Monday, September 28, 2015

Ninth Circuit Rejects Franchisers' Constitutional Challenges to Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

Affirming the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in International Franchise Ass'n v. City of Seattle rejected all of the constitutional challenges to a Seattle provision that deemed franchises included in the definition of "large employers" and thus subject to the new $15 minimum wage.  Recall that the complaint challenged  the provision under the (dormant) commerce clause, equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, preemption under the Lanham Act (trademarks), and state constitutional provisions.

Photo by Steve Rhodes via

The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel's opinion found that there was not a likelihood of success on any of the constitutional claims, devoting most of its analysis to dormant commerce clause doctrine.  The panel first rejected the argument that the franchise regulation expressly discriminated against franchises as interstate commerce and was thus not "facially neutral." The panel also rejected the argument that the Seattle provision had a discriminatory purpose, noting that while there was some evidence that some persons involved in considering the issue were critical of franchise employment practices, even the strongest evidence of this (in an email), did not show that even this person "intended to burden out-of-state firms or interfere with the wheels of interstate commerce," and "[m]ore importantly, they also do not show that City officials wished to discriminate against out-of- state entities, bolster in-state firms, or burden interstate commerce."  Lastly, the panel rejected the argument that the Seattle provision discriminatory effects, agreeing with the district judge that the United States Supreme Court's decisions on dormant commerce clause can be "difficult to reconcile" and noting:

 We lack Supreme Court authority assessing whether a regulation affecting franchises ipso facto has the effect of discriminating against interstate commerce. Nor has the Supreme Court addressed whether franchises are instrumentalities of interstate commerce that cannot be subjected to disparate regulatory burdens. While regulations that expressly classify based on business structure or impose disparate burdens on franchises present interesting questions, our review is limited to considering whether the district court applied improper legal principles or clearly erred in reviewing the record.

 The footnote to this paragraph includes an extensive citation to lower courts that have considered the issue of whether measures that affect national chains violate the dormant Commerce Clause.  The Ninth Circuit panel concluded:

[T]he evidence that the ordinance will burden interstate commerce is not substantial. It does not show that interstate firms will be excluded from the market, earn less revenue or profit, lose customers, or close or reduce stores. Nor does it show that new franchisees will not enter the market or that franchisors will suffer adverse effects.

The Ninth Circuit panel dispatched the Equal Protection Clause claim much more expeditiously.  The Ninth Circuit applied the lowest form of rational basis scrutiny  - - - citing F.C.C. v. Beach Commc’ns, Inc. (1993) sometimes called "anything goes" rational basis - - - and finding there was a legitimate purpose (without animus) and the law was reasonably related to that purpose.

The court's discussion of the First Amendment claim was similarly brief, not surprising given that the court found the Speech Clause's threshold requirement of "speech"  was absent: "Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is plainly an economic regulation that does not target speech or expressive conduct."

Additionally, the court agreed with the district judge that there was no preemption under the Lanham Act and no violation of the Washington State Constitution.

The Ninth Circuit panel did disagree with the district judge regarding some minor aspects of the non-likelihood to prevail on the merits preliminary injunction factors.  But on the whole, the opinion is a strong rebuke to the constitutional challenges to the Seattle laws.

Given the stakes (and the attorneys for the franchisers) a petition for certiorari is a distinct possibility.  Meanwhile, as we suggested when the case was filed, for ConLawProfs looking for a good exam review or exam problem, International Franchise Ass'n v. Seattle has much potential.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Attorneys' Fees to Shelby County

The D.C. Circuit today denied attorneys' fees to Shelby County growing out of its successful challenge to the coverage formula for preclearance in the Voting Rights Act. But more importantly: A majority on the panel rejected Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the VRA.

The case arose out of Shelby County's motion for attorneys' fees after the Supreme Court struck Section 4 of the VRA, the coverage formula for preclearance, in Shelby County v. Holder. The VRA fee-shifting provision says,

In any action or proceeding to enforce the voting guarantees of the [F]ourteenth or [F]ifteenth [A]mendment, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable [attorneys'] fee, reasonable expert fees, and other reasonable litigation expenses as part of the costs.

But to win attorneys' fees, Shelby County had to show (1) that it was eligible for fees under the provision and (2) that it was entitled to them under Newman v. Piggie Park.

All three on the panel agreed that Shelby County wasn't entitled under Piggie Park. That's because "Shelby County's lawsuit did not facilitate enforcement of the VRA; it made enforcing the VRA's preclearance regime impossible." "Shelby County's argument boils down to the proposition that Congress introduced the fee-shifting provision into the VRA in 1975 with the express goal of inducing a private party to bring a lawsuit to neuter the Act's central tool. But that makes no sense." (Emphasis in original.) That was enough to deny attorneys' fees.

But that's also where the case gets interesting. On the eligibility prong, Shelby County argued that it was eligible for fees under the statute, because it prevailed in an action to enforce the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that these guarantees include "the structural rights of the states." That last part is a bold departure from the plain language of the amendments and any cases interpreting them; it assumes that the amendments contain some (unenumerated) version of states' rights, which, in turn, could limit the amendments' protection of individual voting rights.

The court left that question open. Judge Griffith, writing for the court, dodged it by relying only on the Piggie Park prong. Judge Silberman, in concurrence, seemed (more or less) to agree (at least on this point). Only Judge Tatel specifically took on Shelby County's reading. Judge Tatel wrote that the question was simple: "Obviously, neither of these [amendments] includes any guarantees of state autonomy over voting. . . . The two Amendments thus 'guarantee' not state autonomy, but rather the right of citizens to vote, and they expressly guarantee that right against state interference."

The upshot is that the court appears to have left Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on the table, an open question. This means that the Supreme Court could step in and answer it--it Shelby County's favor. (And given the Court's states' rights approach in the original case, this seems like a possibility.)

Still, the court's reasoning on Piggie Park is extremely thorough, and seems written to insulate the ruling against Supreme Court reversal.


September 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sixth Circuit Refuses Stay in Kentucky Court Clerk Case

The Sixth Circuit's brief  Order in Miller v. Davis refused to stay the district court's preliminary injunction mandating that a court clerk in Kentucky issue same-sex marriage licenses (or any marriage licenses) despite her claim of free exercise of religion.

Here's the essence of the Sixth Circuit panel opinion:

The request for a stay pending appeal relates solely to an injunction against Davis in her official capacity. The injunction operates not against Davis personally, but against the holder of her office of Rowan County Clerk. In light of the binding holding of Obergefell, it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court. There is thus little or no likelihood that the Clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal.



This should be the end of this litigation?

August 27, 2015 in Current Affairs, Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Seventh Circuit Finds No Valid Constitutional Claims in School Bullying Lawsuit

Affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the schools, the Seventh Circuit's brief opinion today in D.S. v. East Porter County Schools Corporation is an illustration of the difficulty of succeeding with constitutional claims based on bullying, even when claims of school officials participation are included.

"Dealing with Bullies" artwork by Karbo via

In considering the Due Process claim, the unanimous Seventh Circuit panel began with the principle that the Due Process Clause "generally does not impose upon the state a duty to protect individuals from harm by private actors," predictably citing DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs.(1989).  The court noted that there are two exceptions: special relationship and state-created danger.  The plaintiff argued that the school officials created the risk - - - or increased the risk - - - that she would be bullied, but the court found that the record did not support a finding that the school officials' conduct met the "requisite level of egregiousness" to satisfy the claim.

In considering the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court stated that the plaintiff must show that the schools "acted with a nefarious discriminatory purpose and discriminated against her based on her membership in a definable class."  Unlike the landmark Seventh Circuit case of  Nabozny v. Podlesny (7th Cir. 1996), which the court cites here, the plaintiff does not rely on sexual orientation or any other "protected class," but proceeded on a "class-of-one" theory.  The court found the plaintiff "failed to identify any similarly situated individuals who were treated differently." 

Without a valid Due Process Clause or Equal Protection Clause claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, the court found there was no underlying constitutional violation on which the plaintiff could proceed.

August 24, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 3, 2015

District Judge Holds Idaho's Ag-Gag Law Unconstitutional

Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill for the United States District of Idaho today held Idaho's so-called "Ag-Gag" law, Idaho Code § 18-7042, unconstitutional in his  opinion in Animal Defense League v. Otter.  Judge Winmill found that the law violated both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Idaho statute creates a new crime, “interference with agricultural production.” I.C. 18-7042. A person commits the crime of interference with agricultural production if the person knowingly:

(a) is not employed by an agricultural production facility and enters an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;

(b) obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;

(c) obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations . . .

(d) Enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial

process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations; or

(e) Intentionally causes physical damage or injury to the agricultural production facility's operations, livestock, crops, personnel, equipment, buildings or premises.

Chief Judge Winmill described the legislative history including statements that compared animal rights investigators to “marauding invaders centuries ago who swarmed into foreign territory and destroyed crops to starve foes into submission.”  However, for Winmill, there is a better comparison:

450px-The_Jungle_by_Upton_SinclairThe story of Upton Sinclair provides a clear illustration of how the First Amendment is implicated by the statute. Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, The Jungle, misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago. William A. Bloodworth, Jr., UPTON SINCLAIR 45–48 (1977). Sinclair’s novel, a devastating exposé of the meat-packing industry that revealed the intolerable labor conditions and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards in the early 20th century, “sparked an uproar” and led to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, as well as the Pure Food and Drug Act. National Meat Ass'n v. Harris, 132 S.Ct. 965 (2012). Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under § 18-7042.

On the First Amendment challenge, the judge found that Idaho's ag-gag statute is content based and merits strict scrutiny.  The opinion revisits an earlier ruling so concluding to reiterate that the United States Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Alvarez ("the stolen valor case").  Judge Winmill notes that any deception involved in the ag-gag violation would be not be harmful: "the most likely harm that would stem from an undercover investigator using deception to gain access to an agricultural facility would arise, say, from the publication of a story about the facility, and not the misrepresentations made to gain access to the facility."  And "harm caused by the publication of true story is not the type of direct material harm that Alvarez contemplates."  The judge also held that the recording provision is content-based.

Moreover, Judge Winmill implicitly determines that the law is viewpoint-based:

a review of § 18-7042’s legislative history leads to the inevitable conclusion that the law’s primary purpose is to protect agricultural facility owners by, in effect, suppressing speech critical of animal-agriculture practices.

Not surprisingly, the statute does not survive strict scrutiny.  The judge is skeptical that the "property and privacy interests of agricultural production facilities" are sufficiently compelling given that food production is a heavily regulated industry.  Even if the interests were compelling, however, the statute was not narrowly tailored:

Criminal and civil laws already exist that adequately protect those interests without impinging on free-speech rights. It is already illegal to steal documents or to trespass on private property. In addition, laws against fraud and defamation already exist to protect against false statements made to injure or malign an agricultural production facility.

The judge thus concludes that the law restricts more speech than is necessary to achieve its goals.

On the Equal Protection Clause issue, the court's conclusion does not depend on a strict scrutiny analysis.  The judge finds that the ag-gag statute cannot satisfy even rational basis review.  First, Judge Winmill finds that that state's purported interest is not legitimate:

The State argues that agricultural production facilities deserve more protection because agriculture plays such a central role in Idaho’s economy and culture and because animal production facilities are more often targets of undercover investigations. The State’s logic is perverse—in essence the State says that (1) powerful industries deserve more government protection than smaller industries, and (2) the more attention and criticism an industry draws, the more the government should protect that industry from negative publicity or other harms. Protecting the private interests of a powerful industry, which produces the public’s food supply, against public scrutiny is not a legitimate government interest.

 Second, the judge finds that the actual interest is a “a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group" and thus  "cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest if equal protection of the laws is to mean anything,” quoting and relying on U. S. Dept. of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973).  "As a result, a purpose to discriminate and silence animal welfare groups in an effort to protect a powerful industry cannot justify the passage" of the statute.

Judge Winmill's decision is ground-breaking.  So-called "ag-gag" laws have proliferated and are being challenged, usually on First Amendment grounds.  Undoubtedly the state will appeal and the Ninth Circuit will have a chance to decide whether  Judge Winmill was correct that the Idaho law is similar to the day labor solicitation prohibition in Arizona's SB1070 that the Ninth Circuit held unconstitutional in Valle Del Sol Inc. v.Whiting.

 UPDATE: Check out this analysis by ConLawProf Shaakirrah Sanders over at casetext and her pre-decision discussion about the case with Idaho Public Radio.

August 3, 2015 in Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Obergefell, Federalism, and Religion: Constitutional Issues Raised in Alabama and Texas

After the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 declaring that states are required by the Fourteenth Amendment to issue same-sex marriage licenses, a few state officials have not only voiced objections to the decision, but have voiced resistance to complying with the Court's declaration. 

The situations in Alabama and Texas have been the most contentious.


ALABAMA:     Recall that earlier this year when federal District Judge Callie V.S. Granade entered an injunction against the enforcement of the state's constitutional amendment and statutes banning same-sex marriage, the reaction of  Alabama Supreme Court's controversial Chief Judge Roy Moore was an unusual letter to the Governor objecting to the federal judge's opinion on the basis that federal courts have no power in this Biblical area.  This was followed by an opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court ordering judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The Eleventh Circuit, and then the United States Supreme Court denied a stay of the district judge's opinion.

When the Court took certiorari in Obergefell, however, Judge Granade stayed her order.

However, after the Court decided Obergefell, the Alabama Supreme Court's  "corrected order" stated that because the US Supreme Court rules allow parties 25 days to file a petition for rehearing, the parties in the case - - - including two conservative Alabama organizations - - - were invited to submit briefs on the effect of Obergefell.  Federal District Judge Callie Granade issued a one-page Order on July 1, referenced her earlier stay and then stated:

The United States Supreme Court issued its ruling on June 26, 2015. Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ____ (2015). Accordingly, by the language set forth in the [previous] order, the preliminary injunction is now in effect and binding on all members of the Defendant Class.

Thus, the officials of Alabama are subject to a direct order by a federal judge.

 TEXAS:   The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, who is reportedly facing criminal charges on unrelated matters, issued a six page opinion letter a few days after Obergefell which stressed the individual religious rights of county clerks and their employees, as well as justices of the peace and clergy, regarding their participation in same-sex marriages.  Paxton's opinion was widely reported and concluded that county clerks retain religious freedoms that "may allow" accommodations depending "on the particular facts of each case."  Paxton relied on the First Amendment as well as Texas's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), essentially similar to the federal RFRA at issue in the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby. This is not unique:  the possibility of claims by individual public employees in clerk's offices was also raised after New York passed its Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and as that act made clear - - - as is generally understood - - - that religious officers have complete discretion in agreeing or refusing to solemnize marriages. 

The Fifth Circuit issued a very brief opinion on July 1, noting that "both sides now agree" that the  the injunction appealed from, originally issued in early 2014 by federal district judge Orlando Garcia in DeLeon v. Perry [now Abbott],  "is correct in light of Obergefell," the Fifth Circuit ruled that the preliminary injunction is affirmed. 

The Fifth Circuit's opinion makes clear - - - seemingly with state agreement - - - that Texas is bound by Obergefell, but does not mention individual religious accommodations. 

In both the Alabama and Texas situations, there are echoes of resistance to the Supreme Court's opinion in Brown v. Board of Education; The Supremacy Clause and the Court's opinion in Cooper v. Aaron seem to answer the question of whether state officials simply may disagree with the Court's interpretation of the Constitution.  This is true despite the dissenting opinions in Obergefell itself which argued that the Court should leave the resolution of same-sex marriage to individual states.  The question of religious accommodations may be a closer one, but what seems clear is that if there is indeed an individual right to be accommodated - - - again, that itself is unclear - - - it cannot be a right of a government entity.  While Hobby Lobby may have held that corporations have religious freedoms, it is hard to conceive of government entities having free exercise rights in a manner that does not violate the Establishment Clause.

July 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, News, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Court Rejects Challenge to OK Lethal Injection

The Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross rejected an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection cocktail. The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the death penalty and leaves in place a protocol that's resulted in a spate of gruesome and botched executions. It also means that the plaintiffs' executions will move forward under Oklahoma's protocol.

The case was important, because victory for the challengers would have left states with few, if any, viable and sustainable options for administering lethal injection--and may have marked the de facto beginning of the end of the death penalty. (That's why some states have explored other methods of execution recently.) But there was no victory for the challengers, so the ruling allows states to move forward with a popular, but deeply flawed, cocktail.

If the past is any indicator, opponents of the death penalty will now work outside the courts to get suppliers of Oklahoma's new drug to stop providing it to states that use it for lethal injections--the same strategy they used to force Oklahoma to turn to a new protocol in the first place. And if the past is any indicator, they'll be successful, which might, in turn, lead to the next protocol and the next challenge.

We posted on the oral arguments here.

Challengers argued that Oklahoma's use of the sedative midazolam as the first drug did not reliably induce and maintain a deep, coma-like unconsciousness that would render a person insensate to the excruciating pain caused by the second and third drugs (which paralyze and cause cardiac arrest, respectively). Oklahoma turned to midazolam after suppliers for the state's previous first drugs dried up.

Justice Alito wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas. Justice Alito wrote that the challengers didn't show that the state's use of midazolam created a demonstrated risk of severe pain, substantial compared to alternatives, and that they didn't identify a viable alternative. Justice Alito credited the district court's factual findings as to midazolam's ability to stop pain, and wrote that the district court didn't clearly err in finding that alternative drugs (the state's old drugs) were unavailable.

Justice Sotomayor wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. She argued that the district court erred in crediting the state's expert and in putting the burden on the challengers to identify a viable alternative to the state's use of midazolam.

Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and argued that the Court should entirely reevaluate the constitutionality of the death penalty. Justices Scalia and Thomas each wrote concurrences addressing Justice Breyer's points.

June 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Court Sets Objective Standard for Pretrial Detainee Civil Rights Action

The Supreme Court ruled today in Kingsley v. Hendrickson that a pretrial detainee need only show that an officer's use of force was objectively unreasonable--and not subjectively unreasonable, a higher standard--in order to prevail on an excessive force claim. The ruling reverses the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed a trial judge's jury instruction that set the bar at the higher subjective standard, and remands the case for an application of the lower objective standard.

The ruling means that a pretrial detainee's burden in an excessive force claim is lower than the standard upheld by the Seventh Circuit. That's good news for pretrial detainees who bring civil rights claims. But the Court was quick to say that a detainee still has other hurdles to jump--including qualified immunity.

Justice Breyer wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Breyer wrote that the trial court's jury instruction based on a subjective standard--that "[e]xcessive force means force applied recklessly that is unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances [and]  [d]efendants knew that using force presented a risk of harm to plaintiff, but they recklessly disregarded plaintiff's safety . . . ."--should have been been based on an objective standard--that "the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable."

Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent for himself, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Thomas. Justice Alito also dissented, arguing that the case should be dismissed as improvidently granted.

June 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sign Ordinance Violates First Amendment: Court Decides Reed v. Town of Gilbert

A unanimous Court, albeit with separate opinions, concluded that the extensive municipal signage regulations violated the First Amendment in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

Recall from oral arguments that the town's regulations generally required a permit to erect a sign, with nineteen different exemptions including “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to Qualifying Event.”  The exemption for these temporary directional signs further specifies that such signs "shall be no greater than 6 feet in height and 6 square feet in area,”and “shall only be displayed up to 12 hours before, during and 1 hour after the qualifying event ends.” Although the challenge involves a church sign, this was largely irrelevant. Instead the content at issue is the sign’s directional nature, if indeed "directions" is a matter of content. In a divided opinion the Ninth Circuit upheld the town Gilbert signregulation as content neutral.

Reversing the Ninth Circuit, Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, concluded that the Sign Code was content-based and did not survive strict scrutiny.  The Sign Code provision is content-based because, simply put, to determine if a sign is a "Temporary Directional Sign" one must determine whether the sign "conveys the message of directing the public" to an event.  It does not matter, Thomas writes for the Court, that the content may seem neutral:

A law that is content based on its face is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of the government’s benign motive, content-neutral justification, or lack of “animus toward the ideas contained” in the regulated speech. *** In other words, an innocuous justification cannot transform a facially content- based law into one that is content neutral.

Once the Court decided there the regulation was subject to strict scrutiny, there was little doubt that the town would not be able to satisfy the standard.  Thomas assumed that the proffered governments interests of aesthetics and traffic safety were compelling, but quickly determined that that the manner in which they were being served was far from narrowly tailored. Instead, the regulations were "hopelessly underinclusive."

The concurring opinions take on the issue raised in oral argument about the constitutionality of any town's attempt to regulate signage.  Justice Kagan's concurring opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg and by Breyer (who also has a separate concurring opinion) - - - but not by Justice Alito, who has his own brief concurrence, joined by Kennedy and Sotomayor (who also join the Thomas's opinion for the Court)- - - argues that strict scrutiny is not appropriate for all sign ordinances.  Kagan states:

Although the majority insists that applying strict scrutiny to all such ordinances is “essential” to protecting First Amendment freedoms,  I find it challenging to understand why that is so. This Court’s decisions articulate two important and related reasons for subjecting content-based speech regulations to the most exacting standard of review. The first is “to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.” McCullen v. Coakley. The second is to ensure that the government has not regulated speech “based on hostility—or favoritism— towards the underlying message expressed.” R. A. V. v. St. Paul (1992). Yet the subject-matter exemptions included in many sign ordinances do not implicate those concerns. Allowing residents, say, to install a light bulb over “name and address” signs but no others does not distort the marketplace of ideas. Nor does that different treatment give rise to an inference of impermissible government motive.

She instead argues that the "we may do well to relax our guard so that 'entirely reasonable' laws imperiled by strict scrutiny can survive."  But it was evident that even the concurring Justices  did not view the Town of Gilbert's signage regulations as entirely reasonable.

June 18, 2015 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Federal Judge Finds Pennsylvania's "Revictimization Act" Unconstitutional

In a well-crafted but hardly surprising opinion in Abu-Jamal v. Kane, Chief Judge Christopher Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded that Pennsylvania's "Revictimization Relief Act" is unconstitutional.

Recall that Act provided:

In addition to any other right of action and any other remedy provided by law, a victim of a personal injury crime may bring a civil action against an offender in any court of competent jurisdiction to obtain injunctive and other appropriate relief, including reasonable attorney fees and other costs associated with the litigation, for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.

At the time of signing, it was clear that the Act was primarily directed at Mumia Abu-Jamal; Abu-Jamal brought suit soon after the Act was passed; another challenge was brought by Prison Legal News and consolidated.

Judge Conner began his opinion by noting that the First Amendment does not "evanesce" at the prison gate, and ended it by stating that the First Amendment does not "evanesce at any gate." (emphasis in original).   In applying well-settled First Amendment doctrine, Judge Conner focused on both  Simon & Schuster v. Crime Victims Board (1991) (holding unconstitutional the so-called "Son of Sam" law) and Snyder v. Phelps (2011) (essentially holding that free speech trumped the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress).  Judge Conner easily rejected the State's argument that the statute regulated "conduct" - - - which is, after all, the word in the statute and which would merit lower scrutiny - - - noting that:

throughout its brief legislative gestation, the law was championed primarily as a device for suppressing offender speech.  The Act's sponsor extolled its capacity to silence Abu-Jamal in particular.  The chairman of the house judiciary committee opined that the Act would end the "extreme distress" suffered by victims when offenders achieve celebrity, admonishing Goddard College for providing a "cold blooded murderer" [Abu-Jamal] with a speaking forum.

 (emphasis in original; citations to Stipulation omitted).  As a content-regulation, the Act "instantly fails" the exacting scrutiny standard according to Judge Conner.

In addition to the content-restriction fatality, Judge Conner found that the Act was impermissibly vague and substantially overbroad as those doctrines are derived from due process.  The Act's "central limitation" turns on the unknowable emotive response of victims, which a person cannot determine "short of clairvoyance."   Moreover, the Act applies to "offenders," a term the statute does not define, and which could presumably apply to a wide swath of persons, including non-offender third parties who publish statements by offenders.  Relatedly, the overbreadth defect of the Act concerned the judge:

[T]he Act ostensibly affects protected - - - and critically important - - - speech, including: pardon applications, clemency petitions, and any testimony given in connections with those filings; public expressions of innocence, confessions, or apologies; legislative testimony in support of improved prison conditions and reformed juvenile justice systems; programs encouraging at-risk youth to avoid lives of crime; or any public speech or written work whatsoever, regardless of the speaker's intention or the work's relation to the offense.

In other words, if the victim can demonstrate "mental anguish," the statute would be satisfied.  And, combined with the broad notion of "offender," taken to its "logical conclusion," the Act would "limit an accused person's right to profess his innocence before proven guilty."

Pennsylvania would be wise not to appeal this judgment.  It would have even been more wise if the legislature had not passed - - - and the Governor had not signed - - - such a patently unconstitutional statute last year.

Would the PA Act have covered MLK's famous publication?


April 29, 2015 in Books, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges

The Court today heard oral arguments in two parts in the consolidated cases of Obergefell v. Hodges on certiorari from the Sixth Circuit opinion which had created a split in the circuits on the issue of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.   There have been a record number of amicus briefs filed in the cases highlighting the interest in the case.

For oral argument on the first certified question - - -does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? - - - Mary Bonauto argued for the Petitioners; Solicitor Donald Verrilli argued for the United States as amicus curiae supporting Petitioners; and John Bursh, as Special Assistant Attorney for Michigan argued for Respondents. 

For oral argument on the second certified question - - - does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state? - - -Douglas Hallward-Driemeier argued for Petitioners and Joseph Whalen, Associate Solicitor General of Tennessee, argued for Respondents.

The Court and the advocates acknowledged that the second question is only reached if the first question is answered in the negative: Justice Ginsburg and Justice Kagan both posited this principle with Hallward-Driemeier and Whalen, respectively, agreeing. Chief Justice Roberts noted that" we only get to the second question if you've lost on that point already, if we've said States do not have to recognize same-­sex marriage as a marriage," and later raised the issue of whether the second question made practical sense:

It certainly undermines the State interest that we would, assuming arguendo, have recognized in the first case, to say that they must welcome in their borders people who have been married elsewhere. It'd simply be a matter of time  until they would, in effect, be recognizing that within the State.


Donkey Hotey via

 The themes of the oral arguments held no surprising issues:

Is a same-sex marriage decision by the Court premature?  Interestingly, Justice Kennedy pointed out that it is "about the same time between Brown and Loving as between Lawrence and this case. It's about 10 years." 

Should it be the Court or the states that should decide?  The question of the proper role of judicial review has long preoccupied the courts in the context of same-sex marriage. Justice Scalia raised this issue several times, but when John Bursh raised it on behalf of Michigan, Justice Kagan responded that "we don't live in a pure democracy; we live in a constitutional democracy."

Is the race analogy apt?  Bursch distinguished Loving (as well as Turner v. Safley and Zablocki v. Redhail) because previous cases involved man-woman marriage and  "States' interest in linking children to their biological" parents.

Is there a slippery slope?  What about polygamous and incestuous marriages?  What about age of consent laws?

What about religious freedom?  How do we know that ministers won't be forced to perform "gay marriages"?

Should the case be resolved on Equal Protection or Due Process?  Justice Kennedy asked General Verrilli about Glucksberg,   Verrilli replied:

  1. GENERAL VERRILLI: Justice Kennedy, forgive me for answering the question this way. We do recognize that there's a profound connection between liberty and equality, but the United States has advanced only an equal protection argument. We haven't made the fundamental rights argument under Glucksberg. And therefore, I'm not sure it would be appropriate for me not having briefed it to comment on that.

  2. JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, can you tell me why you didn't make the fundamental argument?

  3. GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, because we think ­­well, because we think while we do see that there is, of course, this profound connection, we do think that for reasons like the ones implicit in the Chief Justice's question, that this issue really sounds in equal protection, as we understand it, because the question is equal participation in a State conferred status and institution. And that's why we think of it in equalprotection terms

As an equal protection case, it is one about sexual orientation or sex discrimination?  One of the more interesting questions was posed by Chief Justice Roberts to Bursch:

Counsel, I'm ­­ I'm not sure it's necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve the case. I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?

How is the state's interest in procreation related to the ban on same-sex marriage?  Justice Ginsburg, as well as others, posed questions about the elderly not being barred from marriage.
Is marriage a changing institution or is a constant for millennia?  Justice Ginsburg predictably noted that marriage was once "a dominant and a subordinate relationship," with women being subordinate, while Chief Justice Roberts disputed the fact that women's subordination (or coverture) was a universal aspect of marriage.
Does the Full Faith and Credit Clause, Article IV, guarantee a state will recognize another state's marriage?  Justice Scalia noted he was "glad" to be able to quote Article IV, "a portion of the Constitution that actually seems to be relevant," although there remained a lack of clarity in its applications.  Is a marriage a public act?  record?  judgment? 

The open question is whether the Court's opinion will be as predictable as the questions.

April 28, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ninth Circuit Upholds Arizona's Voter Registration Form for Party Preference

Before 2011, Arizona law required that voter registration forms include a blank space for the registrant’s party preference.  But a 2011 law required the voter registration form distributed by the Arizona Secretary of State to list the two largest parties (as measured by number of registered voters) on the form, as well as provide a blank line for “other party preferences.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-152(A)(5).

In response to the amendment, the Arizona Secretary of State revised box 14 on the Registration Form, and the opinion includes this illustration:


Arizona_registrationMinority parties Arizona Green Party and the Arizona Libertarian Party challenged the new law as violative of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  In its opinion in Arizona Libertarian Party v. Bennett, the Ninth Circuit upheld the statute as constitutional.

The panel majority opinion by Judge Tashima noted the intertwining of the equality and First Amendment claims:

“Restrictions on voting can burden equal protection rights as well as ‘interwoven strands of liberty’ protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments—namely, the ‘right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs, and the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively.’”

It stated that the party challenging the law bears “the initial burden of showing that [the state’s] ballot access requirements seriously restrict the availability of political opportunity" and that here any burden was de minimis.  The panel thus applied rational basis scrutiny which the new form easily passed.

Concurring, Judge McKeown argued that the rational basis review burden-shifting standards derived from Ninth Circuit precedent and which the majority applied were "inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges." Instead, the court should apply the balancing tests articulated in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) and reiterated in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), although Judge McKeown acknowledged that the "semantic distinction between the balancing test and the rational basis standard" may make little difference in most cases.  Indeed, here Judge McKeown recognized that Arizona's asserted interests in reducing printing costs and easing administrative efficiency are “sufficiently weighty to justify” the speculative burden on the plaintiff minority parties' rights.


April 24, 2015 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guide to the Amicus Briefs in Obergefell v. Hodges: The Same-Sex Marriage Cases

The United States Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on April 28 in the same-sex marriage cases, now styled as Obergefell v. Hodges, a consolidated appeal from the Sixth Circuit’s decision in DeBoer v. Snyder, reversing the district court decisions in  Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that had held the same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, and creating a circuit split.    

 Recall that the Court certified two questions:

    1)Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

    2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state? 

The case has attracted what seems to be a record number of amicus briefs.  As we discussed last year, previous top amicus brief attractors were the same-sex marriage cases of Windsor and Perry, which garnered 96 and 80 amicus briefs respectively, and the 2013 affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which attracted 92.  [Note that the "Obamacare" Affordable Care Act cases including 2012's consolidated cases of  NFIB v. Sebelius attracted 136 amicus briefs.]

The count for Obergefell v. Hodges stands at  139. 147  [updated: 17 April 2015]

76 amicus briefs support the Petitioners, who contend that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.

58 66 amicus briefs support the Respondents, who contend that same-sex marriage bans are constitutional.

05 amicus briefs support neither party (but as described below, generally support Respondents).

According to the Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States, Rule 37, an amicus curiae brief’s purpose is to bring to the attention of the Court “relevant matter not already brought to its attention by the parties.”  While such a brief “may be of considerable help to the Court,” an  “amicus curiae brief that does not serve this purpose burdens the Court, and its filing is not favored.”

 An impressive number of the Amicus Briefs are authored or signed by law professors.  Other Amici include academics in other fields, academic institutions or programs, governmental entities or persons, organizations, and individuals, often in combination.  Some of these have been previously involved in same-sex marriage or sexuality issues and others less obviously so, with a number being religious organizations. Several of these briefs have been profiled in the press; all are linked on the Supreme Court’s website and on SCOTUSBlog.

Here is a quick - - - if lengthy - - - summary of the Amici and their arguments, organized by party being supported and within that, by identity of Amici, beginning with briefs having substantial law professor involvement, then government parties or persons, then non-legal academics, followed by organizations including religious groups, and finally by those offering individual perspectives.  [Late additions appear below]Special thanks to City University of New York (CUNY)  School of Law Class of 2016 students, Aliya Shain & AnnaJames Wipfler, for excellent research.


Continue reading

April 16, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, History, Interpretation, Privacy, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Puerto Rico Decides Not to Contest Constitutional Challenge to Same-Sex Marriage Ban

In a brief filed today in the First Circuit in Conde-Vidal v. Armendariz, the Solicitor General of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico essentially sided with the appellants and conceded its same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Recall that several months ago, United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez  dismissed the constitutional challenge to Puerto Rico's law defining marriage as "man and woman" and refusing recognition to marriages "between persons of the same sex or transexuals." In large part, Judge Perez-Gimenez relied upon Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question."

The challengers appealed to the First Circuit and the Commonwealth's brief "concedes that Baker’s rationale that federal courts lack jurisdiction to entertain these claims for lack of a substantial federal question can no longer be deemed good law." 

800px-Flag_of_Puerto_Rico_(Light_Blue).svgIndeed, the Commonwealth's brief concedes that the appellants should prevail.  The brief concludes:

It is not usual for the Executive Branch of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to refuse to defend the constitutionality of legally-enacted statutes. It is even less usual to adopt a somewhat different position at the appellate level than the one espoused before the lower court. But this is not a usual case and neither the law nor common sense requires us to treat it as such.

In a constitutional democracy there are some rights that have been reserved to the People directly and which no government may infringe, regardless of individual or personal views on the matter. “Our obligation [like this Court’s] is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 850 (1992).

Article 68 of the Civil Code of Puerto Rico excludes LGBT couples from the legal entitlements and rights attendant to civil marriage. Thus, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico acknowledges that the statute in controversy raises substantial constitutional questions anent the constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the laws and substantive due process.

Because Puerto Rico’s marriage ban impermissibly burdens Plaintiffs ́ rights to the equal protection of the laws and the fundamental right to marry, we have decided to cease defending its constitutionality based on an independent assessment about its validity under the current state of the law. However, “i[t] is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675, at 2688 (quoting Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1802)), and, since the District Court entered judgment in this case, it is this particular Court’s duty to review the legal conclusions there reached so that they may be brought up to date in accordance with newer developments in this important area of constitutional law.

If History has taught us anything, it is that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” Lawrence, 579 U.S. at 579. This case represents but another attempt from a politically disadvantaged group of our society to be included within the full scope of the legal and constitutional protections that most of us take for granted. Plaintiffs seek no preferential treatment; only equality. The Executive Branch of the Commonwealth recognizes the LGBT community’s right to equality under the law.

Defendants-Appellees request that this Honorable Court reverse the Judgment of the District Court that dismissed Plaintiffs-Appellants’ complaint for lack of a substantial federal question.

Given this concession, the First Circuit - - - which has not had occasion to rule on a challenge to a "state" same-sex marriage ban - - - is sure to find that Puerto Rico's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, assuming it reaches the issue before the United States Supreme Court decides the issue in the cases presently before it. 

Recall that the First Circuit did rule that DOMA, the Congressional statute barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional in 2012, before the  United States Supreme Court held DOMA unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor, but after the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced the Department of Justice would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA. 

March 20, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fourth Circuit Dismisses Challenges to Muni Election Law

The Fourth Circuit ruled in Greenville County Republican Party v. Greenville County Election Commission that various challenges to South Carolina's municipal election procedures lacked justiciability and dismissed the case.

South Carolina law required municipalities to adopt by ordinance either a partisan or nonpartisan way of nominating candidates for public office in municipal elections. If a municipality selected the partisan method, South Carolina law allowed a certified political party to select one of three procedures: a party primary, a party convention, or a petition. Nomination by party primary required an open primary. Nomination by convention required a 3/4 super-majority vote of the party membership.

The Greenville County Republican Party Executive Committee, an affiliate of the state Republican party but not itself a certified political party, challenged these procedures under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The Committee sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and monetary damages for having to implement the procedures in prior elections.

As the case worked its way up and down, Greenville changed its ordinance to nominate candidates using a nonpartisan procedure.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that this mooted the Committee's claims for prospective relief. In particular, the court said that the County's decision was not capable of repetition but evading review, because the Committee didn't satisfy its burden of establishing "a reasonable expectation" that it wouldn't go back to the partisan method of nominating candidates for future elections.

As to the surviving claims, the court held that the Committee lacked standing. The court said that the Committee didn't suffer any harm from the super-majority requirement for convention-nominated candidates; instead, the state party suffered that harm--making the Committee's claim a nonjusticiable third-party claim. The court also held that the Committee couldn't satisfy the traceability prong of standing, because it was the state party, not Greenville, that elected to use the open primary system. (The state Republican Party was at one time party to the suit, but withdrew.)

The ruling ends this suit, and, in the wake of Greenville's decision to use a nonpartisan nominating process, almost certainly ends any challenges to Greenville's old partisan process.

March 18, 2015 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daily Read: The First Amendment and the Selma March

Over at the Los Angeles Times in an Op-Ed, ConLawProf Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr. argues that present First Amendment doctrine would preclude the famous Selma march being commemorated on its 50th anniversary today.

640px-Selma_to_Montgomery_marches_-_historic_route_retouchedKrotoszynski contends that it would now be "impossible to obtain a federal court order permitting a five-day protest march on a 52-mile stretch of a major U.S. highway" and that under "contemporary legal doctrine, the Selma protests would have ended March 8, 1965."

He faults the reshaping of public forum doctrine and time, place or manner restrictions so that "protests" are now relegated to "designated speech zones."  He highlights the recent litigation regarding the First Amendment rights of protestors in Ferguson, which, although successful on behalf of the protestors, was a success that was both delayed and partial.

Krotoszynski's op-ed is an important reminder that while voting rights and equality are integral to the remembrance of Selma as President Obama elucidated in his speech,  "Selma's main lesson" might also be that "taking to the streets and other public spaces in protest is central to our democracy." 


March 8, 2015 in Association, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Video: President Obama's Selma Speech

On the 5oth anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery March, President Obama and other dignitaries gathered in Selma to commemorate the iconic protest which is widely believed to have galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Given the Court's closely divided and controversial 2013 decision in Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder finding parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, as well as subsequent efforts by states to enact voting restrictions, Obama not surprisingly included pertinent references in his speech:

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.   One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge. 

Obama left unelaborated what Congress might do in light of the Court's decision in Shelby.  A full text of Obama's speech is here, but the video is worth watching:




March 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Alabama Supreme Court Orders Probate Judges to Discontinue Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

In a per curiam opinion in excess of 130 pages, the Alabama Supreme Court has ordered certain probate judges to 'discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples' in compliance with a district judge's order  and a denial of a stay by the United States Supreme Court.

[UPDATED: Reports state that the controversial Chief Justice Roy Moore  recused himself from the ruling, but neither Moore nor recusal seems to be mentioned in the opinion].  The Alabama Supreme Court's opinion per curiam opinion states that "Stuart, Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur," and that "Main, J., concurs in part and concurs in the result," and that "Shaw, J., dissents."  Chief Justice Moore is the ninth of the nine justices of the Alabama Supreme Court (pictured below).   


The case is styled Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Citizens Action Program, and John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County; In re: Alan L. King, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Jefferson County, et al., and is an Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus. Justice Greg Shaw's dissent highlights the unusual procedural posture of the case: he concludes that the Alabama Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction, that the public interest groups (Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program) cannot sue in Alabama's name and do not have standing, that the petition for writ of mandamus is procedurally deficient given that there is no lower court opinion, and that the court's opinion improperly rules on the constitutionality of the Alabama marriage laws since that issue is not before it.  Justice Shaw concludes:

I believe that this case is not properly before this Court. As the main opinion notes, this case is both unusual and of great public interest; however, I do not see a way for this Court to act at this time. By overlooking this Court's normal procedures; by stretching our law and creating exceptions to it; by assuming original jurisdiction, proceeding as a trial court, and reaching out to speak on an issue that this Court cannot meaningfully impact because the Supreme Court of the United States will soon rule on it; and by taking action that will result in additional confusion and more costly federal litigation involving this State's probate judges, this Court, in my view, is venturing into unchartered waters and potentially unsettling established principles of law.

Shaw's dissent provides a window into the Alabama Supreme Court's lengthy opinion.  Much of the opinion concerns the odd procedural posture of the case.  The opinion does specifically address the relationship between Alabama and the federal judge's decision by declaring that the "Respondents' Ministerial Duty is Not Altered by the United States Constitution":

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama has declared that Alabama's laws that define marriage as being only between two members of the opposite sex -- what has been denominated traditional marriage -- violate the United States Constitution. After careful consideration of the reasoning employed by the federal district court in Searcy I, we find that the provisions of Alabama law contemplating the issuance of marriage licenses only to opposite-sex couples do not violate the United States Constitution and that the Constitution does not alter or override the ministerial duties of the respondents under Alabama law.

Thus, because the Alabama Supreme Court disagrees, Alabama is not bound by the federal decision. The Alabama Supreme Court's "per curiam" opinion on the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban is scholarly, lengthy, and well-reasoned (and perhaps more persuasive than the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, to which the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari, and on which the Alabama Supreme Court relies extensively).  But this discussion does little to resolve the basic federalism of whether the state is bound by the federal court's judgment.  The court's order does include this specific provision, which may engage the issue most directly:

As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.

This is certainly not the last parry in this continuing federalism struggle.

March 3, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Second Circuit Reverses Itself on Qualified Immunity in Brooklyn Bridge Protest

A panel of the Second Circuit issued its amended opinion in Garcia v. Does now holding that the New York City police officers do have qualified immunity in the First Amendment suit arising from plaintiffs' arrests for participating in a demonstration in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Recall that in December, the full Second Circuit granted review of the case.  In today's opinion, the court noted that it had withdrawn the panel opinion, was granting the petition for rehearing, and now reversing the district judge and remanding the case with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

Thus, the panel now finds that qualified immunity can be - - - and is here - - - established at the pleading stage, citing  Wood v. Moss (2014), noting that  "qualified immunity protects officials not merely from liability but from litigation, that the issue should be resolved when possible on a motion to dismiss, before the commencement of discovery, to avoid subjecting public officials to time consuming and expensive discovery procedures."  This echoes Judge Livingston's dissent in the original panel opinion.

The underlying First Amendment issue was whether defendant police officers "implicitly invited the demonstrators to walk onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, which would otherwise have been prohibited by New York law" and then arrested them without "fair warning."  Today's panel opinion now explains:

On the face of the Complaint, the officers were confronted with ambiguities of fact and law. As a matter of fact, the most that is plausibly alleged by the Complaint and the supporting materials is that the police, having already permitted some minor traffic violations along the marchers’ route, and after first attempting to block the protesters from obstructing the vehicular roadway, retreated before the demonstrators in a way that some of the demonstrators may have interpreted as affirmatively permitting their advance. Whether or not such an interpretation was reasonable on their part, it cannot be said that the police’s behavior was anything more than – at best for plaintiffs – ambiguous, or that a reasonable officer would necessarily have understood that the demonstrators would reasonably interpret the retreat as permission to use the roadway.

This "all doubts resolved in favor of the defendants" stance on a motion to dismiss for qualified immunity illustrates how very high the bar has become for protestors raising a First Amendment claim.

[image of Brooklyn Bridge via]

February 24, 2015 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Supreme Court Denies Stay of Alabama Same-Sex Marriage While Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Continues the Argument

Over a dissenting opinion by Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, the Court denied the application for a stay in Strange v. Searcy.  Recall that in January, Alabama District Judge Callie V.S. Granade entered an injunction against the enforcement of the state's constitutional amendment and statutes banning same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

381px-LGBT_flag_map_of_Alabama.svgThe controversial Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore has reacted negatively to the federal court opinion, including penning a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order.  That letter prompted an ethics complaint filed against Roy Moore from the Southern Poverty Law Center arguing that:

Chief Justice Roy Moore has improperly commented on pending and impending cases; demonstrated faithlessness to foundational principles of law; and taken affirmative steps to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. For all these reasons, we respectfully request that this Judicial Inquiry Commission investigate the allegations in this complaint and recommend that Chief Justice Moore face charges in the Court of the Judiciary.

On February 3, the Eleventh Circuit denied the stay of Judge Granade's injunction and Judge Moore issue a 27 page memorandum addressed to Alabama Probate Judges with the intent to 

assist weary, beleaguered, and perplexed probate judges to unravel the meaning of the actions of the federal district court in Mobile, namely that the rulings in the marriage cases do not require you to issue marriage licenses that are illegal under Alabama law.

Judge Moore's argument that the state need not comply with federal decisions has prompted some commentators to make comparisons to Alabama's position during the Civil Rights Era, including a thoughtful WaPo piece by ConLawProf Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr. at University of Alabama Law School. 

The dissenting opinion from Justice Thomas (joined by Scalia) did not mention Judge Moore by name, but did include a decisive nod to some of Moore's arguments:

Today’s decision represents yet another example of this Court’s increasingly cavalier attitude toward the States. Over the past few months, the Court has repeatedly denied stays of lower court judgments enjoining the enforcement of state laws on questionable constitutional grounds. *** It has similarly declined to grant certiorari to review such judgments without any regard for the people who approved those laws in popular referendums or elected the representatives who voted for them. In this case, the Court refuses even to grant a temporary stay when it will resolve the issue at hand in several months.

Perhaps more importantly, Justice Thomas notes that the constitutionality of same-sex marriage is now before the Court, but yet

the Court looks the other way as yet another Federal District Judge casts aside state laws without making any effort to preserve the status quo pending the Court’s resolution of a constitutional question it left open in United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. ___ (2013).  This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question.

 Justice Thomas is not the only one considering whether the Court's denial of a stay and thus allowing same-sex marriages to proceed in Alabama is a "signal" of the Court's leanings in DeBoer v. Snyder.

February 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US), Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)