Tuesday, January 30, 2018
In his opinion in Koontz v. Watson, United States District Judge Daniel Crabtree enjoined Kansas officials from enforcing Kan. Stat. Ann. § 75- 3740 f and any other Kansas statute, law, policy, or practice that requires independent contractors to declare that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel. The Kansas statute is meant to counteract the so-called BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement which seeks to increase economic pressure on Israel as a means to accomplish specific goals.
After finding that the constitutional challenge was ripe, as well as not moot (since the state contended it would grant a waiver to the plaintiffs), Judge Crabtree found that plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their claim that the statute violated the First Amendment and a preliminary injunction was warranted. Judge Crabtree declared that under the First Amendment, states cannot retaliate or impose conditions on an independent contractor “ʻon a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected freedom of speech,'" and that the same guidelines developed under Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County, Illinois (1969) should apply.
On the first Pickering factor, Judge Crabtree found that Ms. Koontz's conduct of participating in a boycott was protected speech under NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982):
The conduct prohibited by the Kansas Law is protected for the same reason as the boycotters’ conduct in Claiborne was protected. Ms. Koontz, other members of the Mennonite Church, and others have “banded together” to express, collectively, their dissatisfaction with Israel and to influence governmental action. Namely, its organizers have banded together to express collectively their dissatisfaction with the injustice and violence they perceive, as experienced both by Palestinians and Israeli citizens. She and others participating in this boycott of Israel seek to amplify their voices to influence change, as did the boycotters in Claiborne.
In evaluating the government interest under Pickering, Judge Crabtree determined that the legislative history revealed that the goal was to "undermine the message of those participating in a boycott of Israel": "This is either viewpoint discrimination against the opinion that Israel mistreats Palestinians or subject matter discrimination on the topic of Israel." An additional possibility was the legislative goal to "minimize discomfort" of Israeli businesses. Judge Crabtree found these goals were not legitimate.
On the narrowly tailored prong, Judge Crabtree found that the means chosen would be both overinclusive and underinclusive to any legitimate goals such as those involving trade relations with Israel. Moreover,
The authority the Kansas Law grants the Secretary of Administration to waive the certification requirement also undermines any rationale offered by defendant. As the Supreme Court noted in City of Ladue v. Gilleo(1994), “Exemptions from an otherwise legitimate regulation of a medium of speech . . . may diminish the credibility of the government’s rationale for restricting speech in the first place.”
Judge Crabtree also distinguished Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, (FAIR) Inc. (2006), on which the State relied, stating that the Kansas statute aims to regulate conduct that is "inherently expressive":
It is easy enough to associate plaintiff’s conduct with the message that the boycotters believe Israel should improve its treatment of Palestinians. And boycotts—like parades—have an expressive quality. Forcing plaintiff to disown her boycott is akin to forcing plaintiff to accommodate Kansas’s message of support for Israel. Because the Kansas Law regulates inherently expressive conduct and forces plaintiff to accommodate Kansas’s message, it is unlike the law at issue in Rumsfeld. The court thus finds defendant’s reliance on Rumsfeld misplaced.
After finding a likely First Amendment violation, Judge Crabtree further found the factors of granting a preliminary injunction were met.
Monday, January 22, 2018
The Tenth Circuit ruled last week that a former sheriff and undersheriff enjoyed qualified immunity against claims that they retaliated against employees for exercising free speech. The ruling means that the case is dismissed.
The case underscores the power of qualified immunity and the challenges that plaintiffs sometimes face in overcoming it, especially when circuit law hasn't addressed the plaintiffs' precise claims.
The case arose when former Sheriff Terry Maketa and Undersheriff Paula Presley took employment actions against employees for their speech in order to influence an upcoming election for sheriff. In particular, Maketa and Presley transferred plaintiff Lieutenant Peck to the midnight shift after Peck refused to deliver to the media a false story concocted by Maketa regarding a missing Internal Affairs document. They opened a criminal investigation against plaintiff Sergeant Stone and Stone's two children (who were also employees of the Sheriff's Office) after Stone expressed political support for the candidate opposed by Maketa and Presley. And they put a group of commanders on administrative leave; confiscated their phones, tablets, weapons, badges, and vehicles; and had them escorted out of the building after they lodged EEO complaints against Maketa and Presley.
The court didn't rule on the merits of the plaintiffs' free speech claims. Instead, it ruled that the defendants didn't violate any of the plaintiffs' clearly established rights under the Garcetti/Pickering test for public employee speech.
As to Peck, the court said that in communicating a message to the media against Maketa's orders, she wasn't clearly speaking as a private citizen (rather than a public employee), as required for a public employee's free speech claim. The court noted that "[i]n some circuits, Lt. Peck's disobedience might affect whether she was speaking as part of her official duties." But because the Tenth Circuit hadn't ruled on this yet, it wasn't clearly established.
As to Stone, the court said that the investigations didn't clearly constitute adverse employment actions as required for a public employee's retaliation claim. Again, the court noted that other circuits have ruled differently--that "[o]ther circuits disagree with one another on the issue" whether a retaliatory criminal investigation "entails a constitutional violation." But because the Tenth Circuit "has not settled the question," the right wasn't clearly established.
Finally, as to the commissioners, the court said that the defendants' actions weren't clearly adverse employment actions.
Friday, January 19, 2018
The United States Supreme Court has granted the Trump Administration's petition for certiorari to the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump regarding Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017, also known as Travel Ban 3.0, or Muslim Ban 3.0. The Ninth Circuit, affirming a district judge, found Travel Ban 3.0 unlawful under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The United States Supreme Court will also be considering the Establishment Clause issue. Recall that the Ninth Circuit did not reach the Establishment Clause issue. However, the United States Supreme Court's grant of certiorari states that the parties are directed to brief and argue Question 3 presented by the opposition brief of Hawai'i. That question presented is simply phrased: "Whether Proclamation 9645 violates the Establishment Clause."
Recall that the United States Supreme Court previously granted certiorari in Hawai'i v. Trump, as well as IRAP v. Trump from the Fourth Circuit regarding Travel Ban 2.0, but then remanded the cases to be dismissed as moot when that Executive Order was replaced by the current incarnation.
One important issue in the Establishment Clause litigation is whether the travel ban "targets" a particular religion. Somewhat similarly, an important issue under the Immigration and Nationality Act is whether the travel ban constitutes "nationality discrimination."
These issues have involved consideration of whether the "taint" of statements from candidate Trump and President Trump during the earliest days of the Administration would continue to be viable to this third iteration of the travel ban. It is also likely that much more recent statements allegedly made by the President regarding immigration will be raised.
The United States Supreme Court granted the application of a stay by North Carolina in Rucho v. Common Cause pending appeal of the three judge court decision. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor would have denied the stay.
Recall that a three judge court decision on January 9 gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new redistricting plan to the Court after finding that North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.
Now Common Cause joins the other partisan gerrymandering cases before the Court: Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term. Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
In its opinion in Erotic Service Provider Legal Education and Research Project v. Gascon, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of a constitutional challenge to California Penal Code § 647(b) which criminalizes the commercial exchange of sexual activity.
Judge Jane Restani, writing for the unanimous panel, rejected that claim that the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) conferred a fundamental right to sexual intimacy under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Restani's opinion declares that "whatever the nature of the right protected in Lawrence, one thing Lawrence does make explicit is that the Lawrence case “does not involve ... prostitution,” quoting from what some have called Lawrence's "caveat paragraph."
Given that there was no fundamental right at stake, the Ninth Circuit then applied rational basis and found there were several legitimate purposes found by the district court including links between commercial sex and trafficking in women and children; creating a "climate conducive to violence against women;" a "substantial link between prostitution and illegal drug use," and a link between commercial sex and "the transmission of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases." Judge Restani's opinion then summarily rejected the argument that the criminalization of commercial sex actually exacerbated the very problems it sought to remedy, stating that such assertions do not undermine the “rational speculation” sufficient to sustain the statute. The opinion relied on FCC v. Beach Communications (1993) for its highly deferential rational basis standard, despite the constitutional doctrine in Beach Communications being equal protection (albeit under the Fifth Amendment) rather than due process.
[image, "Female convicts at work in Brixton Women's Prison," UK 1862 via]
The Ninth Circuit was no more receptive to the other constitutional challenges. On the First Amendment free association claim, the court found that this was more properly analyzed as due process, and thus the rejection of the due process claim was dispositive. On the "right to earn a living" claim under due process, the court again relied on Lawrence's exclusion of commercial sex. Finally, on the First Amendment free speech claim, the court considered the solicitation of commercial sex as speech and analyzed it under the landmark test of Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y (1980). The court noted that the first prong regarding the exclusion for "unlawful activity" was determinative, but nevertheless continued, and briefly applied the other parts of the Central Hudson and found the statute did not violate the First Amendment.
In this 20 page opinion, the Ninth Circuit both manages to take the constitutional challenges to the criminalization of commercial sex seriously and to repudiate them.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Oppenheimer mentions the plans of the President and Attorney General Sessions to challenge affirmative action policies in higher education as a form of discrimination against white people and predicts that they will eventually use Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech as evidence that Dr. King would be supporting their position if he were still alive. The President's Proclamation for MLK Day does not mention affirmative action (or civil rights), but does allude to King's most famous speech by including the arguably "color-blind" rejecting judgment based on "color of their skin" in favor of "content of their character." (The Proclamation states "Dr. King advocated for the world we still demand — where the sacred rights of all Americans are protected, rural and urban communities are prosperous from coast to coast, and our limits and our opportunities are defined not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.")
Yet as Professor Oppenheimer argues it is simplistic - - - and incorrect - - - to conclude that Martin Luther King's political theorizing can be reduced to a convenient "color-blind" position. Oppenheimer writes:
While I have found no instance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ever using the term “affirmative action,” forty-eight years after his assassination his name is often invoked in the affirmative action debate by opponents of race-based affirmative action, who cite Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech as evidence that he supported “color-blind” policies, and thus presumably would have opposed race-conscious affirmative action. But when we examine the historical record it is clear that while Dr. King dreamed of a time when racism – and thus race – would be irrelevant, he was a supporter of both of these forms of affirmative action. On the one hand, he spent much of the last six years of his life actively promoting what we would describe today as race-conscious affirmative action, including the use of racial quotas in employment. Specifically, from 1962-68 Dr. King orchestrated and implemented “Operation Breadbasket,” a civil rights boycott campaign that demanded employment quotas for Black American workers based on their numbers in a workforce, neighborhood or city. Yet on the other hand, with regard to class-based affirmative action, Dr. King supported a massive war on poverty. In advocating for special benefits for poor Americans he sometimes used color-blind language and pointed out that it would benefit poor whites as well as poor Blacks, while at other times he justified it as an example of the kind of reparations to which Black Americans were entitled under the equitable remedy of restitution for unpaid wages.
In his discussion of the constitutional law doctrine and theory surrounding affirmative action, Oppenheimer includes the United States Supreme Court's reaction to organized efforts to mandate affirmative action in Hughes v. Superior Court for Contra Costa County (1948) in which the Court stated:
that the picketing here involved, and upon which the judgment of contempt is based, was for the attainment of an unlawful objective, viz.: not to induce Lucky [grocery store] not to discriminate against, but, rather, expressly to compel Lucky to discriminate arbitrarily in favor of, one race as against all others in the hiring of a portion of its clerks; and that therefore the injunction was properly issued and the judgment of contempt should stand. With this position, upon the record here, we must agree.
Oppenheimer writes that while the Supreme Court was willing to affirm the legitimacy of protesting discrimination, but unwilling to give any approval to demands for proportional hiring, the demands for "proportional hiring nonetheless persisted, and would become a critical part of Dr. King’s campaign for racial justice in the last six years of his life."
It seems pretty clear that MLK supported what is now known as "affirmative action."
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
In an extensive and well-crafted opinion in the consolidated cases of Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho, a three judge court found North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term. Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone.
Fourth Circuit Judge James Wynn's almost 200 page opinion for the majority, joined by Senior District Judge Britt, first discusses the facts involved in the North Carolina redistricting, some incidents and players of which will be familiar from the Supreme Court's opinion in Cooper v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case challenging only two districts and arising from an earlier North Carolina redistricting.
This is the 2016 plan at issue in Common Cause and League of Women Voters:
Judge Wynn's opinion carefully resolves the question of standing and justiability. Important to the justiciability analysis is the issue of judicially manageable standards, and Judge Wynn writes a robust support for social science, noting that the "Supreme Court long has relied on statistical and social science analyses as evidence that a defendant violated a standard set forth in the Constitution" and citing cases under the Equal Protection Clause such as Yick Wo v. Hopkins, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (It is interesting in this regard to (re)consider Chief Justice Roberts's statements during the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford disparaging social science.)
Judge Wynn wrote:
To hold that such widely used, and relied upon, methods cannot provide a judicially manageable standard for adjudicating Plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims would be to admit that the judiciary lacks the competence—or willingness—to keep pace with the technical advances that simultaneously facilitate such invidious partisanship and provide an opportunity to remedy it.
On the merits of the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Wynn's opinion found that there must be an intent to discriminate on a partisan basis and that there was such an effect, and then the burden would shift to the governmental defendant to prove that a legitimate state interest or other neutral factor justified such discrimination. Here, Judge Wynn's opinion concluded that all were resolved in the challengers' favor. On the First Amendment claim, Judge Wynn considered several strands of doctrine:
Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest. How can the First Amendment prohibit the government from disfavoring certain viewpoints, yet allow a legislature to enact a districting plan that disfavors supporters of a particular set of political beliefs? How can the First Amendment bar the government from disfavoring a class of speakers, but allow a districting plan to disfavor a class of voters? How can the First Amendment protect government employees’ political speech rights, but stand idle when the government infringes on voters’ political speech rights? And how can the First Amendment ensure that candidates ascribing to all manner of political beliefs have a reasonable opportunity to appear on the ballot, and yet allow a state electoral system to favor one set of political beliefs over others? We conclude that the First Amendment does not draw such fine lines.
In a brief separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part, District Judge Osteen, Jr., disagreed as the standard for proving intent in Equal Protection but concluded the standard was met; disagreed on the merits of the First Amendment claim; and agreed that there was a violation of Article I.
Judge Wynn's opinion gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new plan to the Court, but one wonders if North Carolina will also be aggressively pursuing remedies at the United States Supreme Court, especially given Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
In its opinion in Animal Defense League Fund v. Wadsen, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit largely affirmed the injunction of Idaho's so-called "Ag-Gag" law, Idaho Code § 18-7042.
Recall that Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill concluded that portions of the statute violated the First Amendment and enjoined them in 2015. The Idaho statute created a new crime, “interference with agricultural production" and provided that
A person commits the crime of interference with agricultural production if the person knowingly:
(a) is not employed by an agricultural production facility and enters an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
(b) obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
(c) obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations . . .
(d) Enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations;
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit majority opinion, authored by Judge Margaret McKeown and joined by Judge Richard C. Tallman, affirmed the finding that subsections (a) and (d) violated the First Amendment, but held that subsections (b) and (c), criminalizing misrepresentations to obtain records and secure employment are not protected speech under the First Amendment and do not violate the Equal Protection Clause. In his partial dissent, Judge Carlos Bea argued that subsection (a), criminalizing misrepresentations to enter a production facility,should survive constitutional review.
What might be called the ethical center of the litigation is exemplified by the famous novel The Jungle (also discussed by the federal district judge) in which Upton Sinclair highlighted conditions in the meat-packing industry and which was based on the author's time working incognito in a packing plant. But the majority opinion also observes that the appeal "highlights the tension between journalists’ claimed First Amendment right to engage in undercover investigations and the state’s effort to protect privacy and property rights in the agricultural industry."
But the doctrinal center of the court's analysis of the Idaho statute criminalizing misrepresentation is the United States Supreme Court's fractured opinion in United States v. Alvarez (2012), holding unconstitutional the federal "stolen valor" statute criminalizing falsely claiming to have been awarded a military medal.
In short, the majority found that subsection (a)'s misrepresentation provision was protected speech under Alvarez subject to exacting scrutiny, which it did not survive, especially given the potential for selective prosecution and its overbreadth. On the other hand, subsection (b) pertaining to obtaining records was not protected speech under Alvarez because unlike subsection (a)'s "false statements made to enter property, false statements made to actually acquire agricultural production facility records inflict a property harm upon the owner, and may also bestow a material gain on the acquirer" and the provision is aimed at conduct. Somewhat similarly, subsection (c)'s criminalization of obtaining employment is not protected speech under Alvarez since the statements were made for material gain. The majority interestingly observed that it was almost as if "the Idaho legislature drafted this provision with Alvarez by its side," but interestingly did not observe that this provision would have criminalized Upton Sinclair as he researched his novel. Finally, subsection (d), the recordings clause, was not within the false statements analysis of Alvarez, but was a content-based prohibition that failed strict scrutiny.
With the proliferation of ag-gag laws, this Ninth Circuit opinion is sure to be relied on by the Tenth Circuit as it considers a district court 2017 decision in Animal Defense Fund v. Herbert holding Utah's ag-gag law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
[Images from NYPL public domain collection]
In its unanimous panel opinion in Wandering Dago, Inc. v. DeSito, the Second Circuit reversed the district court and held that the the denial of a permit to operate a food truck at the Empire State Plaza in Albany violated the First Amendment as well as the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall from our discussion of the district court's 2016 decision that the issue involved a program in a facility owned by the state of New York and operated by the state Office of General Services (OGS) under Commissioner RoAnn Desito. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, OGS administered "The Empire State Plaza Summer Outdoor Lunch Program," permitting vendors to operate food trucks for limited hours on the plaza, intended to provide "lunch options to the approximately 11,000 State employees who work at Empire State Plaza, as well as for visitors to the Capitol, State Museum, performing arts center" and various monuments and memorials in New York's capital city.
As the list of applicants was being processed, the application for "Wandering Dago" attracted attention of OGS employees, one who "recognized the term 'dago' as 'a highly offensive term for Italians,'" and after conducting a "computer search" to determine whether this was true, his conclusion was not only "confirmed" but it was "revealed" that the term has been "used to refer to people of Spanish and Portuguese descent, as well as Italians." OGS denied the application "on the grounds that its name contains an offensive ethnic slur and does not fit with OGS' policy of providing family-friendly policy." Wandering Dago's application the next year was similarly rejected.
The Second Circuit's opinion, authored by Judge Susan Carney, concluded that the case was clearly governed by the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Matal v. Tam ("The Slants" case) finding that the "disparagement" provision in the trademark statute constituted viewpoint discrimination and failed strict scrutiny. The district judge's decision was rendered before the Supreme Court's opinion, but she had rejected the applicability of the en banc Federal Circuit's opinion in In Re Simon Shiao Tam because she concluded the lunch program was a nonpublic forum. For the Second Circuit, however, the rejection of Wandering Dago's application based on viewpoint merited strict scrutiny under the First Amendment whether or not that "speech is categorized as commercial speech, speech in a public forum, or speech in a nonpublic forum."
Moreover, the Second Circuit held that the government's rejection of the lunch truck was not shielded by the doctrines of government speech (or government contractor speech). The district judge had held that the lunch program was "government speech," relying on Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans in which the Court found that Texas's program of specialty license plates was government speech and therefore not subject to the First Amendment. The Second Circuit opinion contains a full discussion of the record, but ultimately finds it "implausible" that the public would view the Wandering Dago truck as New York's speech. The Second Circuit again analogized to Matal v Tam, in which the Court rejected a government speech claim. As in Matal, the United States government did not "dream up" the trademarks, it "merely registered them," and similarly here, the New York Office of Government Services did not "dream up" the food truck's branding.
The Second Circuit applied strict scrutiny, even while noting that New York did not argue it could satisfy the standard, in order to "complete the analytical picture." Not surprisingly, the court found that the denial of the permit failed strict scrutiny.
More surprisingly, the Second Circuit also reversed the district judge's grant of summary judgment to the government on the Equal Protection Clause claim. In a brief passage, the court found that there was selective enforcement of the permit scheme with "intent to inhibit or punish the exercise of constitutional rights." This finding rested on New York's granting of permits to other vendors applying to participate in the Lunch Program, including the “Slidin’ Dirty” truck. Thus, the court concluded that Wandering Dago was being discriminated against for its free speech constitutional rights "in branding itself and its products with ethnic slurs."
While it is possible that New York will seek certiorari, it seems more likely that the state will accede to the decision and perhaps change its lunch program to make it less a permit scheme and more a government-sponsored "speech" event.
Today brings the news that the President is contemplating litigation to halt the publication of Fire and Fury:Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. This followed a reported cease and desist letter to former White House "chief strategist" and insider Steve Bannon for talking with Wolff in alleged violation of a nondisclosure agreement.
The letter to the book's publisher is reportedly based on a claim of defamation:
“Actual malice (reckless disregard for the truth) can be proven by the fact that the Book admits in the Introduction that it contains untrue statements. Moreover, the Book appears to cite to no sources for many of its most damaging statements about Mr. Trump. Also, many of your so-called ‘sources’ have stated publicly that they never spoke to Mr. Wolff and/or never made the statements that are being attributed to them. Other alleged ‘sources’ of statements about Mr. Trump are believed to have no personal knowledge of the facts upon which they are making statements or are known to be unreliable and/or strongly biased against Mr. Trump.”
But behind the obvious relevance of New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) which set the doctrine of actual malice for defamation under the First Amendment, lurks another case involving the New York Times: New York Times v. United States (1971), often called the "Pentagon Papers Case."
It is the Pentagon Papers Case that solidified the disfavor for prior restraint.
The brief per curiam opinion in the 6-3 decision stated that there is "a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity," and the government "thus carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the imposition of such a restraint." While it is certainly the United States government that is a party to the Pentagon Papers Case, most commentators and scholars believe that it was President Nixon who was at the forefront of the attempt to stop publication of the papers. Arguably, the Pentagon Papers involved "state secrets," but President Trump, like Nixon, has been criticized as conflating his own interests with that of the government.
It's thus a good time to reconsider the continuing relevance of the case and its litigation. One perspective is available in the movie The Post involving the Pentagon Papers and starring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post.
Another good perspective is a recent conversation between James C. Goodale, author of Fighting for the Press: the Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles and Jeremy Scahill, one of the founders of The Intercept and author of Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which I moderated at CUNY School of Law.
Here's the video:
January 4, 2018 in Books, Campaign Finance, Conferences, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, News, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 22, 2017
In the latest installment in the continuing saga of President Trump's various efforts to promulgate a travel ban, often called a Muslim Ban, the Ninth Circuit opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump has largely affirmed the preliminary injunction issued by District Judge Derrick Watson enjoining the Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court, over the stated disagreement of Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, issued a stay of the district judge's opinion earlier this month, as well as a stay in the related proceedings in the Fourth Circuit in IRAP v. Trump.
The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel does not disturb the status quo: "In light of the Supreme Court’s order staying this injunction pending 'disposition of the Government’s petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is sought,' we stay our decision today pending Supreme Court review." The Ninth Circuit does, however, narrow the district judge's injunction, to "give relief only to those with a credible bona fide relationship with the United States."
On the merits, the Ninth Circuit does not reach the constitutional claims including the Establishment Clause, unlike the Fourth Circuit in IRAP v. Trump, because it finds that the plaintiffs' statutory claims are sufficient to grant relief.
Yet the complex statutory framework of the Immigration and Nationality Act, INA, does implicitly invoke the scope of executive powers. In short, the Ninth Circuit finds that the Presidential Proclamation’s indefinite entry suspensions constitute nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas and therefore (in likelihood sufficient for the preliminary injunction) run afoul of 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a)(1)(A)’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination. As the Ninth Circuit opinion observes:
the Proclamation functions as an executive override of broad swaths of immigration laws that Congress has used its considered judgment to enact. If the Proclamation is—as the Government contends—authorized under [8 U.S.C.] § 1182(f), then § 1182(f) upends the normal functioning of separation of powers. Even Congress is prohibited from enabling “unilateral Presidential action that either repeals or amends parts of duly enacted statutes.” Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417, 439 (1998). This is true even when the executive actions respond to issues of “first importance,” issues that potentially place the country’s “Constitution and its survival in peril.” Id. at 449 (Kennedy, J., concurring). In addressing such critical issues, the political branches still do not “have a somewhat free hand to reallocate their own authority,” as the “Constitution’s structure requires a stability which transcends the convenience of the moment” and was crafted in recognition that “[c]oncentration of power in the hands of a single branch is a threat to liberty.” Id. at 449–50.
And the Proclamation’s sweeping assertion of authority is fundamentally legislative in nature. . . .
Recall that a few months ago, after granting certiorari in Hawai'i v. Trump, the United States Supreme Court instructed the Ninth Circuit to dismiss as moot the challenge to Travel Ban 2.0. It looks as if the Court will now have its chance to consider version 3.o.
December 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, International, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled this week that the DOJ's and FBI's designation of a group as a "gang" wasn't a final agency action, and therefore the group couldn't challenge the designation as violating the First Amendment under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The case arose when the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center designated Juggalos, fans of the musical group Insane Clown Posse, as a gang. Juggalos display distinctive tattoos, art, clothing, symbols, and insignia that demonstrate their affiliation with Insane Clown Posse, and associate with each other in order to share their support of the group. According to the NGIC Report, "many Juggalo subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence."
Juggalos brought an APA claim against the DOJ and FBI, arguing that the gang designation violated their First and Fifth Amendment rights, because other law enforcement officers (including state and local officers) used the NGIC Report to target them.
The Sixth Circuit dismissed the case. The court said that the designation didn't cause law enforcement officers to target Juggalos; instead, officers voluntarily relied on the NGIC and used it for their own enforcement purposes. Therefore, the designation didn't cause any legal consequences to Juggalos, and it wasn't a final agency action under the APA.
The court noted, however, that its ruling didn't foreclose First Amendment suits against local law enforcement officers under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
The Third Circuit ruled that school board officials are entitled to qualified immunity from a First Amendment claim by a disruptive speaker who the board excluded from future meetings. But the court also ruled that immunity did not extend to the school board itself.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court for further proceedings on municipal liability.
The case, Barna v. Board of School Directors of the Panther Valley School District, arose when the school board excluded speaker Barna from future meetings because he had made threatening and disruptive comments at earlier meetings. After giving Barna a second chance, which he blew, the board's attorney sent Barna a letter barring him from attending all board meetings or school extracurricular activities because his conduct had become "intolerable, threatening and obnoxious" and because he was "interfering with the function of the School Board." The board permitted Barna to submit written questions, however.
Barna sued individual board officials and the board itself for violating his free speech. The district court granted qualified immunity to all defendants and dismissed the case.
The Third Circuit partially reversed. As to the individual board officials, the court said that Barna's right to free speech wasn't clearly established at the time, because Barna cited no Supreme Court authority saying otherwise, and because Fourth Circuit precedent went against him:
We therefore conclude that, given the state of the law at the time of the Board's ban, there was, at best, disagreement in the Courts of Appeals as to the existence of a clearly established right to participate in school board meetings despite engaging in a pattern of threatening and disruptive behavior. Even if a "right can be 'clearly established' by circuit precedent . . . there does not appear to be any such consensus--much less the robust consensus--that we require to deem the right Barna asserts here as clearly established.
While the court didn't rule on the merits--it didn't have to in order to grant qualified immunity, because it concluded that a right to free speech wasn't clearly established at the time--it noted that it had "twice upheld the temporary removal of a disruptive participant from a limited public forum like a school board meeting." The difference in this case: Barna's ban was permanent.
As to the board, the court reversed. The court noted that under Owen v. City of Independence municipalities do not enjoy qualified immunity from suit for damages under Section 1983. The court sent the issue back to the district court for determination whether the action was a pattern or practice under Monell and, if so, a determination on the merits.
Monday, December 11, 2017
A third district judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the President's ban on transgender troops in the military. In her opinion in Karnoski v. Trump, United States District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction on the basis of the plaintiffs' likelihood to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment claims.
Recall that after several tweets this past July, embedded 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." Recall that in October, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Doe v. Trump partially enjoined the president's actions denying the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive based on a lack of standing and granting the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives. Recall that in November, United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland in Stone v. Trump issued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures.
In Karnoski, Judge Pechman finds that the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the State of Washington all have standing to challenge the Presidential Memorandum and that the claims are ripe. She does grant the motion to dismiss as to the procedural due process claim.
On the merits, Judge Karnoski's analysis is succinct. She concludes that the policy "distinguishes on the basis of transgender status, a quasi-suspect classification, and is therefore subject to intermediate scrutiny." She then states that while the government defendants "identify important governmental interest including military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and preservation of military resources, they failed to show that the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly is related to the achievements of those interests." Indeed, she concludes, the reasons proffered by the President are actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions, and judgment of the military itself," quoting and citing Doe v. Trump.
Departing from the earlier cases, Judge Pechman also finds the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on a substantive due process claim based on a fundamental liberty interest:
The policy directly interferes with Plaintiffs' ability to define and express their gender identity, and penalizes plaintiffs for exercising their fundamental right to do so openly by depriving them of employment and career opportunities.
On the First Amendment claim, Judge Pechman concludes that the "policy penalizes transgender service members but not others for disclosing their gender identity, and is therefore a content based restriction."
She then quickly finds that on balance, the equities weigh in favor of the preliminary injunction.
With this third court finding the Presidential Memorandum has constitutional deficiencies, the transgender ban is unlikely to go into effect by January 1. Additionally, the Pentagon has reportedly announced that the ban will not take effect.
In its opinion in Frudden v. Pilling, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel essentially disagrees with itself.
The litigation, begun in 2011, involves a First Amendment challenge to a school uniform policy requiring students to wear shirts or sweatshirts with a logo of the name of the school, the school mascot (a gopher), and the school motto ("Tomorrow's Leaders"). An exemption to the uniform policy allowed students to wear "the uniform of a nationally recognized youth organization" on regular meeting days of that organization.
There was substantial disagreement over the level of First Amendment scrutiny to be applied.
Originally, the district judge applied intermediate scrutiny, and upheld the constitutionality of the school uniform policy. A panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the motto required strict scrutiny, and remanded the matter. On remand, the district judge held that the "Tomorrow's Leaders" motto survived strict scrutiny and that other claims were moot, did not merit damages, or there was qualified immunity.
On this second appeal, the new panel expressed its disagreement with strict scrutiny as the applicable standard. It first attempted a sua sponte en banc call, but it did not receive a majority vote of the judges. Then, considering itself "bound by the holding of the prior three-judge panel" it reluctantly held that the uniform policy, both the moot and the exemption, failed strict scrutiny.
The panel concluded that although fostering children's achievement was a compelling interest, the motto "Tomorrow's Leaders" was not narrowly tailored to achieve that interest: a content-neutral motto would hardly lessen the message. As to the exemption for other uniforms, the government interests justifying the exemption - - - consistency with other schools and parental convenience in not having to bring two uniforms - - - were not compelling.
Yet the panel also states, in a subsection entitled "Our Disagreement with the Result We Are Required to Reach," that strict scrutiny is the incorrect standard and that the motto and exemption would pass intermediate scrutiny:
According to the prior panel, the motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders” is subject to strict scrutiny because its viewpoint celebrates leadership at the expense of those who are followers. Anodyne, feel-good statements such as “Tomorrow’s Leaders” are common in public schools. A number of mottos would be subject to strict scrutiny and struck down under the panel’s rationale. What about a motto “We Succeed Together”? Some students are loners. What about “School Pride”? Some students are not proud of their school. What about “Stand Tall”? Some students are short. To subject such mottos to strict scrutiny makes no sense.
If mandatory school uniforms, including a motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” are subject only to intermediate scrutiny, we see no reason to subject to strict scrutiny an exemption for uniforms for recognized organizations to which students may belong. To jeopardize such a wide- spread and inoffensive practice similarly makes no sense.
The panel then found that the individual defendants had qualified immunity although the institutional defendants did not, and remanded the case for damages to be assessed against the school district and parent association.
The question of school dress codes, including uniforms, continues to be a vexing one under the First Amendment.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
In its opinion in French v. Jones, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Montana judicial ethics rule restricting political endorsements in campaigns.
Montana Code of Judicial Conduct 4.1(A)(7) prohibits judicial candidates from seeking, accepting, or using endorsements from a political party/organization or partisan candidate, although it does allow political parties to endorse and even provide funds to judicial candidates. Affirming the district judge and upholding the provision's constitutionality, the Ninth Circuit opinion by Judge Jay Bybee surveys the United States Supreme Court's two opinions on the First Amendment and judicial campaign ethics - - - Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002) and Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar (2015) - - - and notes that although the Supreme Court has provided "mixed guidance," the "clear shift in favor of state regulation" and "palpable change" in Williams-Yulee renders the arguments of the challengers unavailing.
After a rehearsal of the cases, including a Ninth Circuit en banc decision, Judge Bybee applied strict scrutiny. Montana's compelling governmental interest of "actual and perceived judicial impartiality" had been accepted in Williams-Yulee. The second interest in a "structurally independent judiciary" is also evaluated, with a supporting citation to The Federalist No. 78, and implicitly found to be even "more compelling." The major challenge, however, was that the judicial canon was not narrowly tailored because it was "fatally underinclusive." On this issue, Judge Bybee's opinion again relied on the change wrought by Williams-Yulee, quoting language disapproving on underinclusiveness. More specifically, the court found that the interest in judicial independence was differently served by endorsements from political parties (whose use was prohibited by the canon) than by endorsements by interest groups. Likewise, the court found that permitting judicial candidates to solicit and use money from political parties was unpersuasive because endorsements are more public, although the information regarding contributions is also available to the public.
Additionally, the court rejected the equation between the announcement prohibition in White, which was found unconstitutional, and the political party endorsement prohibition at issue. Party endorsement is not simply "shorthand" for views. "An endorsement is a thing of value: it may attract voters' attention, jumpstart a campaign, give assurance that the candidate has been vetted, or provide legitimacy to an unknown candidate . . ."
The court also rejected the argument that Montana did not show political endorsements cause harm noting that such an argument could lead to a finding that Montana's choice of nonpartisan judicial elections was itself unconstitutional. Moreover, the elimination of judicial elections entirely is not a less restrictive means consistent with Williams-Yulee.
Although Williams-Yulee was a closely divided case and its reasoning not entirely clear, it provides the basis on which courts are upholding judicial campaigning restrictions.
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the standards for a conditional use permit in Ventura County left too much discretion to the decisionmakers and therefore violated the First Amendment. The ruling reverses a district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's First Amendment claim and sends the case back for a decision on the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.
The case, Epona, LLC v. County of Ventura, arose when the corporation sought a conditional use permit to use the outdoor area on his rural property for outdoor weddings. County officials denied the permit, concluding that the use was "not compatible with the rural community," that it had "the potential to impair the utility of neighboring property or uses," and that it had "the potential to be detrimental to the public interest, health, safety, convenience, or welfare . . . and the findings [in the local zoning law]." The corporation's owner sued, arguing that the standards and denial violated the First Amendment, and that the denial violated RLUIPA. The district court dismissed the claims.
The Ninth Circuit reversed on the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that Ventura County's standards left too much discretion to the decisionmakers, and therefore raised the possibility of content-based discrimination.
The standards say that a person seeking a conditional use permit for an event, including a wedding, show that the event is (among other things):
(b) compatible with the character of surrounding, legally established development;
(c) not . . . obnoxious or harmful, [and must not] impair the utility of neighboring property or uses;
(d) not . . . detrimental to the public interest, safety, convenience, or welfare;
(e) compatible with existing and potential land uses in the general area where the development is to be located . . . .
The scheme requires permitting officials to make "specific factual findings," which arguably made the standards more determinate.
Nevertheless, the court looked to "the totality of the factors" regarding the scheme and concluded that "the [conditional use permit] scheme fails to provide definite and specific guidelines for permitting officials." Moreover, the court said that the scheme failed to provide a time limit (as required by Freedman v. Maryland), so "compounds the problem created by the lack of definite standards for permitting officials." "Together, these defects confer unbridled discretion on permitting officials in violation of the First Amendment."
At the same time, the court rejected the plaintiff's RLUIPA claim, because the corporation isn't "a religious assembly or institution."
The court sent the case back for a ruling on the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction on the First Amendment claim.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Adding to its docket on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, the Court agreed to hear the merits of Benisek v. Lamone, regarding Maryland's redistricting law, decided by a three judge court in August 2017.
Recall that the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford on October 3, 2017. In Gill, arising in Wisconsin, the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is best analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause or under the First Amendment inflected the oral arguments.
The three judge court opinion in Benisek deciding on the application of a preliminary injunction was divided. A majority of the found that the case essentially rejected the challengers' arguments, seemingly finding that the claims were not justiable and that they did not have merit, but ultimately resting on a decision that the matter should be not be decided pending the outcome in Gill v. Whitford and thus denying the motion for preliminary injunction. In an extensive dissenting opinion, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer makes a compelling argument that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District by the Democratic leadership diluted the votes of Republicans. Judge Niemeyer advanced a First Amendment standard to redressing unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering as:
(1) “those responsible for the map redrew the lines of his district with the specific intent to impose a burden on him and similarly situated citizens because of how they voted or the political party with which they were affiliated,”
(2) “the challenged map diluted the votes of the targeted citizens to such a degree that it resulted in a tangible and concrete adverse effect,” and
(3) “the mapmakers’ intent to burden a particular group of voters by reason of their views” was a but-for cause of the “adverse impact.”
Applying that standard, Judge Niemeyer would have found it clearly violated by the Sixth District.
While both the majority and Judge Niemeyer's dissent agree that partisan gerrymandering is "noxious" and destructive, the panel clearly divides on what the judiciary can or should do. For Niemeyer, judicial abdication "would have the most troubling consequences":
If there were no limits on the government’s ability to draw district lines for political purposes, a state might well abandon geographical districts altogether so as to minimize the disfavored party’s effectiveness. In Maryland, where roughly 60% of the voters are Democrats and 40% Republicans, the Democrats could create eight safe congressional districts by assigning to each district six Democrats for every four Republicans, regardless of the voters’ geographical location. In a similar vein, a Republican government faced with these same voters could create a map in which two districts consisted entirely of Democrats, leaving six that would be 53% Republican. Such a paradigm would be strange by any standard. A congressman elected in such a system could have constituents in Baltimore City, others in Garrett County, and yet others in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., preventing him from representing any of his constituents effectively. Similarly, members of a single household could be assigned to different congressional districts, and neighbors would be denied the ability to mobilize politically. Such partisan gerrymandering, at its extreme, would disrupt the “very essence of districting,” which “is to produce a different ... result than would be reached with elections at large, in which the winning party would take 100% of the legislative seats.” [citing Gaffney v. Cummings (1973)].
The role that Benisek will play as an addition to Gill v. Whitford in the Court's consideration of partisan gerrymandering is unclear, but several differences between the cases might be worth noting. First, Benisek centers the First Amendment analysis rather than the Equal Protection Clause or a combination. Second, Benisek involves one district within the state rather than the state as a whole. And third, the redistricting in Maryland involved in Benisek is the Democratic party in power, while the redistricting in Wisconsin in Gill v. Whitford is the Republican party in power. What, if any, difference these differences may ultimately make - - - and whether the Court will render the decisions of these cases close together - - - remains to be determined.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The Court heard oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission with extensive arguments from the attorney for the cakeshop (Kristen Waggoner), the Solicitor General, the Colorado Solicitor General, and the attorney for the would-be customers (David Cole).
As predictable, the oral argument was filled with the expansiveness or limits of any doctrine that would permit the cakemaker to refuse to bake a cake for the same-sex wedding reception. Early on, Justices Ginsburg and Kagan asked Waggoner about florists and invitation designers, who Waggoner stated would be engaging in speech, but said "absolutely not" for the hair stylist. Drawing the line - - - what about the chef? the sandwich artist? - - - preoccupied this initial portion of the argument. However, another limitation that permeated the case was whether the cakemaker's refusal could apply to racial or other identities as well as sexual orientation, or perhaps, whether it was based on identity at all. For Kennedy, the issue could be that "there's basically an ability to boycott gay marriage."
Also for Kennedy, however, the question is whether Colorado had been "tolerant" or "respectful" of the cakemaker's religious beliefs. This invocation of the Free Exercise Clause was given heft by a statement by one of the Commissioners of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as quoted by Kennedy that "freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric." Kennedy asks the Colorado Solicitor General to "disavow or disapprove" of that statement. Kennedy characterizes the statement as expressing a hostility to religion and later lectures the Colorado attorney:
Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it's mutual.
It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs.
In Waggoner's rebuttal, Justice Sotomayor proffered a different view:
Counsel, the problem is that America's reaction to mixed marriages and to race didn't change on its own. It changed because we had public accommodation laws that forced people to do things that many claimed were against their expressive rights and against their religious rights.
It's not denigrating someone by saying, as I mentioned earlier, to say: If you choose to participate in our community in a public way, your choice, you can choose to sell cakes or not. You can choose to sell cupcakes or not, whatever it is you choose to sell, you have to sell it to everyone who knocks on your door, if you open your door to everyone.
While it's always perilous to predict the outcome of a decision based n oral argument, if Justice Kennedy is the deciding vote, his attention to the religious aspects of the challenge could make the free speech argument less consequential.
Monday, December 4, 2017
Preview of Masterpiece Cakeshop Argument on First Amendment Challenge to Anti-Discrimination Statute
Set for oral argument Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the high visibility case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission can be seen as a clash of constitutional principles of individual conscience vs. equality, or as a federalism case, or as part of the backlash to LGBTQ rights, or as part of the rise of religiously-motivated challenges to secular laws.
Recall that a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses. In the state proceedings, the Colorado Administrative Law Judge (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 lengthy opinion, rejecting the First Amendment claims.
On the First Amendment speech claim, the initial hurdle for the cakemaker is establishing that the cake constitutes speech. The cakemaker argues that he is a "cake artist." The Court has held that symbolic speech needs to convey a particularized and understood message, Spence v. Washington (1974), but that includes the "unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schonberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll," Hurley v. Irish American Gay Group of Boston (1995). The cakemaker has also argued that the cake itself is so central to the wedding as to be a participant. Thus, the cakemaker as business owner should be able to refuse to make cakes for events with which he disagrees otherwise his speech is being compelled, akin to the landmark flag salute case of West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette (1943).
On the religious claim, the cakemaker essentially argues that the Colorado anti-discrimination law is not a law of neutral and general applicability because it includes sexual orientation as a protected ground and therefore targets (certain) religions, and thus strict scrutiny applies.
On both claims, the oral arguments will most likely include explorations of the slippery slopes. If the cake is art, then what about restaurant dinners? Photography? Bed and breakfasts? If the cake is akin to a participant in the wedding celebration, then would the rule extend to birthdays? And can the exemption for individual conscience be limited to sexual orientation? What about race? Ethnicity or national origin? Gender?
There are a little less than 50 amicus briefs on each side. The Court has allowed the Solicitor General of the United States to participate in oral argument on the side of the cakemaker, and for the respondents (the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the original would-be customers) to both participate.
The case has attracted extensive commentary (here's a good round-up by Edith Roberts on SCOTUSBlog) and there is certainly much more to come.