Sunday, September 15, 2013

Daily Read: The New Yorker on Justice Ginsburg, Fisher, and Footnote 4

450px-Milk_glassOver at the New Yorker blog, Lincoln Caplan's piece, "Justice Ginsburg and Footnote Four" analyzes Ginsburg's discussion last week at the National Constitution Center, arguing that one of her statements "deserves more attention than it has gotten."

Ginsburg stated that her dissent last term in Fisher v.  University of Texas Austin, regarding judicial review of  affirmative-action plans of colleges and universities, "was inspired by a 1938 ruling not mentioned in the dissent—actually, by one of its footnotes."  That most famous footnote - - - footnote four - - -of United States v. Carolene Products, is for many (including Caplan) the foundation of "a coherent justification for unelected justices to overturn legal decisions of elected officials when the fairness of the Constitution, and of democracy, is at stake."  

Recall that the 1938 case of  Carolene Products involved a federal statute regulating the shipment of "filled milk" (skimmed milk to which nonmilk fat is added so that it may seem to be like whole milk or even cream).   It may be that this case was also on Ginsburg's mind during the oral arguments of another one of last term's cases:  In her questioning of Paul Clement, who represented BLAG, in United States v. Windsor about the constitutionality of DOMA, she condensed his argument as saying that in granting same-sex marriages, states were nevertheless saying there were really "two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage."   As we noted at the time, Ginsburg's allusion would have special resonance for those who recalled Carolene Products.

 

September 15, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Fifth Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

First Amendment Challenge to Vanity License Plate Denial

Michigan, like most states, has a vanity license plate program under which residents can apply for a "personalized" letter or number combination rather than being randomly assigned one, upon the payment of an additional fee.   Under M.C.L. § 257.803b(1), the secretary of state "shall not issue a letter combination that might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency."

In the complaint filed in Matwyuk v. Johnson, the plaintiff, represented by the ACLU of Michigan, alleges that the secretary of state's office denied his application for "INFIDEL" (or some variation) because it was "offensive to good taste and decency."   The plaintiff claims the "offensive to good taste and decency" provision on its face and as applied violates the First Amendment as overbroad and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as vague.

Matwyuk's factual allegations are especially compelling:

Mr. Matwyuk is a retired U.S. Army sergeant who was deployed as an American soldier in Iraq during the height of hostilities in that country. He and his fellow troops were constantly under attack by insurgent extremists whose word for the American soldiers was “infidel.” Seeking to reclaim or reappropriate this term as a source of American pride and patriotism, Sergeant Matwyuk and other soldiers came to embrace their identity as “infidels.” He and other American veterans proudly refer to themselves as “infidels” as a reminder of the bond they share as survivors of a bloody war in a hostile part of the world.

To honor the sacrifices of his fellow soldiers and to express his pride and patriotism as a veteran of the war in Iraq, Sergeant Matwyuk wishes to obtain a personalized Michigan license plate that reads “INFIDEL" . . . . 

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 5.22.31 PM

 

Unlike other license plate cases involving compelled speech in the usual license plate design or speciality license plate design schemes, here the issue is the very letters and numbers that individualize the identification of the license plate.  Nevertheless, some of the same doctrines will be at issue, including the license plate being a "forum" that the government has opened for speech.  Additionally, doctrines regarding interpretations of "decency" - - - as opposed to the established meanings of obscenity - - - will also be at issue.  These doctrines tend to support the plaintiff's case.

September 12, 2013 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Michigan State Professor Removed From Teaching Responsibilities After Political "Rant"

As reported in The Detroit News this afternoon, a Michigan State University creative writing professor and novelist, William S. Penn, has been relieved of his teaching duties by administration for his anti-conservative and anti-Republican remarks made during class.  

Penn is a highly regarded writer and professor whose work often centers on his Native American/Anglo identity.  For example, his 1996 creative nonfiction book, All My Sins are Relatives, won a North American Indian prose award. 

A person in the classroom taped Penn and  Campus Reform, a project of the conservative Leadership Institute, produced the video below:

  

Given the current constructions of the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos,  Penn will have a difficult time showing he is speaking as a citizen rather than as a government employee and thus entitled to First Amendment protection.   Indeed,  the Sixth Circuit in Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of Tipp City, which we discussed when it was decided in 2010, upheld the termination of a high school creative writing teacher who assigned Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. To explore that book’s theme of government censorship, she also developed an assignment based on the American Library Association's "banned books."

However, when the Sixth Circuit rejected the "academic freedom" argument of Evans-Marshall, it  opined that such a concept is limited to universities and does not extend to high schools.   As a university professor, Penn may have a better chance at making an academic freedom argument.

This could make a terrific in class exercise for ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment.

UPDATE: Take a look at the new Ninth Circuit opinion regarding academic freedom and Garcetti.  This would substantially improve Penn's position if adopted by the Sixth Circuit.

UPDATE 2: Statement of the MSU AAUP Chapter in support of academic freedom (and further fact intvestigation). 

UPDATE 3: Listen to an interview with ConLawProf Mae Kuykendall of MSU about the incident.

September 5, 2013 in Books, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Federal Judge Allows Lawsuit for Unconstitutional Sex Assignment Surgery to Proceed

In the closely watched case of M.C. v. Aaronson,  a minor claims a violation of both substantive and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by South Carolina doctors who performed genital surgery on a child in state custody (foster care).    We discussed the case when the complaint was filed in May.

IntersexualflagIn a 15 page order United States District Judge David Norton denied the motions to dismiss by the various defendants.  With regard to the substantive due process right, the judge found that "M.C. has articulated that defendants violated his clearly established constitutional right to procreation.," and as a "result, defendants’ assertion of qualified immunity must fail at this stage in the litigation."  Given this conclusion, the judge stated he "need not consider M.C.’s arguments that defendants also violated his rights to privacy and bodily integrity."

As for the procedural due process rights, the judge again found that M.C. stated a claim, and that further analysis of the Matthews v. Eldridge factors was not appropriate at this stage.

But as the judge's opinion made clear, the hurdle of summary judgment looms:

Underlying this case’s complex legal questions is a series of medical and administrative decisions that had an enormous impact on one child’s life. Details of how those decisions were made, when they were made, and by whom are as yet unknown to the court. Whether M.C.’s claims can withstand summary judgment challenges, or even the assertion of qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage, is not for the court to hazard a guess at this time. It is plain that M.C. has sufficiently alleged that defendants violated at least one clearly established constitutional right – the right to procreate – when they recommended, authorized, and/or performed the sex assignment surgery in April 2006.

Indeed, this same order included a grant of M.C.'s request for expedited discovery.

RR
[image via]

September 1, 2013 in Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Groups Challenge North Carolina Voter Restrictions

The ACLU filed suit earlier this month in the Middle District of North Carolina challenging the state's new restrictions on voting under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.  Recall that North Carolina, a previously partially covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act, moved quickly after the Supreme Court struck the preclearance coverage formula in Shelby County v. Holder to introduce certain restrictions on the vote, knowing that the full state was free of the preclearance requirement.  The ACLU's suit, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina, challenges certain provisions in the state's  Voter Information Verification Act, or VIVA

In particular, the case challenges restrictions on early voting in the state, restrictions on same-day registration, and restrictions on out-of-precinct voting in the state.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, and bail-in under Section 3 of the VRA.  Bail-in allows a federal court to order continued monitoring of a state's proposed changes to its election laws upon a showing that the state's violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments justify such monitoring--much like Section 5 preclearance, except that the coverage formula isn't fixed.  

After Shelby County struck the coverage formula in Section 4(b), and thus rendered Section 5 preclearance a dead letter, Section 3(c) bail-in is the only way that the VRA might authorize continuing federal preclearance of a state's proposed changes to its election laws.  The ACLU sought Section 3(c) relief here, and the Department of Justice sought Section 3(c) relief in its recently filed case against Texas.

If the Texas AG's press release is any indication of a litigation position, Section 3(c) is the next likely provision in the VRA to go on the chopping block under a challenge that it exceeds congressional authority under the Fourteenth Amendment.

August 30, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Daily Read: The importance of amicus briefs

An  ABA Journal article by Mark Walsh tells us that last Term, 2012-2013, was "another big one" for amicus curiae briefs at the United States Supreme Court: "Seventy of the 73 cases, or nearly 96 percent, that received full plenary review attracted at least one amicus brief at the merits stage."

The top amicus-attractors? 

The same-sex marriage cases of Windsor and Perry, with 96 and 80 respectively and the affirmative action case of Fisher, with 92.  

Shelby County v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case, attracted 49 amicus briefs, including one from ConLawProf Patricia Broussard (second from right) and her students at FAMU College of Law, as pictured below.

Amicus1

Yet perhaps the most interesting aspect of the ABA Journal article is its chart displaying the citation rate of amicus briefs by Justice, with Sotomayor ranking at the highest end and Scalia and Alito at the lowest end.

Worth a look, especially for ConLawProfs writing, signing, or assigning amicus briefs.

RR

 

August 28, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Daily Read: Ellis and Jones on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Several media and legal outlets are running impressive commentaries on this fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

476px-Dr._Martin_Luther_King_Jr._at_a_civil_rights_march_on_Washington_D.C._in_1963Here are two that should not be missed.

Over at ACS blog, Law Prof Atiba Ellis writes on "The Moral Hazard of American Gradualism: A Lesson from the March on Washington."  Ellis states, "the question we must confront in 2013 is whether we have been tranquilized into the lethargy of gradualism concerning the work that needs to be done."   Ellis highlights the Court's decisions last term in Shelby and in Fisher as examples of "the new American gradualism – retrogressive action under the cover of apathy, spurred by the myth of post-racialism and the supposed fear of constitutional overreach."

And on NPR's Morning Edition, journalist Michele Norris profiles Clarence B. Jones as an attorney and "guiding hand" behind the "I Have a Dream" speech, including the famous "promissory note" metaphor.  However, Norris also highlights Jones' memoir Behind The Dream, which had "some unlikely source material."  Indeed, Jones' memoir may be more accurate than most, since his memory was augmented by transcripts of every single phone conversation he had with King, courtesy of the FBI, in a wiretap authorized by Robert Kennedy as Attorney General.  The NPR story has a link to the FBI archive on King. 

RR
[image via]

 

August 27, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Books, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Recent Cases, Scholarship, Theory, Thirteenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 26, 2013

New Jersey's Prohibition of Sexual Orientation Conversion Challenged

New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie (pictured) signed New Jersey A3371 banning so-called sexual conversion or reparative therapy on minors into law earlier this month. 

DSC_3546_smallIn his signing statement, Christie said:

At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children. I still have those concerns. Government should tread carefully into this area and I do so here reluctantly. I have scrutinized this piece of legislation with that concern in mind.

However, I also believe that on issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards. The American Psychological Association has found that efforts to change sexual orientation can pose critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate. Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law.

 

 Despite Christie's careful articulation of  his support for the bill, it was criticized and quickly challenged in a complaint filed in federal court in King v. Christie.  The plaintiffs include Tara King, a licensed professional counselor, as well as National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (“NARTH”) and American Association of Christian Counselors (“AACC”).  They argue that the law violates their First Amendment rights of free speech, rights of their clients to "receive information," and free exercise of religion, as well as clients' parental due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, in addition to concomitant rights under the New Jersey state constitution.

RR

UPDATE: In Pickup v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit has upheld California's similar law banning sexual conversion therapy.

 

August 26, 2013 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sixth Circuit: "Begging" Protected by First Amendment

In its opinion today in Speet v. Schuette, the Sixth Circuit, affirming the district court, held that Michigan's so-called "anti-begging" statute is unconstitutional.  The Michigan statute, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.167(1)(h), defines a "disorderly person," as a "person found begging in a public place."

480px-August_Heinrich_Mansfeld_Die_milde_GabeThe court notes that "Attorney General Schuette argues that the anti-begging statute does not reach any conduct or speech that the First Amendment protects."  The court rejected this contention and stated that "begging, by its very definition, encapsulates the solicitation for alms."  And while the court agreed that the United States Supreme has never squarely ruled that an individual soliciting for alms is engaged in expression,in an interesting twist of the usual analogizing, the Sixth Circuit noted that the Court  "has held—repeatedly—that the First Amendment protects charitable solicitation performed by organizations."  The court engages in extensive discussion of precedent as well as cases in other circuits including the Fourth Circuit in Clatterback which we discussed here. The Sixth Circuit found that there was indeed protected expression in "begging" sufficient to invoke the First Amendment.

It then turned to the question of whether the statute was "overbroad."  Although it recognized that "overbreadth" was "strong medicine," it determined it was warranted:

Instead of a few instances of alleged unconstitutional applications, we have hundreds. The Grand Rapids Police Department produced four hundred nine incident reports related to its enforcement of the anti-begging statute. Thirty-eight percent of the people that the police stopped were holding signs requesting help, containing messages like “Homeless and Hungry: Need Work,” “Homeless Please Help God Bless,” “Lost My Job Need Help,” and “Homeless and Hungry Vet.” The other sixty-two percent of the stops (two hundred fifty-five instances) involved people verbally soliciting charity. In forty- three percent of the cases, the police immediately arrested the people who were begging. In two hundred eleven cases, people convicted of begging were sentenced directly to jail time. The record in this case bolsters our “judicial prediction” that “the statute’s very existence may cause others not before the court to refrain from constitutionally protected speech or expression.”

It further determined that it could not "read the statute to limit its constitutional effect," : instead, the "statute simply bans an entire category of activity that the First Amendment protects."  While Michigan could regulate "begging," it may not simply prohibit it by its criminal laws.

Although relatively brief at 17 pages, this is a well-reasoned opinion in conformance with the weight of authority and First Amendment doctrine. 

RR
[image via]

August 14, 2013 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Daily Read: Bennett Capers on Stop and Frisk

Law prof I. Bennett Capers (pictured right) has a terrific op-ed in The New York Times today about Floyd v. City of New York, the "stop and frisk" opinion we discussed yesterday.

Bennett_capersCapers starts off with a personal perspective, analyzes the problem and opinion in accessible terms, and then most interestingly concludes:

That still leaves the question, “What now?” Mayor Bloomberg is sure to appeal Judge Scheindlin’s decision, both in the court of appeals and the court of public opinion. But that’s not the only option.

He could actually welcome Judge Scheindlin’s decision to appoint an independent monitor to supervise reform. Mr. Bloomberg already claims crime reduction as part of his legacy. It’s not too late for him to claim that and more: that he reduced crime and finally did so in a way that was fair, egalitarian and not racially discriminatory. And it’s certainly not too late for his successor.

New Yorkers will know that the identity of Mayor Bloomberg's sucessor will be determined at the conclusion of this contentious election period, in which (in)equality is shaping up to be a central issue.  But Capers' piece is definitely worth a read no matter where one lives.

RR

August 13, 2013 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Federal District Judge Shira Scheindlin Finds NYCPD's Stop and Frisk Policies Violate Equal Protection

In a 198 page opinion today, accompanied by a 39 page order and opinion as to remedies, United States District Judge Shira Scheindlin has found the New York City Police Department's stop and frisk policies unconstitutional.  (Recall Judge Scheindlin enjoined the NYPD's stop and frisk practices in the Bronx earlier this year).

459px-NYPDNYCUnitedStatesofAmericaIn the closely watched case of Floyd v. City of New York, Judge Scheidlin's opinion is an exhaustively thorough discussion of the trial and at times reads more like a persuasive article than an opinion: it  begins with epigraphs, has a table of contents, and has 783 footnotes.  It also - - - helpfully - - - has an "Executive Summary" of about 10 pages.  Here is an excerpt:

Plaintiffs assert that the City, and its agent the NYPD, violated both the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. In order to hold a municipality liable for the violation of a constitutional right, plaintiffs “must prove that ‘action pursuant to official municipal policy’ caused the alleged constitutional injury.” “Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government’s lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.” 

The Fourth Amendment protects all individuals against unreasonable searches or seizures. . . . 

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees to every person the equal protection of the laws. It prohibits intentional discrimination based on race. Intentional discrimination can be proved in several ways, two of which are relevant here. A plaintiff can show: (1) that a facially neutral law or policy has been applied in an intentionally discriminatory manner; or (2) that a law or policy expressly classifies persons on the basis of race, and that the classification does not survive strict scrutiny. Because there is rarely direct proof of discriminatory intent, circumstantial evidence of such intent is permitted. “The impact of the official action — whether it bears more heavily on one race than another — may provide an important starting point.” 

The following facts, discussed in greater detail below, are uncontested: 

  • Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million Terry stops.

  • The number of stops per year rose sharply from 314,000 in 2004 to a high of 686,000 in 2011.

  • 52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.

  • 8% of all stops led to a search into the stopped person’s clothing, ostensibly based on the officer feeling an object during the frisk that he suspected to be a weapon, or immediately perceived to be contraband other than a weapon. In 9% of these searches, the felt object was in fact a weapon. 91% of the time, it was not. In 14% of these searches, the felt object was in fact contraband. 86% of the time it was not.

  • 6% of all stops resulted in an arrest, and 6% resulted in a summons. The remaining 88% of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further law enforcement action.

  • In 52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31% the person was Hispanic, and in 10% the person was white.

  • In 2010, New York City’s resident population was roughly 23% black, 29% Hispanic, and 33% white.

  • In 23% of the stops of blacks, and 24% of the stops of Hispanics, the officer recorded using force. The number for whites was 17%.

Near the end of the opinion, Judge Scheindlin astutely expresses the problem that has complicated relations between Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection arguments, as we recently discussed about racial profiling in Arizona.  She solves the problem firmly on the side of Equal Protection:

The City and the NYPD’s highest officials also continue to endorse the unsupportable position that racial profiling cannot exist provided that a stop is based on reasonable suspicion.  This position is fundamentally inconsistent with the law of equal protection and represents a particularly disconcerting manifestation of indifference. As I have emphasized throughout this section, the Constitution “prohibits selective enforcement of the law based on considerations such as race.”  Thus, plaintiffs’ racial discrimination claim does not depend on proof that stops of blacks and Hispanics are suspicionless. A police department that has a practice of targeting blacks and Hispanics for pedestrian stops cannot defend itself by showing that all the stopped pedestrians were displaying suspicious behavior. Indeed, the targeting of certain races within the universe of suspicious individuals is especially insidious, because it will increase the likelihood of further enforcement actions against members of those races as compared to other races, which will then increase their representation in crime statistics. Given the NYPD’s policy of basing stops on crime data, these races may then be subjected to even more stops and enforcement, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle.

The Equal Protection Clause’s prohibition on selective enforcement means that suspicious blacks and Hispanics may not be treated differently by the police than equally suspicious whites. Individuals of all races engage in suspicious behavior and break the law. Equal protection guarantees that similarly situated individuals of these races will be held to account equally.

 This important, scholarly, and thorough opinion is sure to set a standard of judicial craft.  It is also sure to be appealed by the City of New York.

RR

August 12, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sixth Circuit Rules University Speech Policy Unconstitutionally Vague

The Sixth Circuit ruled last week in McGlone v. Cheek that the University of Tennessee's speech policy was unconstitutionally vague and violated the First Amendment.

The case arose when the University denied permission to McGlone, a self-described "committed Christian," to share his religious beliefs with students in an open-air amphitheater on campus.  Campus authorities told him that he needed a University sponsor.  In particular, they told him that University policy required speakers not affiliated with the University receive sponsorship from "students, faculty, or staff."  But they also told him that he needed to be "sponsored by a registered student organization, staff, or faculty."  McGlone couldn't get a sponsor, so he didn't speak.  But he sued.

The Sixth Circuit seized on the different articulations of the policy--one requiring sponsorship from "students, faculty, or staff," and the other requiring sponsorship from "a registered student organization, staff, or faculty"--to rule that the policy was unconstitutionally vague.  The court said that a person of ordinary intelligence wouldn't know the University policy's meaning, that University officials had applied it differently, and that it left open the possibility of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

The court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to grant a preliminary injunction against the University.

SDS

August 6, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

No Constitutional Violation in Aggressive Child Protection Case

In its opinion in D.B. v. Kopp, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of an equal protection "class of one" claim against Grant County (Wisconsin) and certain officials because they "overzealously

442px-Albert_Roosenboom_The_Young_Doctor
"The Young Doctor" 19th Century
investigated and maliciously prosecuted" D.B., a six year old, who was "playing doctor" with two five year olds. 

 

The mother of the five year old twins was the adult who discovered the interaction and who "reported the incident to her sister-in-law, who happened to be the regional supervisor in charge of the state agency that administers family and children’s services."  The father of the twins was a public official in the town.  D.B. alleges that he was singled out, "charged" with sexual assault although the twins admitted their actions were the same, and that D.B. was "subjected to an overbearing investigation and unjustified court proceedings based on improper political favoritism."

In rejecting the claim, the Seventh Circuit found that the fact that the twins' mother witnessed D.B.'s actions was sufficient to support the state's actions. It reasoned that while

political connections may also plausibly explain why D.B. was targeted for investigation and the twins were not. But the test for rationality does not ask whether the benign justification was the actual justification. All it takes to defeat the plaintiffs’ claim is a conceivable rational basis for the difference in treatment.

(emphasis in original).  The opinion added that:

We are not suggesting that this was a well-administered investigation, or a wise exercise of prosecutorial discretion, for that matter. Our decision today should not be understood as an endorsement of this use of state power, which strikes us (assuming the allegations are true) as a troubling overreaction to a situation that could and should have been handled informally. It’s easy to understand why the twins’ mother would be alarmed and upset, but it’s also reasonable to expect that the response by Grant County officials would be measured and proportionate. As the district court aptly put it, accusing a six-year-old boy of first-degree sexual assault shows “poor judgment at best.” But poor judgment does not violate the Constitution.

Surely, there might be cases in which "poor judgment" would "violate the Constitution," but the court finds this is not one of those cases.

RR
[image via]

[corrected: Seventh Circuit]

August 6, 2013 in Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

DOJ To Seek Bail-In Preclearance for Texas Under Voting Rights Act

AG Eric Holder announced today that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal district court in Texas to bail-in Texas for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.  The move, the Department's first after the Supreme Court struck the Section 4 coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County v. Holder, is part of Holder's announced strategy to use still-available portions of the Voting Rights Act (like bail-in and Section 2 litigation) to enforce voting rights.

If successful, bail-in would mean that Texas would be subject to the preclearance requirement, notwithstanding the Court's ruling in Shelby County.  That's because the Court in Shelby County struck the coverage formula for preclearance (in Section 4 of the VRA), but didn't touch other portions of the VRA, including the bail-in provision in Section 3(c).  (It also didn't touch Section 5, the preclearance provision.)  Under the bail-in provision in Section 3(c), the DOJ can seek continued federal court monitoring of an offending jurisdiction, a freeze on the jurisdiction's election laws, and a requirement that the jurisdiction get permission, or preclearance, from the court or the DOJ before it makes any changes to its election laws.

AG Holder cited the federal court's rejection of preclearance to Texas's redistricting, which the court said had both the purpose and effect of discriminating in the vote, as support for his action.  (Recall that the Supreme Court vacated that federal court's rejection of preclearance shortly after it handed down Shelby County.)

If successful, AG Holder will subject Texas again to preclearance.  This approach, seeking individual jurisdiction bail-in under Section 3(c) of the VRA, is a more tailored way to target particularly offending jurisdictions than the coverage formula in Section 4, struck by the Court in Shelby County.  Still, it may face some of the same problems that Section 4 faced in Shelby County--particularly, it may run up against the new "equal state sovereignty" doctrine that we wrote about here.

SDS

July 25, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

North Dakota Federal Judge Enjoins North Dakota's Abortion Restrictions

 

300px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitol
North Dakota State Capitol Building
Judge Daniel Hovland's opinion in MKB Management, Inc. v. Burdick grants a preliminary injunction against North Dakota House Bill 1456 passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, which would make it a criminal offense to perform an abortion if a “heartbeat” has been detected, thereby banning abortions beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions.  As the plaintiffs, who run the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, argued, abortions before six weeks are exceedingly rare, in part because a woman rarely knows she is pregnant before that time. 

 

A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has consistently been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in the forty years since Roe v. Wade. See e.g., City of Akron v. Akron Ctr. for Reprod. Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416, 420 (1983) (a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy) (overruled on other grounds); Casey, 505 U.S. at 846 (a woman has a right to an abortion before viability without undue interference from the state); Stenberg, 530 U.S. at 921 (a woman has the right to choose an abortion before viability); Gonzales, 550 U.S. 124 (the state may not prevent “any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy”).

Indeed, Judge Hovland stated:

It is crystal clear from United States Supreme Court precedent that viability, although not a fixed point, is the critical point.

(emphasis in original).  He characterized the Defendants’ arguments as "necessarily rest[ing] on the premise that every Court of Appeals to strike a ban on pre-viability abortion care has misread United States Supreme Court precedent."  He stated that "until" Roe v. Wade and Casey are "overturned by the United States Supreme Court, this Court is bound to follow that precedent under the rule of stare decisis."

After briefly assessing the traditional standards for a preliminary injunction, Judge Hovland enjoined North Dakota House Bill 1456 which was to become effective August 1. 

Where and on what basis the "viability" line can be drawn remains uncertain in the continuing abortion debates, but six weeks is certainly too early.

RR

July 23, 2013 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ohio Federal Judge Enjoins State-DOMA: More Aftermath of Windsor

332px-Flag_Map_of_Ohio.svgIn a fifteen page opinion, federal district judge Timothy Black enjoined the application of Ohio's state DOMA provisions - - - both statutory and the state constitutional amendment - - - to a same-sex couple married out of state.  In Obergefell v. Kasich, the judge adapted the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's June opinion in Court's United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA unconstitutional.  Judge Black's opinion is part of the aftermath of Windsor that we most recently discussed here.

Judge Black's opinion has a succinct discussion of equal protection doctrine and concludes,

Under Supreme Court jurisprudence, states are free to determine conditions for valid marriages, but these restrictions must be supported by legitimate state purposes because they infringe on important liberty interests around marriage and intimate relations.

In derogation of law, the Ohio scheme has unjustifiably created two tiers of couples: (1) opposite-sex married couples legally married in other states; and (2) same-sex married couples legally married in other states. This lack of equal protection of law is fatal.

Judge Black's opinion has a brief explicit mention of "animus," but the concept permeates the opinion.  For example, he notes that before the state enacted its DOMA provisions:

Longstanding Ohio law has been clear: a marriage solemnized outside of Ohio is valid in Ohio if it is valid where solemnized. This legal approach is firmly rooted in the longstanding legal principle of “lex loci contractus” -- i.e., the law of the place of the contracting controls. Ohio has adopted this legal approach from its inception as a State.

Thus, for example, under Ohio law, as declared by the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1958, out-of-state marriages between first cousins are recognized by Ohio, even though Ohio law does not authorize marriages between first cousins.

To be sure, the injunction is a limited one applicable to sympathetic facts.  One of the partners is a hospice patient and the relief requested regards the martial status and surviving spouse to be recorded on the death certificate.  Yet Judge Black's reasoning is not limited and opens the door to rulings that Ohio's DOMA provisions limiting state recognition of marriages to only opposite-sex marriages fails constitutional scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.

RR

July 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More on the Aftermath of Windsor (DOMA) and Perry (Prop 8) decisions: California, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina Litigation

The Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and Perry v. Hollingsworth, holding that the "proponents" of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a federal judge's declaration of Prop 8's unconstitutionality, have not settled the matter of the unconstitutionality of same-sex marriage restrictions. 

In what promises to be a continuing series, here are a few highlights:

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In California, the home of Proposition 8, the litigation centers on Prop 8's constitutional status given that the Supreme Court held that the proponents did not have standing to appeal the federal district judge's holding that Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause.  The original injunction was stayed, and again stayed by the Ninth Circuit even as it affirmed the district judge, but after Perry, the Ninth Circuit dissolved the stay amid questions about the effect of Perry which we discussed here.

The proponents of Prop 8 have moved (back) to the state courts, filing Hollingsworth v. O'Connell on July 12 seeking a stay from the California Supreme Court.  Their basic argument is that a single federal judge should not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional for the entire state and they seek a mandate forbidding county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.  On July 16, the California Supreme Court declared - - - as a docket entry and without opinion - - - "The request for an immediate stay or injunctive relief is denied." It also granted the motions for counsel to proceed pro hac vice, so the case will presumably be moving forward. 

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In Pennsylvania, a complaint in Whitewood v. Corbett was filed July 9, as a new constitutional challenge to the state's "little DOMA" provisions passed the same year as the federal DOMA, 1996  - - - 23 Pa. Consolidated Statute §1102 (defining marriage as between one man and one woman) and 23 Pa. Consolidated Statutes §1704 (declaring one man-one woman marriage as the strong public policy of state and refusing to recognizing same-sex out of state marriages).  The Complaint interestingly quotes and cites language from Windsor several times. For example:

¶10. The exclusion from marriage undermines the plaintiff couples' ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them "a dignity and status of immense import." United States v.Windsor, No.12-307, Slip Op., at 18 (U.S. June 26, 2013).  Moreover, they and their children are stigmatized and relegated to a second class status by being barred from marriage. The exclusion "tells[same-sex couples and all the world- that their relationships are unworthy" of recognition. Id. at 22-23.  And it "humiliates the ...children now being raised by same-sex couples" and "makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives." Id. at 23.

The Attorney General for Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, has reportedly declared she will not defend the constitutionality of the state statutes barring same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, the named defendant and a Republican, as well as the state legislature, are presumably studying the holding regarding BLAG's standing in Windsor.

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In Arkansas, the complaint in Wright v. Arkansas was filed in state court on July 2.  Arkansas has both a statute and constitutional amendment DOMA (the belt and suspenders approach).  The 29 page complaint does not quote or cite Windsor, but does claim that the Arkansas prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of both the state and federal constitution, as well as violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause.  First reports are that the state will defend the lawsuit.

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In addition to new complaints filed post-Windsor (Perry), ongoing litigation will certainly be changed.  For example, the North Carolina federal court complaint in Fisher-Borne v. Smith challenging North Carolina's failure to provide so-called second-parent adoption is being amended - - - reportedly with agreement of the state - - - to include a claim challenging the state's prohibition of same-sex marriage. 

While one message of Windsor and even Perry could be understood as being that marriage, same-sex or otherwise, is a matter of state law, another message of Windsor is certainly that there are constitutional problems prohibiting same-sex marriage. 

 

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With a patchwork of state laws, this is a fertile landscape for continuing litigation.

RR
[all images Wikimedia; final image here]

July 16, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission to Recommend Deleting Segregationist Language

The Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission is considering a proposal to rewrite a section of the state constitution that allows racially segregated schools.  The provision is an embarrassment (to say the very least), but state voters can't seem to vote it out of the state constitution.  (Voters failed to strike it twice in the last 10 years.  The latest vote, in 2012, likely failed because some argued that the amendment didn't go far enough--because it wouldn't have repealed the provision saying that there's no constitutional right to a public education.)

This, the week after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for the preclearance provision in the Voting Rights Act--a case brought by Alabama's own Shelby County.

The provision, Section 256, as amended by Amendment 111, approved by voters in 1956, reads:

It is the policy of the state of Alabama to foster and promote the education of its citizens in a manner and extent consistent with its available resources, and the willingness and ability of the individual student, but nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense . . . .

To avoid confusion and disorder and to promote effective and economical planning for education, the legislature may authorize the parents or guardians of minors, who desire that such minors shall attend schools provided for their own race, to make election to that end, such election to be effective for such period and to such extent as the legislature may provide.

The Commission today considered a new Section 256, deleting the reference to segregated schools and the lack of right to education, and stating simply that "The legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of children thereof."  But the Commission couldn't agree on final language and sent the revision to a subcommittee.

The Commission also rejected a provision that would have provided a stronger veto for the governor.  (The legislature can currently override a veto with a bare majority in both houses.  The proposal would have required a 3/5 vote in both houses.)

SDS

 

 

July 1, 2013 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Two Questions in the Aftermath of DOMA and Prop 8 Decisions

In the wake of the Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, and Perry v. Hollingsworth, holding that the "proponents" of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a federal judge's declaration of Prop 8's unconstitutionality, many questions remain. 

LADY_JUSTICE_15inchesHere are two.

The first question is the status of Proposition 8.  Recall that the federal district judge held Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause.   The district judge's opinion enjoined the enforcement of Proposition 8, an injunction which he then stayed.   Chief Judge Roberts' majority opinion in Perry describes district judge Walker's order as being broad: 

"After a 12-day bench trial, the District Court declared Proposition 8 uncon- stitutional, permanently enjoining the California officials named as defendants from enforcing the law, and “direct- ing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision” shall not enforce it. Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F.Supp. 2d 921, 1004 (ND Cal. 2010).

The ACLU and others are advising that the district judge's order renders Prop 8 unconstitutional as to all of California.  The  docket entry in the Ninth Circuit simply states:

Received copy of Supreme Court opinion dated 06/26/2013. The judgment or mandate of this Court will not issue for at least twenty-five days pursuant to Rule 45. Should a petition for rehearing be filed timely, the judgment or mandate will be further stayed pending this Court's action on the petition for rehearing. Supreme Court No: 12-144. [8682306] [10-16696, 11-16577].

One of the best discussions of this issue is by ConLawProf Marty Lederman over at SCOTUSblog. Lederman asks  "even if Judge Walker’s injunction should have been limited to the protection of the plaintiffs before him—so what?  That injunction nevertheless governs the case, and it will be operative, regardless of whether it should have been more tailored."    He concludes that Justice Kennedy, dissenting in Perry will be proven correct that “the Court’s opinion today means that a single district court can make a decision with far-reaching effects that cannot be reviewed.”

The second question is one that is being voiced less, but is worth considering: Why are there no opinions by Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Breyer?  Justice Ginsburg, who made headlines with her "skim milk" comment during oral argument in Windsor, could have effectively written a concurring opinion that might have counter-balanced some of the arguments in Alito's separate dissenting opinion regarding the function of marriage. ConLawProf David Cohen over at FeministLawProfessors ConLawProf  argues that the lack of opinions matters:

By remaining silent, not only are the liberal Justices depriving us from learning their particular views, but they are depriving future litigants the opportunity to use their strong reasoning to further their cause.  After all, the logic in today’s concurring opinions often becomes the logic in tomorrow’s majority opinion.

It might be added that perhaps one of these Justices could have provided a rigorous equal protection analysis.

There are certainly more questions raised by Windsor and Perry, but these two are central.

RR
[image via]

June 28, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Court Decides Same Sex Marriage Cases: DOMA (Windsor) and Proposition 8 (Perry)

The Court decided both cases presenting the issue of the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage.

In the DOMA - - - Defense of Marriage Act - - - case,  the Court's  5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy in United States v. Windsor, argued in March, affirmed the Second Circuit's finding  that section 3 of  DOMA is unconstitutional.

In its relatively brief opinion (26 pages), the majority first found that BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, had sufficient status to confer standing, or at least the case provided "sufficient adversarial presentation for the Court to decide to get to the merits."   Recall that BLAG formed to defend the statute  after the Obama Administration decided not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in February, 2011  and that the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to brief and argue BLAG's standing.  Dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that the standing and merits decisions by the Court "both spring from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society," not referencing his position in yesterday's decision in Shelby County v. Holder holding a different act of Congress unconstitutional. 

On the merits and holding section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, Kennedy articulates the federalism rationales so central to the First Circuit's holding that DOMA was unconstitutional.

The opinion then reaches the equal protection issue (under the Fifth Amendment given that DOMA is a federal statute) and concludes:

The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.

Importantly, the decision seems to be applying rational basis review, although it does little to provide a clear analytic framework or solve problematics of rational basis review. Indeed, it introduces a notion of "careful consideration" which is certainly not strict scrutiny, but likewise eschews the intermediate scrutiny favored by the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor  and seems to apply to the "animus" aspect of rational basis with "bite."

In the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, also argued in March, and also reltively brief at 17 pages, the Court's opinion by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by - - - Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan  - - - held that there was no standing for the "proponents" to appeal and thus vacates the Ninth Circuit panel opinion that held Proposition 8 unconstitutional.   The Ninth Circuit, in a careful opinion, had affirmed the opinion of Judge Vaughn Walker who presided over an extensive trial in federal district court, after which he held Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause.  (Recall that Judge Walker's own sexuality became an issue in the case, but both a district judge and the Ninth Circuit rejected claims of bias).   Although the case attracted much scholarly attention, many commentators believed that standing was problematic.

The Court concluded:

We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.

The dissenting Justices - - - Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor - - - credited the California Supreme Court's opinion on standing (answering the certified query from the Ninth Circuit) and Kennedy's dissenting opinion noted that the initiative process made the "proponents" not mere private parties:

In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century.

The dissenters also noted the "irony" in the majority's position: "A prime purpose of justiciability is to ensure vigorous advocacy, yet the Court insists upon litigation conducted by state officials whose preference is to lose the case."

The familiar liberal/conservative split of Justices is not apparent in Perry, since the issue os resolved on standing, but dominates Windsor.  Yet in both cases, sharp disagreements about the democratic process are apparent.

RR

June 26, 2013 in Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)