, and the one criticizing the Social Media Policy) addressed matters of public concern. (The court assumed, without deciding, that Buker's Facebook activity constituted a "single expression of speech.") But the court said that the Department's interest in efficiency and preventing disruption outweighed Buker's interests:

  • Buker's Facebook activity "interfered with an impaired Department operations and discipline as well as working relationships within the Department.
  • The posts "significantly conflicted with [his] responsibilities as battalion chief," including "acting as an impartial decisionmaker and 'enforcing Departmental policies and taking appropriate action for violations of those policies.'"
  • Buker's "speech frustrated the Department's public safety mission and threatened 'community trust' in the Department, which is 'vitally important' to its function."
  • Buker's activity "expressly disrespect[ed] [his] superiors" after he had been reprimanded.
  • The posts "disregarded and upset the chain of command."

The court dismissed Buker's facial challenge to the Social Media Guidelines and Code of Conduct as moot. The court said that although the Department changed the policies to eliminate the earlier version's prohibitions on the private use of social media, the Chief and defendants' counsel both promised the court that the Department wouldn't re-implement the old guidelines (so as to make this a "voluntary cessation" case).

 

 

March 20, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ninth Circuit Declines En Banc Review in Washington v. Trump, Muslim Ban I . . . but with dissent

Recall the proceedings in Washington v. Trump in which a panel opinion upheld an injunction against the January 27, 2017 Executive Order by the President, now popularly known as Muslim Ban I.  Because the President withdrew the EO, replacing it with the March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" - - - enjoined today in Hawai'i v. Trump - - - proceedings in the Muslim Ban I became irrelevant and the United States dismissed the appeal.  Nevertheless, upon the request of a Ninth Circuit judge, a poll was taken to determine whether the Ninth Circuit should hear the case en banc and vacate the panel opinion.  Today, the order on this en banc request was rendered, and the "matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the active
judges in favor of en banc reconsideration." 

The order is accompanied by a paragraph concurring opining by Judge Reinhardt:

I concur in our court’s decision regarding President Trump’s first Executive Order – the ban on immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries. I also concur in our court’s determination to stand by that decision, despite the effort of a small number of our members to overturn or vacate it. Finally, I am proud to be a part of this court and a judicial system that is independent and courageous, and that vigorously protects the constitutional rights of all, regardless of the source of any efforts to weaken or diminish them.

BybeeThere is also a more than 20 page dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee (pictured) and joined by Judges Kozinski, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuta.

The dissenting opinion of Judge Bybee, controversial in many quarters for his expansive views of Executive power, argues that the President's EO was "well within the powers of the presidency."  Essentially, the dissent argues that the panel opinion did not sufficiently defer to the Executive and Congressional power over immigration.  "The appropriate test for judging executive and congressional action affecting aliens who are outside our borders and seeking admission is set forth in Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)."  The dissent faults the panel opinion because it "missed" the Court's 2015 opinion in Kerry v. Din, "in which Din (a U.S. citizen) claimed that the government’s refusal to grant her Afghani husband a visa violated her own constitutional right to live with her husband. A plurality held that Din had no such constitutional right." 

Judge Bybee's opinion seems to suggest that the panel misconstrued the law in service of the judge's own personal agendas, even as the opinion criticizes personal attacks on judges:

We are all acutely aware of the enormous controversy and chaos that attended the issuance of the Executive Order. People contested the extent of the national security interests at stake, and they debated the value that the Executive Order added to our security against the real suffering of potential emigres. As tempting as it is to use the judicial power to balance those competing interests as we see fit, we cannot let our personal inclinations get ahead of important, overarching principles about who gets to make decisions in our democracy. For better or worse, every four years we hold a contested presidential election. We have all found ourselves disappointed with the election results in one election cycle or another. But it is the best of American traditions that we also understand and respect the consequences of our elections. Even when we disagree with the judgment of the political branches—and perhaps especially when we disagree—we have to trust that the wisdom of the nation as a whole will prevail in the end.

Above all, in a democracy, we have the duty to preserve the liberty of the people by keeping the enormous powers of the national government separated. We are judges, not Platonic Guardians. It is our duty to say what the law is, and the meta-source of our law, the U.S. Constitution, commits the power to make foreign policy, including the decisions to permit or forbid entry into the United States, to the President and Congress. We will yet regret not having taken this case en banc to keep those lines of authority straight.     

Finally, I wish to comment on the public discourse that has surrounded these proceedings. The panel addressed the government’s request for a stay under the worst conditions imaginable, including extraordinarily compressed briefing and argument schedules and the most intense public scrutiny of our court that I can remember. Even as I dissent from our decision not to vacate the panel’s flawed opinion, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues. The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties. It does no credit to the arguments of the parties to impugn the motives or the competence of the members of this court; ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for effective advocacy. Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.

This dissenting opinion serves as a reminder that the question of the amount of deference to the Executive regarding a "Muslim ban" is a contentious one; this dissenting opinion may also serve as a roadmap to the arguments supporting broad executive power.

[Update: Federal District Judge Theodore Chuang finds the Mandel standard inapplicable in his opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump]. 

March 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hawai'i District Judge Issues TRO Against Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

United States District Judge Derrick Watson has issued a Temporary Restraining Order in Hawai'i v. Trump against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0."  Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here.  Recall also that Judge Watson allowed Hawai'i to amend its original complaint challenging the previous EO. 

Judge Watson's more than 40 page opinion first engages in an explanation of the facts giving rise to the litigation.

HawaiiDetailedMapNext, Judge Watson concludes there is Article III standing.  He finds that Hawai'i has standing based on its proprietary interests (and thus there was no need to reach the parens patriae standing theory).  The first proprietary interest is the state's financial and intangible interests in its universities, very similar to the interests the Ninth Circuit found sufficient in Washington v. Trump, involving the previous EO.  The second proprietary interest was to the state's "main economic driver: tourism."  Additionally, Judge Watson concludes that Dr. Elshikh, added as a plaintiff in the amended complaint has standing, specifically addressing the Establishment Clause claim in which injury can be "particularly elusive." Moreover, his claim is ripe.

As to the likelihood of success on the merits prong of the TRO requirement, Judge Watson concluded that the plaintiffs "and Dr. Elshikh in particular" are likely to succeed on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim (and thus the court did not reach the other claims).

Judge Watson acknowledged that the EO does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion. There is no express reference, for instance, to any religion nor does the Executive Order—unlike its predecessor—contain any term or phrase that can be reasonably characterized as having a religious origin or connotation.

Nevertheless, the court can certainly look behind the EO's neutral text, despite the Government's argument to the contrary, to determine the purpose of the Government action.  Judge Watson stated that the record before the court was "unique," including "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation" of the EO and its "related predecessor."  Judge Watson then provided excerpts of several of Trump's statements, and rejected the Government's caution that courts should not look into the "veiled psyche" and "secret motives" of government decisionmakers:

The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.[]” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7, 2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive
 Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced
 it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a
commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8.
On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.

In a footnote, Judge Watson lists "many more" examples.

Moreover, Judge Watson engaged with the plaintiffs' arguments that the EO was contextual, including pointing out that the security rationales listed in the EO included an incident involving an Iraqi national when Iraq was no longer included in the EO; the delayed timing of the EO; and the focus on nationality rather than residence.  But Judge Watson noted that while such "assertions certainly call the motivations behind the Executive Order into greater question, they are not necessary to the Court's Establishment Clause determination."

Judge Watson does note that context could change and that the Executive is not forever barred, but as it stands the purpose of the EO is one that has a primary religious discriminatory purpose and will most likely not survive the Establishment Clause challenge.

Having found a likelihood of success on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Watson easily found there was irreparable harm and that a temporary restraining order was appropriate.

Judge Watson's injunction against Sections 2 and 6 of the EO applies "across the Nation."  Should an emergency appeal be sought, Judge Watson's order already denies a stay of the TRO, but does direct the parties to submit a briefing schedule for further proceedings.

March 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 6, 2017

President Issues Revised "Travel Ban"

The President's revised Executive Order (March 6, 2017), entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," has substantial changes from the previous EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here.

This new EO, signed without the fanfare of the previous one, acknowledges that the previous EO "has been delayed by litigation" and does seek to remedy some of the problems with the EO.  For example, the scope is much narrower and the suspension of entry excludes "any lawful permanent resident" as well as some other categories. This will make the applicability of constitutional protections less clear.  While the Constitution protects non-citizens, it does not have global applicability.

The new EO avers that the previous EO was not a "Muslim Ban":

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion.  While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion.  That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities -- whoever they are and wherever they reside -- to avail themselves of the USRAP [US Refugee Admissions Program] in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

Nevertheless, this new EO does not mention otherwise religion. Of course, omitting references to "religion" or stating that an act is not motivated by animus does not end the inquiry.  Instead, there will most certainly be arguments that courts can consider the new EO as religiously-motivated under either First Amendment or Equal Protection Clause doctrine.

The new EO also changes the seven nations to six - - - omitting Iraq as a "special case."  This could also give rise to a national origin classification - - - is Iraq, with its "active combat zones" so different from Libya and Yemen which are described similarly?  The omission of Iraq is also problematical because the new EO recites as part of its justification this specific incident: "For example, in January 2013, two Iraqi nationals admitted to the United States as refugees in 2009 were sentenced to 40 years and to life in prison, respectively, for multiple terrorism-related offenses." 

That relatively brief paragraph, §1(h), ends by stating that "The Attorney General has reported to me that more than 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  Issues with the Attorney General and counterterrorism aside, the objections of other government officials regarding the efficacy of the travel ban would certainly figure in any judicial measurement of the fit between the travel ban and the government purposes.

In terms of litigation and constitutional challenges, the first order of business will be procedural questions regarding whether the new EO can be substituted for the previous EO through amended complaints and other pleadings or will there need to be new cases.

 

 

 

March 6, 2017 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)