Thursday, July 3, 2014
In an emergency motion for a Temporary Restraining Order filed today in Hassan v. Obama in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the petitioner relies on Monday's controversial decision by the United States Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Petitioner, Imad Abdullah Hassan, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, invokes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to prevent the federal government from depriving him of " the right to participate in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan," a tenet of his religious faith.
As the motion outlines, the DC Circuit had previously held in Rasul v. Myers, 563 F.3d 527, 532-33 (D.C. Cir. 2009), that the Guantánamo Bay detainees are not protected “person[s]” within the meaning of the RFRA. The court in Rasul "bypassed the dictionary definition of “person” and instead looked to prior case law prescribing the scope of the word “person” for purposes of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments— which did not, in the Rasul court’s view, apply to nonresident aliens."
However, the motion argues this is a "dead letter" after the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby which "eviscerates the reasoning in Rasul and makes clear that Petitioner, as a flesh-and-blood human being, is among the 'person[s]' protected by the RFRA." Indeed, the court in Rasul held that in RFRA Congress merely "intended to incorporate the standard governing free exercise claims that prevailed before the Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith," and that such claims did not include resident noncitizens. But in Hobby Lobby, the Justice Alito's opinion for the Court explicitly states:
the results would be absurd if RFRA merely restored this Court’s pre-Smith decisions in ossified form and did not allow a plaintiff to raise a RFRA claim unless that plaintiff fell within a category of plaintiffs one of whom had brought a free-exercise claim that this Court entertained in the years before Smith. For example, we are not aware of any pre-Smith case in which this Court entertained a free-exercise claim brought by a resident noncitizen. Are such persons also beyond RFRA’s protective reach simply because the Court never addressed their rights before Smith?
[Opinion at 33].
Thus, the motion argues that
a nonresident alien Guantánamo Bay detainee, who inarguably has constitutional rights in what is de facto sovereign U.S. territory, see Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), must also enjoy the protections extended by the RFRA.
Hobby Lobby leads inexorably to the conclusion that the nonresident alien detainees at Guantánamo Bay are “person[s]” protected by the RFRA. The Dictionary Act definition of “person” includes “individuals.” 1 U.S.C. § 1. The Dictionary Act does not confine “individuals” to U.S. citizens, just as it does not confine “corporations” to U.S. corporations; nor does it confine “individuals” to U.S. residents. The Guantánamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and- blood human beings, are surely “individuals,” and thus they are no less “person[s]” than are the for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby or the resident noncitizens whom Hobby Lobby gives as an example of persons to whom the RFRA must apply. The fact that the detainees are at Guantánamo Bay changes nothing, for Hobby Lobby makes clear that a “person” whose religious free exercise is burdened under color of law need not be a U.S. citizen or resident in order to enjoy the RFRA’s protections.
The application of Hobby Lobby to "persons" who are detainees at Guantánamo Bay might be an unforeseen consequence of the decision, but the motion makes a convincing argument that it is a logical one grounded in the Court's holding and language.
In its opinion in People v. Marquan M, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court), found that Albany Local Law 11 (2010) criminalizing cyberbullying was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The local law for Albany County criminalized cyberbullying against any "minor or person" (with "person" interestingly defined as including corporations) with cyberbullying defined as:
any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge Victoria Graffeo for four additional judges over a two-judge dissent, found that the law was overbroad under the First Amendment: "the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult."
The defendant and his actions here - - - a 15 year old who used Facebook to anonymously post "photographs of high-school classmates and other adolescents, with detailed descriptions of their alleged sexual practices and predilections, sexual partners and other types of personal information," with "vulgar and offensive" "descriptive captions" - - - were within the "cyberbullying" that the Local Law intended to proscribe. But even Albany County agreed that the local law was overbroad. However, the County argued that the severability clause of the local law should be employed to excise the word "person" so that the only covered victims were minors. But the court found that even that would not "cure all of the law's constitutional ills." The dissenters would have engaged in saving constructions.
In ruling that a local law intended to criminalize as a misdemeanor cyberbullying did not survive the First Amendment because it was overbroad, New York's highest court left open the possibility that a prohibition of cyberbullying could be more narrowly crafted to survive First Amendment review: "the First Amendment does not give defendant the right to engage in these activities."
However, the court's opinion offers little guidance about how such a law or policy should be drafted. New York's Dignity for All Students Act as amended in 2012 places the responsibility for developing "policies and procedures intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination" on school boards. While Albany's law was a general criminal statute, school boards will undoubtedly be considering Marquan M. as they review their current "cyberbullying" prohibitions in light of the First Amendment. They may also be recalling the Third Circuit's unhelpful intervention in a pair of "My Space" cases in which principals were arguably "bullied.
And undoubtedly, those interested in cyberbullying in and out of schools will be watching the "true threats on Facebook case," Elonis v. United States, to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next Term.
In an exceedingly brief per curiam opinion in Keating v. University of South Dakota, an Eighth Circuit panel reversed the conclusion of a district judge that the university's "civility code" was "impermissibly vague, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The university provision at issue provided:
Faculty members are responsible for discharging their instructional, scholarly and service duties civilly, constructively and in an informed manner. They must treat their colleagues, staff, students and visitors with respect, and they must comport themselves at all times, even when expressing disagreement or when engaging in pedagogical exercises, in ways that will preserve and strengthen the willingness to cooperate and to give or to accept instruction, guidance or assistance.
The plaintiff, a tenure-track physics professor, did not have his employment contract renewed because of a strained relationship with his supervisors, including becoming "quite angry" at a meeting, being the subject of a sexual harassment claim, and sending an email accusing his immediate supervisor of being a lying, back-stabbing sneak.
The panel held that although the "policy employs broad language, that alone does not necessarily prevent an ordinary person from recognizing that certain conduct will result in discharge or discipline." Instead,
the civility clause articulates a more comprehensive set of expectations that, taken together, provides employees meaningful notice of the conduct required by the policy. The outer contours of the civility clause perhaps are imprecise, but many instances of faculty misconduct would fall clearly within the clause’s proscriptions, thus precluding the conclusion that the policy is facially unconstitutional.
Moreover, the panel found as applied to Keating's conduct, the civility clause was not impermissibly vague.
The use of "civilty clauses" continues to be a contested issue on due process grounds as well as First Amendment grounds. Here, the Eighth Circuit provides a definitive stamp of approval to such a policy.
Monday, June 30, 2014
A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn that a state cannot require nonunionized home-healthcare workers, or personal assistants, in the state's Medicaid program to pay "fair share" union dues. The majority held that a fair-share-dues requirement for non-union members violates their First Amendment association rights.
The ruling is a victory for non-unionized home-healthcare workers, and for anti-union types generally. But on the other hand, the ruling did not go as far as it might have in striking public sector fair share requirements. The majority took another shot at public sector fair share requirements (it earlier took a shot in Knox), prompting the dissent to go to great lengths to defend the constitutionality of those requirements, and setting up those requirements (yet again) for reconsideration.
In other words, the majority strongly criticized Abood, but did not overrule it. The dissent vigorously defended it. We can expect more challenges, with the Court moving to overturn it. (Abood held that a state may require fair share fees for non-union members in a public sector union in the interests of preventing free-riding and labor peace.)
The majority (penned by Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) held that personal assistants were not full state employees--they're supervised principally by the individual clients they serve. Moreover, state law limits the union's role in representing them. As a result, the Court said that Abood's rationales don't apply, and declined to "extend" Abood. The Court applied "exacting scrutiny" and held that the state fair-share requirement failed.
The dissent (penned by Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor) disagreed that personal assistants were different than public employees for Abood purposes. Dissenters would have applied Abood in a straightforward way and upheld the state fair-share requirement.
But while the majority and dissent jousted over the status of personal assistants (in relation to public employees in Abood)--and while the majority ultimately hung its hat on its distinction between public employees and personal assistants--it was clear that the real struggle is over Abood itself. The majority left it hanging (once again) by a thread, while the dissent vigorously defended it.
As in Knox, the majority opinion here begs for another case, another chance to overturn Abood--a move that would strike a very serious blow to public sector unions. In the meantime, it continues to chip away at Abood's foundation, planting time bombs in Harris and Knox that it will use whenever it gets the next case that puts Abood squarely within its range.
Until that time comes, however, Abood stays on the books. And public sector fair-share requirements survived again, even if bruised and battered.
Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"
On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage? Here's our primer on the issues for more detail. Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results.
The oral arguments in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim. The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.
The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.
Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong. However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.
Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion. As we discussed, Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.
The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg, joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons). The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs." Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:
And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.” I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.
Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.” Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.
[citations and footnotes omitted].
Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."
However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.
June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, June 27, 2014
Here's the problem:
In August 2008, a municipality erected a sign "Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!," with a directional arrow and “1 BLOCK” written on it, and depicting a gold cross and a white Bible, on a right of way bordering a property owner's property. The property owner engaged in a bit of her own speech, on her own property, posting a sign of her own directly in front of the church sign which read "This Church Sign Violates My Rights As A Taxpayer & Property Owner. Residential Neighborhoods Are Not Zoned For Advertisement Signs!” The municipality threatened the property owner with sanctions for her sign, which she removed. The propery owner filed a complaint pursuant to 42 USC §1983 in federal court in November 2012 alleging constitutional violations by the municipality based on the church sign, which remains standing, and her own offending sign, which she had removed. The state statute of limitations for tort claims is two years.
The Third Circuit's opinion in Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny addressed exactly this problem. The complaint alleged that the "church sign" violated the Establishment Clause, while the threats to prosecute plaintiff for erecting her own sign violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment. Generally, because §1983 does not have a statute of limitations, state law provides the applicable time limitations. The district judge dismissed the complaint based on the statute of limitations because the actions occurred more than two years prior to the filing of the complaint. Reversing on the Establishment Clause claim only, the Third Circuit found that the state statute of limitations did not bar the claim.
The plaintiff's attorney argued that the two year statute of limitations for the church sign should be viewed as a "continuing violation." As the court noted, this is more often part of a statute of limitations inquiry in an employment discrimination case: "where only in retrospect will a plaintiff recognize that seemingly unconnected incidents were, in fact, part and parcel of a larger discriminatory pattern." But here, the court accepted the municipality's argument that the continuing violation doctrine does not apply because the sign "is merely an effect" of the action - - - erecting the sign - - -that was within the statute of limitations.
But the Third Circuit found that the state's two year statute of limitations was inapplicable because although §1983 does not have a statute of limitations and state law provides the pertinent time limitations, this is true only "if it is not inconsistent with federal law or policy to do so.” Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261 (1985). The Court found that Establishment Clause rights are very important and that while other constitutional rights are also important
what further distinguishes Tearpock-Martini’s claim, and Establishment Clause claims in general, is that the traditional rationales justifying a limitations period—“to protect defendants against stale or unduly delayed claims,” “facilitat[e] the administration of claims,” and “promot[e] judicial efficiency,” [citation omitted] —simply have no persuasive force in this context. Tearpock-Martini’s challenge is to a still- existing monument that communicates anew an allegedly unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government each time it is viewed. Strict application of the statutory limitations period both serves no salutary purpose and threatens to immunize indefinitely the presence of an allegedly unconstitutional display.
Moreover, the Third Circuit noted that it could not find any precedent for finding an Establishment Clause challenge time-barred in a passive monument case, and indeed the cases were the opposite, citing, most persuasively, Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005) (display of Ten Commandments challenged 40 years after installation).
The Third Circuit's conclusion seems exactly right: how can there be a statute of limitations on an Establishment Clause violation of a passive monument? However, in this case, because this particular plaintiff knew about the sign, and even objected to it, one could have expected her to act more quickly. Yet the very notion of an Establishment Clause violation caused by a still existing monument or even sign is that it is a continuing one.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
United States Supreme Court Declares Massachusetts' Buffer Zone Unconstitutional in McCullen v. Coakley
A unanimous Court, albeit in separate opinions, found the Massachusetts statute imposing a 35 foot buffer zone around places where abortions are performed violates the First Amendment in its opinion in McCullen v. Coakley, reversing the First Circuit.
Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts - - - who, unusually, did not ask any questions during the oral argument - - -found that the statute was not subject to strict scrutiny because it was content and viewpoint neutral, despite arguments to the contrary. However, the Court found that the statute failed the so-called "time, place, and manner" test articulated in Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781 (1989). The Court's opinion - - - joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan - - - concluded that the statute burdened more speech than necessary and was not sufficiently closely tailored. In large part, this was based on the statute's exceptional coverage of public streets and sidewalks. It was also based on the specific petitioners in the case, who are not "protesters," but people who "attempt to engage women approaching the clinics in what they call 'sidewalk counseling,' which involves offering information about alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options." Further, the Court articulated other less restrictive means available to Massachusetts, including targeted injunctions, and found that the record did not support the need for Massachusetts' sweeping approach. As the Court concluded:
Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks—sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history. Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.
Justice Scalia's concurring opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas, criticizes the Court's opinion as one
that has Something for Everyone, and the more significant portion continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence. That is the first half of the Court’s analysis, which concludes that a statute of this sort is not content based and hence not subject to so-called strict scrutiny. The Court reaches out to decide that question unnecessarily—or at least unnecessarily insofar as legal analysis is concerned.
Justice Alito, wrote separately but briefly to express his belief that the statute discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.
The takeaway is this: In a unanimous opinion, the Court ruled that Massachusetts went too far in seeking to protect the reproductive rights of women seeking abortions and infringed the First Amendment rights of those who seek to counsel them to change their minds. The Court's opinion approves more narrow methods governments might use to protect the reproductive rights of women entering clincs. But four Justices seem inclined to find a violation of the First Amendment in even more narrow government attempts.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Nathaniel Zelinsky, writing over at Concurring Opinions, traces the history and subsequent use of Justice Potter Stewart's famous phrase from his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Zelinsky found earlier uses of the phrase, or very similar phrases, but writes that Alan Novak, one of Justice Stewart's clerks, "remembered the phrase emerging out of a conversation with the justice. And it was, according to Novak, Stewart who wrote the actual opinion, including the seven words." Justice Stewart did not intend "to create a widespread sensation"; indeed, news coverage at the time all but ignored the phrase--and all but ignored Jacobellis, in favor of Quantity of Books v. Kansas, another obscenity case handed down that day.
Zelinsky offers this advice:
The unintentional popularity of "I know it when I see it" should be a note of caution for legal authors in the public sphere, from jurists to commentators more generally: it is very difficult to predict in advance what will capture widespread attention among the non-legal public. . . . On the flip side, the legal corpus is full of opinions whose authors hoped would be earthquakes but whose prose was then largely ignored.
Unanimous Supreme Court in Lane v. Franks: First Amendment Protects Public Employee's Subpoenaed Testimony
In an unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with an exceedingly brief concurring opinion by Justice Thomas, joined by Scalia and Alito, the Court held in Lane v. Franks that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena, outside the course of his ordinary job responsibilities." However the Court held that the defendant sued in his personal capacity had qualified immunity because such a holding was not "beyond debate."
Recall from our previous discussions of the case including the certiorari grant, the law professors amicus brief, and oral argument that the underlying facts are extremely sympathetic to Edward Lane, the public employee who uncovered gross corruption of an elected state legislator and was later subpoenaed to testify in the federal criminal prosecution. Indeed, even the Attorney General for the state contended at oral argument that the Eleventh Circuit was incorrect to conclude that the employee's speech was not within the strictures of the Court's most recent public employee First Amendment case, Garcetti v. Ceballos.
On the issue of qualified immunity, however, the Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit, finding that although the Eleventh Circuit was clearly wrong on the merits, the First Amendment right was not sufficiently "clearly established" at the time Lane was terminated by the college president.
My longer analysis of today's opinion is at SCOTUSBlog here.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
In an extensive opinion today in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., Cancellation No. 92046185, a divided Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the trademark of the term "redskins" as violative of section 2(a), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibiting registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.
The majority opinion relied upon dictionary definitions, expert opinions, and surveys to conclude that the term is disparaging - - - and was so at the time the trademark was approved. The majority rejected the laches defense in part because "there is an overriding public interest in removing from the register marks that are disparaging to a segment of the population beyond the individual petitioners."
Judge Bergsman's dissenting opinion disagreed with the
majority’s decision to grant the petition on the claim of disparagement because the dictionary evidence relied upon by the majority is inconclusive and there is no reliable evidence to corroborate the membership of National Council of American Indians.
To be clear, this case is not about the controversy, currently playing out in the media, over whether the term “redskins,” as the name of Washington’s professional football team, is disparaging to Native Americans today. The provisions of the statute under which the Board must decide this case – §§ 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1052(a) and 1064(3) – require us to answer a much narrower, legal question: whether the evidence made of record in this case establishes that the term “redskins” was disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans at the time each of the challenged registrations issued.
Neither the majority or dissenting opinion - - - both of which are lengthy - - - engage with the possible First Amendment free speech issues or with the possible Equal Protection issues; this is decidely a case interpreting a statutory provision regarding trademark.
Yet the constitutional contours of speech and equality are evident in both opinions, just as constitutionalism has been implicated in the controversies surrounding the use of the term. Thus, while a "trademark case," Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. is worth consideration by constitutional students and scholars. And its comparison to the "dykes on bikes" trademark case, which I've discussed here, is also worth consideration by those interested in constitutionalism, democracy, and language.
At the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. and live-streaming today at noon (EST), there's a discussion featuring Shaun McCutcheon - - - millionaire, plaintiff, and now author of Outsider Inside the Supreme Court: A Decisive First Amendment Battle- - - and Professor Ron Collins - - - First Amendment scholar and author of When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment.
They will be joining others to discuss the Court's decision this Term in McCutcheon v. FEC and the future of campaign finance under the First Amendment.
More information here.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Over a dissent from Justice Scalia, joined by Thomas, the United States Supreme Court decided not to review the closely watched Elmbrook School District v. Doe. The case was relisted by the Court at least ten times before the petition for certiorari was finally denied.
Recall as we discussed almost two years ago, the Seventh Circuit en banc found a First Amendment Establishment Clause violation when two high schools held their graduation ceremonies in a church. Justice Scalia's dissent contended that because the Seventh Circuit's opinion is now "fundamentally inconsistent" with a "number of points" "made clear" by Town of Greece v. Galloway - - - this Term's controversial 5-4 decision upholding town council's prayer - - - "the Court ought, at a minimum, to grant certiorari, vacate the judgment, and remand for reconsideration (GVR)."
Yet Scalia's dissent might be most noteworthy for its casual evisceration of the Establishment Clause:
Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion. Religion, they believe, is a personal matter; if it must be given external manifestation, that should not occur in public places where others may be offended. I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky. And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.
My own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781, 790 (1989); Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, 422 U. S. 205, 210–211 (1975). Certain of this Court’s cases, however, have allowed the aversion to religious displays to be enforced directly through the First Amendment, at least in public facilities and with respect to public ceremonies—this despite the fact that the First Amendment explicitly favors religion and is, so to speak, agnostic about music.
(emphasis in original).
However, with the denial of certiorari in Elmbrook School District, the line between adult activities such as legislative meetings and "school" activities such as graduations persists in Establishment Clause doctrine.
Monday, June 16, 2014
The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Elonis v. United States, a case regarding a criminal conviction for threats against his estranged wife and others posted on Facebook.
The question presented in the certiorari question is:
Whether, consistent with the First Amendment and Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), conviction of threatening another person requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten, as required by the Ninth Circuit and the supreme courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont; or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening, as held by other federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort.
However, in its Order today, the Court stated:
In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: "Whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U. S. C. §875(c) requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten."
The Third Circuit panel opinion unanimously upheld the conviction of Anthony Elonis under 18 U. S. C. §875(c), rejecting his contention that the statute requires subjective proof of his intent to threaten, rather than objective proof. There is a split in circuits on whether subjective intent is required to make the statute constitutional after the Court's decision in Virginia v. Black in which the Court declared a Virginia statute provided that cross-burning was "prima facie evidence" of a intent to intimidate.
The doctrine of "true threats" has long been a fraught one. As in other oft-called categorical exclusions from the First Amendment, the operative legal query is definitional: if the speech is a "true threat," the speech is not protected; if it is not a "true threat," then it is protected speech.
At times, this inquiry becomes grammatical. For example, the Third Circuit found that a particular posting that Elonis claimed was conditional and therefore could not be a "true threat," could have reasonably been found by a jury to be a true threat. The Third Circuit extensively quotes the facebook postings of Elonis, but we shall not repeat them here given language some might find objectionable. It will be interesting to see what language choices the Justices make.
The Court's grant of certiorari may - - - or may not - - - indicate that some Justices found that Elonis's facebook postings failed to rise to the level of true threats. Undoubtedly, however, this case will be watched not only by those interested in "free speech on the internet" but also by those interested in "intimate partner violence."
Unanimous Supreme Court Returns Susan B Anthony List v. Driehaus for Decision on Election Law Merits
The Court's unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements, reversed the Sixth Circuit's determination that the case was not ripe. Recall that Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List, but the Sixth Circuit held the SB List could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review."
As we discussed after oral argument, the Justices seemed inclined to find the courts had Article III power to hear the case, although there was some doctrinal fuzziness whether the case should be analyzed as one of "standing" or one of "ripeness." Footnote 5 of the opinion by Justice Thomas for the Court resolves the question firmly in favor of standing:
The doctrines of standing and ripeness “originate” from the same Article III limitation. DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 335 (2006). As the parties acknowledge, the Article III standing and ripeness issues in this case “boil down to the same question.” Med- Immune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U. S. 118, 128, n. 8 (2007); see Brief for Petitioners 28; Brief for Respondents 22. Consistent with our practice in cases like Virginia v. American Booksellers Assn., Inc., 484 U. S. 383, 392 (1988), and Babbitt v. Farm Workers, 442 U. S. 289, 299, n. 11 (1979), we use the term “standing” in this opinion.
The Court reiterated the established criteria: (1) an "injury in fact" (2) a sufficient “causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,” and (3) a likelihood that the injury “will be redressed by a favorable decision," noting that the hurdle for the organization of Susan B. Anthony List was the "injury in fact" requirement. To establish "injury in fact," the organization had to demonstrate the threat of future prosecution by the election board was sufficiently "concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical,’” and "certainly impending,” or there is a “‘substantial risk’ that the harm will occur.”
The shadow of the First Amendment was apparent in the Court's reasoning: "The burdens that [Election] Commission proceedings can impose on electoral speech are of particular concern here."
The Court's relatively short and unanimous opinion breaks no new ground. It draws on establishing standing precedent which it applies in a relatively straightforward manner, and then quickly dispatches the "prudential" rationale for rejecting jurisdiction.
However, it's worth considering as a contrast a case uncited by the Court - - - Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983) - - - in which a deeply divided Court decided that Adolph Lyons did not have standing to challenge the City of Los Angeles police department's sometimes fatal practice of administering a "chokehold" to persons it stopped for traffic violations. As Justice Marshall wrote in the dissenting opinion (joined by Justices Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens):
Since no one can show that he will be choked in the future, no one — not even a person who, like Lyons, has almost been choked to death — has standing to challenge the continuation of the policy. The city is free to continue the policy indefinitely as long as it is willing to pay damages for the injuries and deaths that result. I dissent from this unprecedented and unwarranted approach to standing.
Perhaps Susan B. Anthony List demonstrates that Justice Marshall's view has proven to be correct and that Lyons can now be disregarded. Or perhaps, studies such as this and this are correct that the status of Susan B. Anthony List as an anti-abortion organization and the status of Adolph Lyons as an African-America male confronting law enforcement are just as important as doctrine.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Reversing the federal district court, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Richards upholding the Animal Crush Video Protection Act of 2010 against a First Amendment challenge. At 14 pages, the opinion authored by Judge Stephen Higginson is workmanlike but ultimately fails to satisfy the concerns raised by the statute.
Recall that the 2010 Act, 18 U.S.C. § 48 (2010), is the Congressional revision of the crush porn statute the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional in United States v. Stevens. In Stevens, the eight Justice majority found that the statute criminalizing portrayals of animal cruelty was of "alarming breadth" and could operate to criminalize popular hunting television programs. When Congress passed an amended statute, it included a provision that the portrayal "is obscene" and specific exclusions for hunting and slaughter.
Unlike the criminal defendant in Stevens (who was prosecuted for dog-fight videos), the defendants in Richards were charged with producing "crush porn" in which there is the depiction of cruelty to a small animal in an arguably sexual manner.
The First Amendment challenge to the statute contended that the "obscene" prong of the statute did not incorporate the necessary Miller v. California test for obscenity. Under Miller, this requires "sexual conduct," but Congressional history seemed debatable on this requirement. Disagreeing with the district judge, however, the Fifth Circuit panel concluded it should not look to "variable and debatable legislative history to render unconstitutional a statute that incorporates a legal term of art with distinct constitutional meaning." Thus, it held that "§48 incorporates Miller obscenity and thus by its terms proscribes only unprotected speech."
The Fifth Circuit rejected the argument that §48 proscribes only a certain type of obscenity in contravention of what some would call the "categorical approach" employed by the Court in the hate speech case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. After describing this argument, the Fifth Circuit veered into the much-disparaged "secondary effects" doctrine to conclude that
even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the creators and distributors of animal crush videos, like Richards and Justice, intend to advance a distinct message, perhaps about barbarism, § 48 is justified with reference not to the content of such a message but rather to its secondary effects—wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.
The panel thus concludes that "Section 48 thus is narrow and tailored to target unprotected speech that requires the wanton torture and killing of animals." In doing so, the opinion noted that "a long history and substantial consensus, as seen in state and federal legislation, are indicative" of a compelling or substantial interest - - - and cited for this proposition New York v. Ferber. Ferber, upholding the constitutionality of criminalizing child pornography, is of course the very case Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in United States v. Stevens distinguished; the Court rejected the analogy between child porn and (animal)crush porn.
The Fifth Circuit en banc should take another look at United States v. Richards and the First Amendment contours of the "crush porn" statute without reference to "secondary effects."
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The Sixth Circuit today denied a preliminary injunction to a group of religious employers and religious nonprofits challenging the exemption from and the accommodation to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling is just the latest in a line of challenges to the accommodation. We posted most recently here. (These cases are different than the Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court: these cases involve religious nonprofits that take issue with the accommodation to the contraception mandate, where the Hobby Lobby case involves a corporation's challenge to the mandate itself.)
The cases are unusual, even surprising, in that the plaintiffs challenge the government's attempt to accommodate their religious beliefs as itself a violation of their religious rights.
The organizations challenged the exemption from and the accommodation to the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment (speech and religion clauses). The court ruled that they failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and thus affirmed the lower court's denial of a preliminary injunction.
The court noted that some of the plaintiffs were religious employers who qualified for the exemption from the mandate. Because the exemption exempts them, and because it does not require any particular act on the part of the organizations, the court said that the exemption didn't violate the organizations' speech or religious rights.
As to the religious non-profits, the court said that they qualify for the accommodation by simply certifying that they object to the mandate--and that this didn't interfere with their religious or free speech rights. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the certification itself somehow implicated the organizations in providing contraception in violation of their religious rights or free speech rights. In language shy of, but no less certain than, the almost hostile ruling by Judge Posner in the Seventh Circuit rejecting a similar claim the court said,
The appellants are not required to "provide" contraceptive coverage. . . . The appellants are not required to "pay for" contraceptive coverage. . . . Moreover, the appellants are not required to "facilitate access to" contraceptive coverage. . . . Submitting the self-certification form to the insurance issuer or third-party administrator does not "trigger" contraceptive coverage; it is federal law that requires the insurance issuer or the third-party administrator to provide this coverage.
The D.C. Circuit this week rejected a variety of claims by Guantanamo detainees for mistreatment by government officials and guards even after they had been cleared for release by the Combat Status Review Tribunal. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' request to remand the case to amend their complaint.
The case, Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, involved detainee claims of "forced grooming, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced medication, transport in 'shackles and chains, blackened goggles, and ear coverings,' and the disruption of . . . religious practices," even after some of the plaintiffs were cleared for release by the CSRT. The plaintiffs brought claims against government officials and Guantanamo guards under the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
As to the ATS, the court held that the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, which, under the Westfall Act, transforms their ATS claim into a Federal Tort Claims Act claim against the government. But the plaintiffs didn't pursue administrative remedies under the FTCA, so their case was dismissed.
As to the Vienna Convention, the court said that the Convention confers a private right of action.
As to the other, Bivens claims, the court held, citing its second Rasul ruling, that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, or, alternatively, that the case raised special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy.
June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 5, 2014
In her relatively brief essay Hobby Lobby and the Pathology of Citizens United, available on ssrn, Professor Ellen Katz (pictured) advances a doctrinal and jurisprudential argument - - - rather than political or consequentialist ones - - - for the "danger" of Citizens United v. FEC.
Citizens United read a number of prior decisions to adopt rules those decisions deliberately chose not to espouse. This is not an entirely new move for the Court as it has previously cast off a decision’s doctrinal limits and stated normative claims. The contribution of Citizens United, however, was to normalize this stance. The Roberts Court seems increasingly comfortable approaching precedent just as it did in that case. This Essay identifies this move as a consistent practice across a number of decisions, and explains both why it is likely to be used in the pending ACA cases and beyond, and why it is cause for deep concern.
It is a phenomenon Katz labels "fanciful precedent." She contends it was operative in last Term's controversial Shelby County v. Holder.
She argues that it was prominent in Citizens United related to the Court's use of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (an issue of footnotes as we discuss here and here), in a manner that might foreshadow any Robert Court opinion in Hobby Lobby "relying" on United States v. Lee and Braunfeld v. Brown.
Katz's short piece is worth a read as we await the Court's decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (and Conestoga Woods Specialties, Corp. v. Sebelius) argued in March.
Monday, June 2, 2014
The Eighth Circuit ruled in Snider v. City of Cape Girardeau that Missouri's statute banning flag desecration was facially unconstitutional. The court held that the statue was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, and that there was no possible narrowing construction. The court also rejected the arresting officer's claim of qualified immunity.
The case arose when a Cape Girardeau police officer arrested an individual for desecrating an American flag, in violation of Missouri law. The officer made the arrest pursuant to a warrant issued by a local judge and based upon the officer's statement of probable cause to the county prosecuting attorney.
The ruling couldn't have been a surprise to anyone, except possibly the officer and the county prosecutor. (The ruling included this telling sentence: "Both Officer Peters and [the prosecuting attorney] stated that they were unaware of the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which struck down statutes criminalizing flag desecration as unconstitutional.") The court ruled that Missouri's statute was facially unconstitutional under those cases.
The court also ruled that the officer did not enjoy qualified immunity. The officer argued that he should be entitled to qualified immunity, because the prosecutor and judge signed off on a warrant. He cited Messerschmidt v. Millender, where the Supreme Court granted qualified immunity to an officer who executed a search warrant unsupported by probable cause because, in part, a neutral magistrate issued the warrant.
But the Eighth Circuit noted that the Messerschmidt Court said that the neutral magistrate's involvement did "not end the inquiry into objective reasonableness." The court also noted that the standard in Malley v. Briggs survived Messerschmidt. The Malley standard says that there's no qualified immunity where "if it obvious that no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue." Here, it was obvious.
The ruling upholds a lower court ruling granting attorney's fees to the plaintiff.
The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in the closely watched case of Risen v. United States (13-1009).
Recall our analysis of the sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, that declared there was no First Amendment right - - - or common law privilege - - - for a reporter to resist a subpoena to reveal the identity of a source.