Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Unanimous Supreme Court in Wood v. Moss: Secret Service Agents Have Qualified Immunity in First Amendment Challenge
In a relatively brief opinion in Wood v. Moss, Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous Court, reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that Secret Service officers had qualified immunity in a First Amendment challenge based on viewpoint discrimination against anti-Bush demonstrators.
Recall that the challenge in Wood v. Moss involved an allegation that the Secret Service removed anti-Bush protestors to a location farther from the then-President while he ate dinner while allowing pro-Bush demonstrators to remain in their location.
The Court decided that any viewpoint discrimination was not the "sole" reason for the change in location and thus the agents had qualified immunity. The Court agreed with the agents that the map provided by the protesters, and included in the Court's opinion [image at right]
undermines the protesters’ allegations of viewpoint discrimination as the sole reason for the agents’ directions. The map corroborates that, because of their location, the protesters posed a potential security risk to the President, while the supporters, because of their location, did not.
The Court rejected the protestors arguments, including the White House Manual that stated that protestors should be designated to zones "preferably not in view of the event site" and that Secret Service agents have engaged in viewpoint discrimination in the past. Here, however, the Court stressed that "this case is scarcely one in which the agents acted 'without a valid security reason.'" Emphasis in original, quoting from Brief.
While reaffirming that a Bivens action "extends to First Amendment claims" - - - a question at oral argument - - - the Court nevertheless noted that individual government officials cannot be held liable in a Bivens suit unless they themselves acted unconstitutionally:
We therefore decline to infer from alleged instances of misconduct on the part of particular agents an unwritten policy of the Secret Service to suppress disfavored expression, and then to attribute that supposed policy to all field- level operatives.
Under the Court's rationale, future Bivens claimants of First Amendment viewpoint discrimination must demonstrate that the viewpoint discrimination is the sole reason for the action by these particular (and presumably "bad apple") Secret Service agents.
While not one of the Court's more prominent First Amendment cases this Term, Wood v. Moss is important. It further narrows the space for claiming First Amendment violations by Secret Service officers - - - especially combined with the 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards (holding that Secret Service agents had qualified immunity and rejecting the claim of retaliatory arrest for a man exercising First Amendment rights at a Dick Cheney shopping mall appearance). However, it does preserve some room for claimants to proceed (and perhaps even prevail) on a First Amendment Bivens action against individual Secret Service officers engaged in viewpoint discrimination.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Lithwick highlights the Supreme Court's recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the constitutionality of Christian prayers at a town board meeting and the upcoming decision in Hobby Lobby on the claims of a for-profit corporation to an exemption from the federal requirement that employer insurance coverage include contraception benefits.
She is very complimentary of the biography:
In Bruce Allen Murphy, Scalia has met a timely and unintimidated biographer ready to probe. A professor of civil rights at Lafayette College, Murphy refuses to be daunted by the silence that surrounds most discussions about religion and the Court. In his view, understanding one of the most dazzling and polarizing jurists on the Supreme Court entails, above all, examining the inevitably murky relationship between judicial decision making and religious devotion.
Indeed, she writes
Murphy does not shrink from adjudicating Scalia’s dueling public claims: that separating faith from public life is impossible and, at the same time, that he himself has done just that on the Court.
From Lithwick's review, A Court of One is a must-read this summer. But Lithwick's review is also a must-read; she conjectures that "Murphy misses the moral of his own story."
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a challenge to California's political contribution disclosure requirement by a group of political committees that backed Prop 8, the state constitutional ballot initiative that defined marriage only as between one man and one woman. The ruling means that the California's disclosure requirement stays in place, and that Prop 8 Committees have to comply.
The Prop 8 Committees in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen challenged California's requirement that political committees disclose contributors who contribute more than $100, even after a campaign, arguing that some of their contributors had been harassed. The Prop 8 Committees challenged the requirement both on its face and as applied.
The court rejected the challenges. It applied the familiar "exacting scrutiny" standard to disclosures--that the requirement (and the burden it imposes) bears a "substantial relation" to a "sufficiently important" government interest. As to the facial challenge, the court said that the state obviously had sufficiently important interests in disclosure during the campaign, and that the state still had sufficiently important interests even after the campaign:
A state's interests in contribution disclosure do not necessarily end on election day. Even if a state's interest in disseminating accurate information to voters is lessened after the election takes place, the state retains its interests in accurate record-keeping, deterring fraud, and enforcing contribution limits. As a practical matter, some lag time between an election and disclosure of contributions that immediately precede that election is necessary for the state to protect these interests. In this case, for example, Appellants' contributions surged nearly 40% (i.e., by over $12 million) between the final pre-election reporting deadline and election day. Absent post-election reporting requirements, California could not account for such late-in-the-day donations. And, without such reporting requirements, donors could undermine the State's interests in disclosure by donating only once the final pre-election reporting deadline has passed.
As to the as-applied challenge, the court said they weren't justiciable: a request for an injunction to purge records of past disclosures is moot (and not capable of repetition but evading review); a request for an exemption from future reporting requirements is not ripe. Judge Wallace dissented on the as-applied challenge.
May 21, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Ripeness, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 16, 2014
The Seventh Circuit this week issued a sweeping ruling on Wisconsin's campaign finance requirements and permanently enjoined a good part of the law. The ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Barland marks the end of the second round of this broadside challenge to Wisconsin's law. The first round ended with a Seventh Circuit ruling overturning the state's $10,000 cap on contributions under the First Amendment.
The ruling this week is long and detailed. That's because Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, challenged "a dizzying array of statutes and rules" as vague, overbroad, violative of free speech. It's also because Wisconsin law, according to the court, is "labyrinthian and difficult to decipher without a background in this area of the law," and "has not been updated to keep pace with the evolution in Supreme Court doctrine . . . ."
Portions of the ruling were unsurprising. Thus the court ruled that Wisconsin's ban on corporate speech and its cap on corporate fundraising for an unaffliated PAC violated the First Amendment under Citizens United.
Other portions required a little more work:
Disclaimer Requirement. The court held that Wisconsin's regulatory disclaimer requirement for independent political communications, as applied only to 30-second radio ads (because that's all that was challenged), was unconstitutional. Wisconsin law required a certain disclaimer, but regulations went 50 words beyond that disclaimer, adding nothing to it, with no apparent good reason, and cutting into ad time.
Definitions of "political purposes" and "political committee." The court ruled that the statutory definition of "political purposes" and the regulatory definition of "political committee," which trigger certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements, were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, imposing PAC duties on nearly any political communication. The court gave Wisconsin law a narrowing construction, ruling that "[a]s applied to political speakers other than candidates, their campaign committees, and political parties, the definitions are limited to express advocacy and its functional equivalent as those terms were explained in Buckley and Wisconsin Right to Life II."
PAC Registration and Reporting Requirements. The court ruled that the Wisconsin regulation that treats issue advocacy during the preelection period as fully regulable express advocacy if it mentions a candidate is unconstitutional. It also ruled that the regulation that "imposes PAC-like registration, reporting, and other requirements on all organizations that make independent disbursements, is unconstitutional as applied to organizations not engaged in express advocacy as their major purpose."
In short, the court said that the Wisconsin legislature failed to keep up with changes in the doctrine--in particular, the change that Citizens United wrought--and that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's attempts to fill in the gaps through regulations simply swept too broadly.
The court's ruling directs the lower court to permanently enjoin the above-mentioned provisions. The ruling is a sharp kick in the pants to the Wisconsin state legislature to update its campaign finance law.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Can a tenured professor, serving as a dean (or executive director) of the university's school of public health be terminated for publicly criticizing the university's restructuring plans?
This does not involve the new Kansas social media policy for academics, but the question that arose at the University of Saskatchewan this week; there's a good overview and links to the letter itself in this article from the Globe & Mail.
For Americans the situation seems close to the famous letter to the editor protected by the First Amendment in Pickering v. Board of Education. But recall Mr. Pickering was merely a teacher while Professor Buckingham at University of Saskatchewan was a dean charged with implementing the very policies he was criticizing, a situation akin to the one the Sixth Circuit confronted in Dixon v. University of Toledowhen considering a university human resources officer who made public statements inconsistent with the university's anti-discrimination policy that she had to enforce.
In recognition of this distinction, it seems now Buckingham has only been relieved of his duties as an administrator and may return to campus, seemingly complete with tenure.
Canadian ConLawProf Michael Plaxton (at the University of Saskatchewan) has a nuanced discussion in the Globe and Mail today.
Prompted by an incident last September involving the tweet of a journalism professor at the University of Kansas linking the NRA's Second Amendment advocacy to a gun shooting that left thirteen people dead - - - and the university's strong reaction to it - - - the Kansas Board of Regents engaged in a reconsideration of its "social media" policy.
An amended policy has finally been adopted.
It includes suggestions of a workgroup emphasizing academic freedom and the First Amendment.
Additionally, the new policy also attempts to digest the current state of First Amendment law:
3. The United States Supreme Court has held that public employers generally have authority to discipline their employees for speech in a number of circumstances, including but not limited to speech that:
i. is directed to inciting or producing imminent violence or other breach of the peace and is likely to incite or produce such action;
ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interests of the employer;
iii. discloses without lawful authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or
iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the employer, or otherwise adversely affects the employer's ability to efficiently provide services.
In determining whether an employee’s communication is actionable under subparagraph iv, the interest of the employer in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees must be balanced against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern.
While the policy may be a fair attempt to articulate Garcetti v. Ceballos, such an articulation does little to clarify the rights of publicly employed academics to speak - - - on social media or otherwise - - - about controversial issues. The current case before the United States Supreme Court, Lane v. Franks, is not likely to address the broader issues.
Returning to the journalism professor's tweet, now that there is an amended policy, is it any more clear that he could (or could not) be disciplined? Or will the policy merely chill speech?
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Promoting his new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State,
Glenn Greenwald appeared on The Colbert Report.
Here's a video excerpt, worth a watch:
Thursday, May 8, 2014
The Seventh Circuit yesterday stayed Judge Randa's ruling preliminarily enjoining further criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe. We posted on Judge Randa's ruling here.
The Seventh Circuit said that because the defendants filed a notice of appeal before Judge Randa issued his injunction, Judge Randa had to show that the appeal was frivolous before acting. This he did not do. Here's from the short opinion:
Apostol v. Gallion, 870 F.2d 1335 (7th Cir. 1989), holds that, once a litigant files a notice of appeal, a district court may not take any further action in the suit unless it certifies that the appeal is frivolous. The district court failed to follow that rule when, despite the notice of appeal filed by several defendants, it entered a preliminary injunction. This court accordingly stays the injunction, and all further proceedings in the district court, until the judge has ruled definitively on the question posed by Apostol.
The ruling puts the ball back in Judge Randa's court, allowing him to certify that the appeal is frivolous and resume the case there. If he does not, then proceedings in the district court are stayed pending appeal on the merits.
The Seventh Circuit also stayed the portion of Judge Randa's ruling that required the defendants to return or destroy documents "as long as proceedings continue in this court."
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Judge Rudolph T. Randa (E.D. Wis.) this week granted a preliminary injunction against a criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe. The criminal investigation sought information related to WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign committee and other 501(c)(4) groups, in violation of Wisconsin law, to promote the passage of Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker's (successful) effort to sharply restrict union strength in the state (among other things). Judge Randa's ruling means that the investigation must stop, at least for now.
The ruling is just the latest chapter in a long-running story involving Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker, and advocacy (and spending) around both.
Judge Randa ruled that the investigation violated free speech, because it "was commenced and conducted 'without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.'" According to Judge Randa, that's because it was based on an interpretation of Wisconsin law that would have banned coordination on issue advocacy (and not candidate contributions)--something that the First Amendment does not allow.
Judge Randa said that WCFG's issue advocacy was core political speech, and that its coordination with other 501(c)(4)s, and even with the Friends of Scott Walker, did not raise any risk of quid quo pro corruption. Therefore the state could not criminalize it.
Judge Randa rejected the defendants' argument that WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign created a quid pro quo problem. He said that that approach "would mean transforming issue advocacy into express advocacy by interpretative legerdemain and not by any analysis as to why it would rise to the level of quid pro quo corruption." He said WCFG simply held the same views that Governor Walker already held, and that therefore there was no risk of corruption.
Judge Randa cited McCutcheon throughout and made a special point of quoting Justice Thomas's concurrence on Buckley's demise:
Buckley's distinction between contributions and expenditures appears tenuous. As Justice Thomas wrote, "what remains of Buckley is a rule without a rationale. Contributions and expenditures are simply 'two sides of the same First Amendment coin,' and our efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere 'word games' rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law." Even under what remains of Buckley, the defendants' legal theory cannot pass constitutional muster. The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians. This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.
Op. at 25.
New Hampshire Supreme Court: Vanity License Plate "Not Offensive to Good Taste" Requirement Violates First Amendment
Relying on its state constitution, the New Hampshire Supreme Court's opinion today in Montenegro v. New Hampshire DMV held that the regulation prohibiting vanity license plates that are "offensive to good taste" was unconstitutional.
David Montenegro, who represented himself, appealed an order denying him a vanity registration plate reading "COPSLIE" and argued that the "offensive to good taste" exclusion in the regulation violated his speech rights under Part I, Article 22, New Hampshire Constitution as well as the First Amendment.
The unanimous court considered the relationship between vagueness and overbreadth, which it contended may certainly overlap, but ultimately settled on vagueness. The court ultimately concluding that
Because the "offensive to good taste" standard is not susceptible of objective definition, the restriction grants DMV officials the power to deny a proposed vanity registration plate because it offends particular officials’ subjective idea of what is “good taste.”
This vague standard thus violated the New Hampshire guarantee of free speech according the supreme court.
From the news report, Montenegro seems as "colorful" as his predecessor George Maynard, whose challenge to New Hampshire's "live free or die" motto on its license plates was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in Wooley v. Maynard (1977). And this case will take its place in developing "license plate jurisprudence": the "infidel" license plate denial; the unsucessful challenge to the Native American image on the Oklahoma license plate; and the unconstitutional "choose life" license plate offering.
Monday, May 5, 2014
Supreme Court justices are opportunistic supporters of free speech, according to a study by Profs. Lee Epstein (Southern California/Washington University), Christopher M. Parker (Centenary College), and Jeffrey A. Segal (Stony Brook), reviewed by Adam Liptak in the NYT. That is, "liberal (conservative) justices are supportive of free speech when the speaker is liberal (conservative)."
The study looked at 516 free speech cases from 1953 to 2011, "from Hugo Black to Elena Kagan," involving "liberal" and "conservative" speech and concluded that "the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker."
Among sitting justices, the study found that Justice Scalia had the largest gap between votes for liberal and conservative speech, followed closely by Justice Thomas.
The liberals "present a more complex story." The study found that the gap for Justice Ginsburg was small, and for Justice Breyer "negligible." The study did not include Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, due to lack of meaningful data.
In a sharply divided opinion today in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the United States Supreme Court has decided that religious prayers at the beginning of a town board meeting do not violate the Establishment Clause.
Recall that the Second Circuit had concluded that the Town of Greece's practice of prayer since 1999 "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity." At oral argument, the discussion centered on an application of Marsh v. Chambers (1983), in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Nebraska legislature's employment of a chaplain to lead a legislative prayer, and the question of whether the "town board" a "hybrid" body making adjudicative findings as well as engaging in legislative acts. Recall also that the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in support of the Town of Greece.
Writing for the majority - - - except for Part II-B in which Justices Scalia and Thomas did not join - - - Justice Kennedy concluded that there was no Establishment Clause violation based upon Marsh v. Chambers. First, the majority opinion held that Marsh v. Chambers does not require nonsectarian or ecumenical prayer. Instead, it is acceptable that while a
number of the prayers did invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit, but they also invoked universal themes, as by celebrating the changing of the seasons or calling for a “spirit of cooperation” among town leaders.
Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissi ble government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation. Marsh, indeed, requires an inquiry into the prayer opportunity as a whole, rather than into the contents of a single prayer.
In the plurality section, Justice Kennedy rejected the relevance of the "intimate setting of a town board meeting" to a finding that the prayer "coerces participation by nondaherents." Rather, the principle audience for the prayers "is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves." The analysis, Kennedy writes, "would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person's acquiescence in the prayer opportunity."
Justices Thomas and Scalia did not join Part II-B; they essentially reject the coercion test ("peer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion"). Justice Thomas also (as he has done in the past) rejects the incorporation of the Establishment Clause to the states, and certainly to a municipality.
In the major dissent authored by Justice Kagan - - - joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer (who also authored a separate dissent) and Sotomayor - - -the emphasis is on the factual record. Kagan distinguishes Marsh v. Chambers and argues the situation in the Town of Greece is outside its "protective ambit."
the chaplain of the month stands with his back to the Town Board; his real audience is the group he is facing— the 10 or so members of the public, perhaps including children. And he typically addresses those people, as even the majority observes, as though he is “directing [his] congregation.” He almost always begins with some version of “Let us all pray to gether.” Often, he calls on everyone to stand and bow their heads, and he may ask them to recite a common prayer with him. He refers, constantly, to a collective “we”—to “our” savior, for example, to the presence of the Holy Spirit in “our” lives, or to “our brother the Lord Jesus Christ.” In essence, the chaplain leads, as the first part of a town meeting, a highly intimate (albeit relatively brief) prayer service, with the public serving as his congregation.
Further, Justice Kagan writes, "no one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s Town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian—constantly and exclusively so." Because of these practices, she concludes, the Town of Greece has "betrayed" the "promise" of the First Amendment: "full and equal membership in the polity for members of every religious group."
The Supreme Court's divided opinion illustrates that religion in the town square - - - or the town board meeting - - - remains divisive.
Friday, May 2, 2014
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against an Ohio law that requires candidate petition circulators to disclose their employers against a First Amendment challenge. The ruling in Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Husted means that the requirement stays on the books through the primary election on Tuesday, and that candidates of the plaintiff Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) will not appear on that primary ballot. This in turn means that those candidates won't appear on the general election ballot, and that therefore the LPO will likely not receive the required number of votes in the general election to retain its recognition as a political party in Ohio.
This, in turn, means that the LPO will likely have to re-qualify as a political party in Ohio. That's no easy task: it would have to get more than 38,500 signatures from at least one-half of the congressional districts in the state, meeting the very petition requirement (and others) that was at issue in this case.
The case involves Ohio's requirement that petition circulators--in this case, candidate petition circulators--disclose their employer on the petition form. The LPO challenged that requirement, arguing that it violated the First Amendment on its face, after its petition circulator failed to disclose, causing the state to discard those petitions (and causing the candidates not to appear on the primary ballot).
The Sixth Circuit disagreed. The court applied the "exacting scrutiny" test for disclosure requirements and determined that the strength of the governmental interest reflected the seriousness of the burden on First Amendment rights. In particular, the court said that Ohio's requirement has but a "scant" chill on First Amendment freedoms. Op. at 18. On the other hand, the court said that the state's interest in the requirement is "substantial and legitimate." Op. at 20. That interest is in combating fraud in candidate petition circulation--a problem that came to a head, according to the court, during the circulation of petitions for Ralph Nader in the 2004 presidential election.
The court distinguished Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., where the Supreme Court struck a Colorado law requiring paid circulators to wear identification badges stating their names and their employers' names and phone numbers. The court said that ACLF involved an initiative campaign, where this case involved a candidate petition (where the risk of corruption is higher); that the ACLF record contained no evidence that paid circulators were more apt to commit fraud than volunteers, but where this record contains that evidence; that the Colorado law required more disclosure of information; and that Colorado had other measures to deter fraud and diminish corruption.
The court also distinguished McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, where the Supreme Court struck an Ohio law that prohibited the distribution of campaign literature that did not contain the name and address of the person or campaign offiical issuing it. The court said that the Ohio law in McIntyre outlawed an entire category of speech (anonymous political speech), where the Ohio circulator requirement only required disclosure.
The court also ruled that the LPO did not establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its due process (vagueness) challenge to the requirement.
The court recognized the practical significance of its ruling for the LPO:
Without a gubernatorial candidate on the general election ballot . . . the LPO in all likelihood will lose its status as a ballot-qualified party in Ohio. We note that the LPO has struggled to become and remain a ballot-qualified party in Ohio, and we acknowledge that this decision entails that their efforts must continue still. But we also note that we decide one case at a time, on the record before us. In so doing, we preserve the First Amendment's primary place in our democracy over the long run.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The argument in Lane v. Franks in the Supreme Court sounded like the argument was occurring in the Eleventh Circuit. But the Eleventh Circuit resolved the case on its nonargument calendar; that's precisely the problem.
Here's my discussion over at SCOTUSBlog.
Friday, April 25, 2014
As we explained when certiorari was granted in Lane v. Franks, the case involves a public employee's First Amendment rights in the context of retaliation and raising questions about the interpretation of Garcetti v. Ceballos. My preview of Monday's oral argument is at SCOTUSBlog here.
The Brief of Law Professors as Amici Curiae in Support of the Petitioner, the employee Edward Lane, available on ssrn, advances two basic arguments.
The first argument is essentially that the Eleventh Circuit's opinion was a clearly erroneous expansion of Garcetti to include Lane's subpoened testimony in a criminal trial. Here's an especially trenchant paragraph:
But the Garcetti Court took great pains to distinguish Mr. Ceballos from Mr. Pickering [in Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)], who spoke about what he observed and learned at his workplace and identified himself as a teacher in doing so, and Ms. Givhan [in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District (1979)], who spoke to her own supervisors about what she observed at her workplace and did so while at work. Neither of these employees could have prevailed if any speech they would not have made but for their employment were excluded from the First Amendment’s protections. The sole fact distinguishing Mr. Ceballos from these other two defendants was that neither Mr. Pickering nor Ms. Givhan was required by their employment contracts to engage in the speech for which they were punished. Petitioner was not required by his job duties to testify in court, so his speech is as protected as Ms. Givhan’s and Mr. Pickering’s.
(emphasis in original). There are similar arguments in the merits briefs, but advancing this doctrinal clarity in the law professors' brief is not misplaced, given that the Eleventh Circuit's summary opinion had so little specific analysis.
Perhaps more common to an amicus brief are the policy arguments raised here regarding the importance of protecting testimony by public employees from retaliation by their government employers. The brief's "judicial integrity" argument seeks to draw an interesting parallel, arguing it is
crucial that public employees be able to speak freely and truthfully about government malfeasance so that the judicial process is not distorted. Distortion of the litigation process occurs when public employees do not feel free to testify in various legal proceedings for fear of losing their jobs. This Court expressed analogous concerns in Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez, 531 U.S. 533 (2001), where the Court struck down as violative of the First Amendment a federally imposed restriction prohibit- ing Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”)-funded attorneys, as a condition of the receipt of federal funds, from challenging the legality or constitutionality of existing welfare laws. . . . No less than in Velazquez, “[t]he restriction imposed by the [lack of protection for public employee testimonial speech] threatens severe impairment of the judicial function.” Id. at 546.
The brief argues in favor of a bright line rule that testimony is "citizen speech" and thus protected by the First Amendment. Whether the line should be so bright might be a topic at oral argument given the arguments in the other briefs.
The named authors of the law professors brief, ConLawProfs Paul Secunda, Scott Bauries, and Sheldon Nahmod, and the signatories, provide a terrific model of "engaged scholarship" and advocacy, and all in approximately 25 pages.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The Court's opinion in Schuette v. BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary), clearly upheld Michigan's Proposal 2, enacted as Article I §26 of the Michigan Constitution barring affirmative action in state universities and subdivisions. The plurality opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Chief Justice Roberts also authored a brief concurring opinion. Justice Scalia's concurring opinion was joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Breyer also wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Sotomayor's impassioned dissent was joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Kagan was recused.
The state constitutional amendment was a reaction to the Court's opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), upholding the University of Michigan Law School's use of diversity in admissions. But since Grutter, the Court has been decidely less friendly to affirmative action, as in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Recall that the en banc Sixth Circuit majority had relied upon the so-called "political process" aspect of the Equal Protection Clause which asks whether a majority may vote to amend its constitution to limit the rights of a minority to seek relief, relying on Washington v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982) and Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385 (1969). At oral arguments, the Justices had seemed hostile to that theory.
Justice Kennedy's plurality opinion for the Court carefully rehearses the cases, but it is probably his rhetoric that is most noteworthy:
This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.
As for Justice Scalia's opinion, it admits that the "relentless logic of Hunter and Seattle would point to a similar conclusion in this case" as the Sixth Circuit understood. However, both Hunter and Seattle should be overruled. Justice Breyer, concurring, would distinguish Hunter and Seattle because Schuette "does not involve a reordering of the political process; it does not in fact involve the movement of decisionmaking from one political level to another."
It is Justice Sotomayor's dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg, that displays the most heft. At more than 50 pages and almost as lengthy as all the other opinions combined, Sotomayor's opinion is an extended discussion of equal protection doctrine and theory, as well as the function of judicial review. In her last section, she also addresses the "substantive policy" of affirmative action and the difference it makes.
The stark division among the Justices is clear. Sotomayor writes that "race matters." Scalia reiterates that the constitution is "color-blind." Roberts implies that racial "preferences do more harm than good." And Kennedy invokes a First Amendment right to debate race:
Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and persisting injustice. That history demands that we continue to learn, to listen, and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity. . . . The respondents in this case insist that a difficult question of public policy must be taken from the reach of the voters, and thus removed from the realm of public discussion, dialogue, and debate in an election campaign. Quite in addition to the serious First Amendment implications of that position with respect to any particular election, it is inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy. One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. . . . It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people. These First Amendment dynamics would be disserved if this Court were to say that the question here at issue is beyond the capacity of the voters to debate and then to determine.
Given this passage, perhaps it is not surprisingly that Justice Kennedy does not cite Romer v. Evans - - - which he authored in 1996 - - - in today's plurality opinion in Schuette. In Romer v. Evans, Kennedy had this to say about Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibited the enactment of anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation:
It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance. . . . A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.
The Court heard oral arguments today in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements. As we explained when the Court granted certiorari in January, the case centers Article III. The Sixth Circuit determined that the case was not ripe because although Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List because it 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." It could also not show its speech was chilled; indeed representatives from the organization stated they would double-down.
This is not to say that the First Amendment was entirely absent from today's arguments. Arguing for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion organization, Michael Carvin referred to the Ohio Election Commission as a "ministry of truth," a characterization later echoed by Justice Scalia. During Eric Murphy’s argument, on behalf of the State of Ohio, there were references to United States v. Alvarez in which the Court found the “Stolen Valor” statute unconstitutional, with Justice Alito (who first mentioned the case) as well as Justices Scalia and Sotomayor participating in that discussion.
But Article III concerns, the subject of the grant of certiorari, dominated. But which Article III concerns specifically? As Justice Ginsburg asked: "Do you think this is a matter of standing or ripeness?" Michael Carvin's reply deflects the doctrinal distinctions and seeks to go to the heart of his argument:
In all candor, Justice Ginsburg, I can't figure out the difference between standing and ripeness in this context. No question that we are being subject to something. I think the question is whether or not the threat is sufficiently immediate.
Analogies abounded. Justice Sotomayor asked why the injury in this case wasn't as "speculative" as in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA decided in early 2013 in which the Court denied standing to Amnesty International to challege domestic surveillance under FISA? On the other hand, the challengers in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project did have standing, based on a credible threat of prosecution" based upon 150 prior prosecutions. But, as the Deputy Solicitor General noted in answer to a query from Chief Justice Roberts and quoting from Ohio's brief, under the Ohio statute between 2001 and 2010 there were "a little bit over 500" proceedings based on the state false statements law.
The context of an election was discussed at several junctures. Another election cycle is approaching and election cycles themselves are short periods of intense action and when they conclude the issues can be moot.
Despite the references to Younger v. Harris, federalism was more anemic than robust. The notion that the state supreme court should be given an opportunity to construe the false statement law provoked laughter, with Chief Justice Roberts remark "Well, that will speed things up" as a catalyst.
If the oral argument is any indication, it seems that the federal courts will have a chance to consider the merits of the First Amendment challenge to the Ohio statute.
Monday, April 14, 2014
In its divided opinion in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n, a panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals held that 15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E), part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, requiring a company to disclose if its products were not "DRC conflict free" violated the First Amendment.
DRC - - - Democratic Republic of the Congo - - - has not only "endured war and humanitarian catastrophe," it is also the site of extraction of certain minerals - - - gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten - - - that are used in a variety of familiar objects (cell phones, automobile parts, and golf clubs) and finance the parties engaged in the violence. In an attempt to discourage use of these so-called "conflict minerals," Congress required companies to disclose its products as not “DRC conflict free” in the report it files with the SEC and also post the statement on its website.
Reversing the district judge, who had upheld the law, the panel majority stated that "rational basis review" in the First Amendment context is the "exception, not the rule." The panel majority rejected the argument that the disclosure was one of "purely factual and uncontroversial information":
it is far from clear that the description at issue—whether a product is “conflict free”—is factual and non- ideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts. The label “conflict free” is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups. An issuer, including an issuer who condemns the atrocities of the Congo war in the strongest terms, may disagree with that assessment of its moral responsibility. And it may convey that “message” through “silence.” By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
[citations omitted]. Thus, the panel majority found that Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985), was inapposite. Instead, under Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557 (1980), the intermediate scrutiny standard for commercial speech, the mandated disclosure failed.
The panel, however, was divided on this issue. While the court unanimously upheld various SEC regulations challenged on administrative law grounds, Judge Srinivasan dissented on the First Amendment issue. Specifically, Judge Srinivasan contended that this opinion should be held in abeyance "pending the en banc court’s decision" in another case "rather than issue an opinion that might effectively be undercut by the en banc court in relatively short order." The case in question is American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture in which the DC Circuit so recently ordered an en banc hearing. Recall that American Meat Institute, requiring labeling of meat products by country of origin, also considered the relationship between Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Central Hudson - - - and that is the very question certified for en banc review. Judge Srinivasan was a member of the American Meat Institute panel.
Given this posture, it seems certain that the Government will seek en banc review.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Jessica Mason Pieklo writes over at RH Reality Check about the pair of challenges to the Affordable Care Act set for oral argument next month (on May 8) in the D.C. Circuit. One of those cases challenges the government's accommodation to the so-called contraception mandate for religious nonprofits--the same issue in the Little Sisters case and, more recently, Notre Dame's case at the Seventh Circuit. (Those rulings were on injunctions against the accommodation pending appeal. Recall that the Supreme Court issued an order in the Little Sisters case, allowing the organization simply to write a letter to the HHS Secretary stating its religious objection to the contraception mandate, pending appeal on the merits to the Tenth Circuit. In contrast, the Seventh Circuit denied Notre Dame's request for an injunction pending appeal. The difference between the two cases: Notre Dame had already complied with the government's accommodation (and the court couldn't undo its compliance), whereas Little Sisters had not.)
The other case, Sissel v. HHS, is less well known. It challenges the universal coverage provision, or the so-called individual mandate. Plaintiffs in the case argue that as a tax (recall the Court's ruling in the ACA case) the provision had to originate in the House of Representatives under the Origination Clause. But it originated in the Senate. Plaintiffs say it's therefore invalid.
Pieklo writes that President Obama's recent appointees will have an impact on the court, and on these cases. That's because the panel that will hear arguments in these cases next month includes Judge Nina Pillard and Judge Robert Wilkins, the recent Obama appointees that were held up in the Senate but then confirmed after Senate Democrats used the nuclear option and disallowed a filibuster of federal court nominees (except Supreme Court nominees). Judge Rogers is also on the panel.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Recall that in November 2013 we posted "UK Supreme Court Confronts Clash Between Freedom of Religion and Gay Equality: Is the Issue Coming to The US Supreme Court Soon?"
The answer is "no," at least if "soon" means the case discussed in that post, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer. The petition concentrated on the First Amendment speech rights of the photographer rather than religious rights; the Court denied certiorari today.
Meanwhile, Lady Brenda Hale, a Justice on the UK Supreme Court, appeared at a Comparative and Administrative Law Conference last month at Yale and spoke on the topic of "Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights," posting her written remarks on the UK Supreme Court site. Justice Hall considered the Bull case which we discussed as well as cases from Canada and the EU, all presenting the same basic issue: should religious persons be exempt from anti-discrimination laws? Justice Lady Hale offers some interesting observations: "it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without." She also discusses direct and indirect discrimination and reiterates a point she made in the Bull case itself:
Both homosexuals and Christians were subject to the same laws requiring them not to discriminate in the running of their businesses. So if homosexual hotel keepers had refused a room to an opposite sex or Christian couple, they too would have been acting unlawfully.
This leads her to proclaim:
If you go into the market place you cannot pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.
This may be an indication of how Lady Brenda Hale would rule in Hobby Lobby so recently argued before the United States Supreme Court, assuming the English Parliament would enact a statute similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Another difference: The arguments before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.
April 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, International, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)