Monday, March 3, 2014
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow, Tuesday, in Plumhoff v. Rickard, the case testing the scope of qualified immunity for police officers who were sued for damages arising out of a police chase. Here's a portion of my preview of the oral arguments, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
Around midnight on July 18, 2004, Officer Joseph Forthman of the West Memphis police force stopped a Honda Accord driven by Donald Rickard after noticing that the car had a broken headlight. Rickard had one passenger, Kelly Allen, who sat in the front passenger seat.
Officer Forthman asked Rickard for his license and registration; he also asked about a large indentation in the windshield “roughly the size of a head or a basketball.” Allen told Officer Frothman that the indentation resulted from the car hitting a curb. Officer Forthman then asked Rickard if he had been drinking alcohol and twice ordered him out of the vehicle.
Rickard did not comply with Officer Forthman’s instruction. Instead, he sped away on Highway I-40 toward the Arkansas-Tennessee border. Officer Forthman reported over his radio that a “runner” fled a traffic stop; he got back in his vehicle and proceeded to pursue Rickard. Officer Forthman was quickly joined by fellow West Memphis Officer Vance Plumhoff, who became the lead officer in the pursuit. Other West Memphis Officers Jimmy Evans, Lance Ellis, Troy Galtelli, and John Gardner, each in separate vehicles, also joined the pursuit.
The ensuing high-speed chase lasted nearly five minutes. Many of the details were captured by video cameras mounted on three of the police vehicles; many of the statements by officers came over the radio, or were recorded, or both.
During the chase, Rickard swerved in and out of traffic and rammed at least one other vehicle. Officer Plumhoff stated that “he just rammed me,” “he is trying to ram another car,” and “[w]e do have aggravated assault charges on him.”
Rickard led the officers over the Mississippi River from Arkansas into Memphis, Tennessee, where he exited the highway onto Alabama Avenue. As he made a quick turn onto Danny Thomas Boulevard, his car hit a police vehicle and spun around in a parking lot. Rickard then collided head-on with Officer Plumhoff’s vehicle. (It is not clear whether this was intentional).
Some of the officers exited their vehicles and surrounded Rickard’s car. Rickard backed up. Officer Evans hit the butt of his gun against the window of Rickard’s vehicle. As other officers approached, Rickard spun his wheels and moved slightly forward into Officer Gardner’s vehicle.
Officer Plumhoff approached Rickard’s vehicle close to the passenger side and fired three shots at Rickard. Rickard reversed his vehicle in a 180-degree arc onto Jackson Avenue, forcing an officer to step aside to avoid being hit. Rickard began to drive away from the officers. Officer Gardner then fired ten shots into Rickard’s vehicle, first from the passenger side and then from the rear as the vehicle moved further away. Officer Galtelli also fired two shots into the vehicle.
Rickard lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a building. Rickard died from multiple gunshot wounds; Allen died from the combined effect of a single gunshot wound to the head and the crash.
Rickard’s survivors brought a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court against the six officers involved in the chase. They alleged, among other things, that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment. The officers moved for summary judgment or dismissal arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied qualified immunity, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. This appeal followed.
Qualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions from suits for alleged constitutional violations, unless their actions violate “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). The doctrine is designed to give government officials some breathing room to do their jobs by limiting the threat of liability, and to ensure that capable individuals are not deterred from entering government service for fear of liability.
A plaintiff can defeat a claim of qualified immunity by pleading and ultimately proving that (1) the defendant-official violated a statutory or constitutional right and (2) the right was “clearly established” at the time of the challenged conduct. In determining whether a right was “clearly established,” a court must first define the right at the appropriate level of specificity. (That is, the court must define the right at a particularized level, not a general one, because at a general enough level every right is “clearly established.”) Once the court defines the right, the court must ask whether a reasonable official would have known that his or her behavior violates that right.
In arguing over the application of these rules, the parties rely principally on two cases. In the first, more recent one, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007), the Supreme Court held that a police officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment when he rammed a fleeing vehicle from behind in order to stop a chase. The officer’s maneuver caused the suspect to lose control of the fleeing vehicle and crash, resulting in serious injuries to the suspect. But the Court held that the officer’s action was objectively reasonably in light of the grave danger that the fleeing driver posed to both the police and bystanders. The Court ruled that the officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity from suit.
In the second, earlier case, Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), the Court held that a state statute that authorized police to use deadly force to stop an apparently unarmed, non-dangerous suspect who was fleeing on foot violated the Fourth Amendment. But the Court went on to say that “it is not constitutionally unreasonable” for an officer to use deadly force to prevent a suspect that poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, from escaping.
The parties frame their arguments against this background.
The officers argue first that the Sixth Circuit erred in applying the second prong of the qualified immunity test. In particular, they claim that the Sixth Circuit concluded only “that the officers’ conduct was reasonable as a matter of law”—a conclusion that either conflated the two prongs of the test, or ignored the second prong entirely. In either event, they say, the lower court never discussed whether their use of force violated clearly established law at the time of the incident, in July 2004. Indeed, the officers contend that the Sixth Circuit only compared their conduct in 2004 to the facts of Scott v. Harris, a case that came down in 2007. They say that they could not have known about Scott v. Harris when they acted, and that therefore the court misused that case to determine whether the law was clearly established and that their actions were unreasonable at the time.
The officers argue next (on the second prong) that the law in 2004 did not clearly establish that their use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They say that the Supreme Court ruled in December 2004, just five months after the incident here, that there was no clear answer to the question whether it is acceptable “to shoot a disturbed felon, set on avoiding capture through vehicular flight, when persons in the immediate area are at risk from that flight.” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194 (2004). The officers claim that the threat posed by Rickard was even greater than the threat posed by the fleeing felon in Brosseau, so, if anything, their use of deadly force was more justified. They also contend that neither the law in the Sixth Circuit (where the shootings occurred) nor the law in the Eighth Circuit (where the officers worked) clearly established that their actions were unconstitutional at the time. On the contrary, they claim, the law in those circuits in July 2004 gave the officers “every reason to believe their conduct was objectively reasonable.”
Finally, the officers argue (on the first prong) that their use of deadly force was an objectively reasonable response to Rickard’s behavior. They contend that the facts here are similar to the facts in Scott v. Harris. They say that their force was objectively reasonable and warranted by Tennessee v. Garner (stating that “[w]here the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.”). And they claim that their use of deadly force to terminate a high-speed chase served the public policy goal, recognized by the Supreme Court, in avoiding threats to innocent bystanders.
The federal government, weighing in on the side of the officers, makes substantially similar arguments. In particular, the government puts this fine point on its critique of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling: “The words ‘clearly established’ do not appear in its opinion, and the court did not undertake the basic inquiries required by this Court’s decisions: defining the right at the appropriate level of specificity, canvassing pertinent authority, and ultimately determining whether a reasonable official would have understood clearly that her conduct violated the Constitution at the time it occurred.” Like the officers, the government argues that the Sixth Circuit erred in its analysis. If the Court should reach the question whether the officers are entitled to qualified immunity, the government also says that they are, because the right was not clearly established at the time of the incident. (The government says that “[f]ramed at the appropriate level of specificity, the question here is whether in 2004 it was clearly established that the police may not use deadly force to prevent a misdemeanant and his passenger from resuming a dangerous, high-speed chase on public thoroughfares after the driver had recklessly operated the vehicle both during the chase and in a close-quarters encounter with police.”) The government urges the Court not to rule on the first prong, the constitutional question, because it is unnecessary, “novel,” and “highly factbound.”
Rickard’s survivors, called “Rickard” here, argue first that the Sixth Circuit lacked appellate jurisdiction over the case. In particular, Rickard says that the officers’ appeal to the Sixth Circuit was grounded primarily in their dispute with the district court’s factual conclusions. Rickard claims that this kind of ruling—“a determination that genuine issues of fact create disputes which preclude the defense of qualified immunity”—does not give rise to appellate jurisdiction.
Next, Rickard argues that additional facts, or “factual disputes,” in the case show that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. In short, Rickard takes issue with the officers’ characterization of nearly every significant event, from Rickard’s car-rammings to the context of the officers’ final shots at Rickard’s car. Rickard says that the police videos and the officers’ testimonies undermine the officers’ versions of these events, and that he did not pose the kind of serious threat to the officers that they claim. As a result, Rickard says that their use of deadly force violated the Fourth Amendment as it was clearly established at the time.
Third, Rickard argues (on the first prong) that the Sixth Circuit properly held that the officers’ use of force was not objectively reasonable. Rickard claims again that the facts are disputed, and that viewed correctly they show that Rickard did not pose a threat to the officers that warranted their use of deadly force. Rickard also contends that the Court should not create a blanket rule authorizing police officers to shoot a suspect in a vehicular chase in order to prevent the suspect’s escape. Rickard says that such a rule would extend Scott v. Harris, which involved only car-ramming by the police, not shooting. Rickard also says that such a rule would “bootstrap” an otherwise non-dangerous situation (presumably, the original misdemeanor stop) into a violent felony (the high-speed chase) for the purpose of determining a suspect’s threat to the police. Rickard says that this situation was not as dangerous as the officers have claimed, and that their use of deadly force—“15 total shots at a vehicle containing an unarmed man and woman, the majority of them as the car went past and away from the police”—was excessive.
Finally, Rickard argues (on the second prong) that the officers violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law. Rickard claims that Garner established that it was “constitutionally unreasonable to shoot an unarmed, nondangerous fleeing suspect dead in order to prevent his escape.” Rickard says that under Garner the officers’ use of deadly force in this case was unreasonable. Rickard contends that it does not matter that Garner is not precisely on point: contrary to the officers’ position, the Supreme Court has never required a case exactly on point to determine whether the law is clearly established.
On both prongs, Rickard emphasizes that the State of Tennessee indicted Officers Plumhoff, Gardner, and Galtelli for reckless homicide in the death of Allen. Rickard claims that the indictment underscores their excessive use of force.
The questions presented give the Court several ways to resolve the case. The first question presented would allow the Court to determine only whether the Sixth Circuit erred in its qualified immunity analysis, to correct that error (or not), and to remand the case (or not) for further proceedings. In particular, this case gives the Court an opportunity to clarify the second prong (when a right is “clearly established” at the time of an officer’s action) in the wake of the Sixth Circuit’s somewhat confusing approach. (As the officers and the government argue, the Sixth Circuit seems to address only the first prong. If it addresses the second prong, its approach seems incomplete.) As the government explains, this approach, “defin[es] the right at the appropriate level of specificity, canvass[es] pertinent authority, and ultimately determin[es] whether a reasonable official would have understood clearly that her conduct violated the Constitution at the time it occurred.” If the Court only answers the first Question Presented, this is as far as the Court needs to go. If so, the Court would likely remand the case for a proper qualified immunity analysis. (The Court could simply affirm the Sixth Circuit on this first issue, but that seems unlikely, given the Sixth Circuit’s somewhat confusing and apparently incomplete analysis.)
If the Court reaches the second question presented, it could determine for itself whether the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. If the Court reaches this question, then it could decide that the officers are immune on the second prong alone (as the officers and the government urge) or on the second or first prong (thus ruling on the merits of the Fourth Amendment—something that the government urges against). The officers probably have the better of this case, given the state of the law in 2004 (on the second prong) and the state of the law now (on the first). But the Court could conclude that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity, because Rickard can establish both prongs.
The potential wildcard in the case is the facts. If the Court rules on the second question presented, qualified immunity (and not just on the first question presented, whether the Sixth Circuit erred), at least part of its analysis will almost certainly turn on the facts. It is unusual for the Court to review the facts of a case, but here the Court can only judge the reasonableness of the officers’ actions by taking a look at the facts for itself. (For example, the Court’s review of the videotapes in Scott v. Harris was key to its ruling there, creating what Justice Scalia (for the majority) called “a wrinkle” in the case.) We do not know how the justices will interpret the facts, but we do know that the facts are likely to come into play if the Court gets to the second question presented. And we know that this case seems to be factually similar to Scott, although Rickard vigorously contests that. (Scott was a ruling on the Fourth Amendment itself, the first prong of the qualified immunity test, so the facts were central to the Court’s ruling. But the facts are probably important on the second prong, too.)
Finally, if the Court reaches the second question presented, the case may build on Scott. In particular, it may say whether the officer’s reasonable action in Scott (ramming his car into the suspect’s car to stop a chase) extends to firing shots to stop a chase. But while Scott seems highly relevant, remember that because it came after the officers’ actions here, it will likely only play a central role if the Court rules on the first prong of the qualified immunity test, the underlying Fourth Amendment question.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
The Supreme Court ruled today that a cohabitant of an apartment can validly consent to a search of the apartment, even over the objections of an absent co-occupant. The ruling in Fernandez v. California means that police can search an apartment (or home), without a warrant, based on the permission of one occupant, even when another occupant objects, so long as the other occupant isn't around.
The case arose when police knocked on an apartment door after hearing screams come from the apartment. Roxanne Rojas answered; she appeared to be battered and bleeding. Police asked Rojas to step out of the apartment so that they could conduct a protective sweep. Fernandez came to the door and objected.
Police suspected that Fernandez assaulted Rojas and arrested him. They then identified him as the perpetrator in an earlier robbery and took him to the station.
An officer later returned to the apartment, obtained oral permission from Rojas to search it, searched it, and found items linking Fernandez to the robbery.
Fernandez moved to suppress the items, arguing that he did not give consent to search. He relied on Georgia v. Randolph (2006), which held that the consent of one occupant is insufficient to allow a warrantless search if another occupant is present and objects to the search.
The Court declined to extend Randolph to this case, where Fernandez was absent. Justice Alito wrote for the majority:
Our opinion in Randolph took great pains to emphasize that its holding was limited to situations in which the objecting occupant is physically present. We therefore refuse to extend Randolph to the very different situation in this case, where consent was provided by an abused woman well after her male partner had been removed from the apartment they shared.
Justices Scalia and Thomas concurred, both taking issue with the Randolph rule itself, and Justice Scalia trying to shoehorn in a property law analysis.
Justice Ginsburg, writing for herself and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, dissented:
Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today's decision tells the police that they may dodge it, nevermind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate. Suppressing the warrant requirement, the Court shrinks to petite size our holding in [Randolph] that "a physically present inhabitant's express refusal of consent to a police search [of his home] is dispositive as to him, regardless of the consent of a fellow occupant."
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Largely reversing a district judge's opinion that had found various provisions of Pennyslvania's Funeral Director Law unconstitutional on various grounds, the Third Circuit opinion in Heffner v. Murphy upholds the law except for its restriction on the use of trade names as violative of the First Amendment.
One key to the panel's decision is that it surmised that the district judge's conclusions regarding the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law (FDL), enacted in 1952, "stem from a view that certain provisions of the FDL are antiquated in light of how funeral homes now operate." But, the Third Circuit stated, that is not a "constitutional flaw."
The challenged statutory provisions included ones that:
(1) permit warrantless inspections of funeral establishments by the Board;
(2) limit the number of establishments in which a funeral director may possess an ownership interest;
(3) restrict the capacity of unlicensed individuals and certain entities to hold ownership interests in a funeral establishment;
(4) restrict the number of funeral establishments in which a funeral director may practice his or her profession;
(5) require every funeral establishment to have a licensed full-time supervisor;
(6) require funeral establishments to have a “preparation room”;
(7) prohibit the service of food in a funeral establishment;
(8) prohibit the use of trade names by funeral homes;
(9) govern the trusting of monies advanced pursuant to pre-need contracts for merchandise; and
(10) prohibit the payment of commissions to agents or employees.
The constitutional provisions invoked - - - and found valid by the district judge - - - included the Fourth Amendment, the "dormant" commerce clause, substantive due process, the contract clause, and the First Amendment, with some provisions argued as violating more than one constitutional requirement.
In affirming the district judge's finding that the trade names prohibition violated the First Amendment, the Third Circuit applied the established four part test from Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission regarding commercial speech and found:
The restrictions on commercial speech here are so flawed that they cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny. Indeed, the District Court correctly identified the pivotal problem concerning the FDL’s proscription at Central Hudson’s third step: by allowing funeral homes to operate under predecessors’ names, the State remains exposed to many of the same threats that it purports to remedy through its ban on the use of trade names. A funeral director operating a home that has been established in the community, and known under his or her predecessor’s name, does not rely on his or her own personal reputation to attract business; rather, the predecessor’s name and reputation is determinative. Nor does a funeral home operating under a former owner’s name provide transparency or insight into changes in staffing that the Board insists is the legitimate interest that the State’s regulation seeks to further.
ConLawProfs looking for a good review or even a possible exam question, might well take a look at the case. It also seems that the Pennsylvania legislature might well take a look at its statutory scheme, which though largely constitutional, does seem outdated.
February 20, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Labeled "The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance," February 11, 2014 has been designated as a day to "make calls and drive emails to lawmakers" regarding two pieces of legislation.
The activists support the USA Freedom Act, S 1599 ("Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act). The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports the bill, but considers it a "floor not a ceiling" and discusses its limitations including not covering persons outside the US, encryption, and standing issues. The ACLU legislative counsel "strongly supports" the legislation, noting that while it is not perfect, it is an "important first step," and highlights the fact that one of the sponsors in the House of Representatives is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who "was the lead author of the Patriot Act and now is the chair of the House's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Crime."
The activists urge the rejection of The FISA Improvements Act S 1631, most closely associated with the bill's sponsor, Dianne Feinstein.
While focused on legislative action, many of the materials and arguments ground themselves in the First and Fourth Amendments. Organizers state that the day commemorates Aaron Swartz, who also invoked constitutional norms.
February 11, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, State Secrets, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Recall that in Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional.
Cohn notes that the judges' differing opinions rest from their differing interpretations of Smith v. Maryland. But Cohn goes further, providing a swift description the Fourth Amendment terrain, especially the Court's 2012 decision in United States v. Jones in which a 5-4 majority found that attachment of a GPS device to track the movements of a vehicle for nearly a month violated a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Cohn concludes that Judge Leon's opinion is better reasoned than Judge Pauley's, noting that while "Leon's detailed analysis demonstrated how Jones leads to the result that the NSA program probably violates the Fourth Amendment, Pauley failed to meaningfully distinguish Jones from the NSA case, merely noting that the Jones Court did not overrule Smith."
But she, like many others, thinks the issue is ultimately headed to the United States Supreme Court.
Unless, of course, President Obama acts quickly to revise the program.
Monday, January 13, 2014
In brief, the answer it proposes is "no."
The report is authored by Peter Bergen, David Sterman, Emily Schneider, and Bailey Cahall. As Cyrus Farivar over at Ars Technica points out, the lead author Peter Bergen is well known as "a journalist and terrorism analyst who famously interviewed Osama bin Laden for CNN in 1997."
The report confirms federal District Judge Richard Leon's statement in his opinion in Klayman v. Obama that "the Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature." (emphasis in original). Recall that Judge Leon issued a preliminary injunction against the surveillance, although he then stayed it.
Recall also that another federal district judge dismissed a complaint raising essentially the same issues a week later in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper.
With President Obama evaluating the NSA surevillance program including the Recommendations from President's NSA Surveillance Review Group and with the question of whether the NSA's surveillance extends to members of Congress being asked, this newest report deserves to be read closely. If there is a balance to be struck between security and liberty, the efficacy of the security measures are certainly relevant.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Monday, December 30, 2013
As we discussed earlier this month, two federal district judges have reached opposite conclusions regarding the constitutionality of NSA surveillance as revealed by Edward Snowden. In Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional.
Both of these opinions have brought renewed attention to the 1979 “pen register” case - - - Smith v. Maryland - - - which involved the application of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” to a then new, and now outmoded, technology that could ascertain the number a phone was dialing. As footnote 1 of Smith explained, “A pen register is a mechanical device that records the numbers dialed on a telephone by monitoring the electrical impulses caused when the dial on the telephone is released. It does not overhear oral communications and does not indicate whether calls are actually completed.” It is "usually installed at a central telephone facility [and] records on a paper tape all numbers dialed from [the] line" to which it is attached.”
In Smith, the Court looked to its “lodestar” 1967 decision in Katz v. United States (involving a telephone booth) and determined that there was no “search” under the Fourth Amendment because the person invoking the constitutional protection did not have a reasonable or legitimate expectation of privacy. For the majority in Smith this lack of an expectation of privacy was based on a consumer’s understanding of telephone technology: telephone subscribers know that the telephone company receives their transmitted telephone number (that is how the call is completed) and can record that number (perhaps for a long distance charge). And even if a consumer does not subjectively understand this, any expectation of privacy that such circumstances did not occur would not be legitimate.
Now Smith v. Maryland has become a “lodestar” decision of its own. Judge Richard Leon's decision in Klayman extensively analyzed the opinion, eventually concluding that “the Smith pen register and the ongoing NSA Bulk Telephony Metadata Program have so many significant distinctions between them that I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones.” To the contrary, Judge Pauley, granting the government's motion to dismiss in ACLU v. Clapper essentially used Smith as the opinion's guiding light.
But perhaps the choice is not as stark as whether Smith is steady in the Fourth Amendment skies. Looking at Justice Blackmun’s opinion in Smith, he illuminates the two prongs of Katz:
as Mr. Justice Harlan aptly noted in his Katz concurrence, normally embraces two discrete questions. The first is whether the individual, by his conduct, has "exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy," whether, in the words of the Katz majority, the individual has shown that "he seeks to preserve [something] as private." The second question is whether the individual's subjective expectation of privacy is "one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable,' "—whether, in the words of the Katz majority, the individual's expectation, viewed objectively, is "justifiable" under the circumstances.5
[citations omitted]. Perhaps importantly, the passage ends with a footnote:
Situations can be imagined, of course, in which Katz' two-pronged inquiry would provide an inadequate index of Fourth Amendment protection. For example, if the Government were suddenly to announce on nationwide television that all homes henceforth would be subject to warrantless entry, individuals thereafter might not in fact entertain any actual expectation or privacy regarding their homes, papers, and effects. Similarly, if a refugee from a totalitarian country, unaware of this Nation's traditions, erroneously assumed that police were continuously monitoring his telephone conversations, a subjective expectation of privacy regarding the contents of his calls might be lacking as well. In such circumstances, where an individual's subjective expectations had been "conditioned" by influences alien to well-recognized Fourth Amendment freedoms, those subjective expectations obviously could play no meaningful role in ascertaining what the scope of Fourth Amendment protection was. In determining whether a "legitimate expectation of privacy" existed in such cases, a normative inquiry would be proper.
Law Prof Josh Blackman, over at his blog, has revealed the sources of this footnote - - - apparently necessary to address Justice Stevens’ concerns about a totalitarian regime that would make any expectation of privacy by individuals not reasonable or legitimate. Josh Blackman reproduces the correspondence showing that Stevens asked for the footnote and got it, eliminating his need for a separate concurrence.
Apparently, Justices Stewart, Marshall, and Brennan, who did dissent, had concerns that were not so simply assuaged.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to deliberate footnote 5 in light of the extent to which Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of surveillance have been greeted as confirmatory and predictable rather than as shocking and outrageous. And perhaps footnote 5 might become as important as other constitutional footnotes as we (re)consider what the expectations of privacy in a constitutional democracy should be.
[image: time-lapsed image of Polaris, the North Star, via]
Friday, December 27, 2013
Federal District Judges Dismisses ACLU Complaint Regarding Government Collection of Telephone Metadata
In a Memorandum and Order today, federal judge William J. Pauley for the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York, granted the government's motion to dismiss in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper.
The judge rejected both the statutory and constitutional claims by the ACLU that the NSA's bulk telephony metadata collection program as revealed by Edward Snowden is unlawful.
The tone of the opinion is set by Judge Pauley's opening:
The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse ﬁlaments connecting al-Qaeda.
As to the constitutional claims, Judge Pauley specifically disagreed with Judge Leon's recent opinion in Klayman v. Obama regarding the expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. For Judge Pauley, the "pen register" case of Smith v. Maryland, decided in 1979, has not been overruled and is still controlling:
Some ponder the ubiquity of cellular telephones and how subscribers’ relationships with their telephones have evolved since Smith. While people may “have an entirely different relationship with telephones than they did thirty-four years ago,” [citing Klayman], this Court observes that their relationship with their telecommunications providers has not changed and is just as frustrating. Telephones have far more versatility now than when Smith was decided, but this case only concerns their use as telephones. The fact that there are more calls placed does not undermine the Supreme Court’s ﬁnding that a person has no subjective expectation of privacy in telephony metadata. . . . .Because Smith controls, the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata collection program does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
For Judge Pauley, the ownership of the metadata is crucial - - - it belongs to Verizon - - - and when a person conveys information to a third party such as Verizon, a person forfeits any right of privacy. The Fourth Amendment is no more implicated in this case as it would be if law enforcement accessed a DNA or fingerprint database.
The absence of any Fourth Amendment claim means that there is not a First Amendment claim. Any burden on First Amendment rights from surveillance constitutional under the Fourth Amendment is incidental at best.
Judge Pauley's opinion stands in stark contrast to Judge Leon's opinion. In addition to the Fourth Amendment claim, Judge Pauley deflects the responsibility of the judicial branch to resolve the issue. Certainly, the judiciary should decide the law, but "the question of whether that [NSA surveillance] program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide." Moreover, Judge Pauley states that the "natural tension between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberty is squarely presented by the Government’s bulk telephony metadata collection program," a balancing rejected by Judge Leon. Given these substantial disagreements, the issue is certainly on its way to the Circuit Courts of Appeal, and possibly to the United States Supreme Court.
December 27, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The anticipated report from a panel of presidential advisors - - - Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Peter Swire, and ConLawProfs Geoffrey Stone and Cass Sunstein - - - has just been released from The White House. It contains 46 recommendations, detailed in the Executive Summary and later discussed in the report.
Occuring amidst significant problems, such as the recent federal district judge's opinion casting doubt on the constitutionality of the collection of metadata from Verizon and the Edward Snowden revelations, the report concludes that the "current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty." But the report recognizes that government might need such metadata, and therefore recommends that it be held by "private providers or by a private third party." The report also recommends a series of changes at NSA, including having the Director be a "Senate-confirmed position" and suggesting that the Director be a civilian (at least next time).
There is some interesting constitutional analysis and rhetoric in the report. For example, under "Principles," the first one is "The United States Government must protect, at once, two different forms of security: national security and personal privacy." How should these interests be balanced? The report, quite interestingly, says this:
It is tempting to suggest that the underlying goal is to achieve the right “balance” between the two forms of security. The suggestion has an important element of truth. Some tradeoffs are inevitable; we shall explore the question of balance in some detail. But in critical respects, the suggestion is inadequate and misleading.
Some safeguards are not subject to balancing at all. In a free society, public officials should never engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, or gender. These prohibitions are foundational, and they apply both inside and outside our territorial borders.
The purposes of surveillance must be legitimate. If they are not, no amount of “balancing” can justify surveillance. For this reason, it is exceptionally important to create explicit prohibitions and safeguards, designed to reduce the risk that surveillance will ever be undertaken for illegitimate ends.
Certainly, there is much more to glean and analyze from the 300 plus page report, but some of the reasoning already seems noteworthy.
Monday, December 16, 2013
In his opinion in Klayman v. Obama, federal district judge (DDC) Richard Leon has granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata. Judge Leon stayed the injunction "in light of the signficant national security interests at stake and the novelty of the constitutional issues." And the preliminary injunction is limited to Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, barring the federal government from "collecting, as part of the NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata Program, any telephony metadata associated with their personal Verizon accounts" and requiring the government to destroy any previously collected metadata.
The "background" section of Judge Leon's opinion starts by specifically mentioning the "leaks" (his quotations) of classified material from Edward Snowden revealing the government's Verizon surveillance. He then has an excellent discussion of the facts, statutory frameworks, and judicial review by the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) [which others have called the FISA Court].
Judge Leon concluded that he did not have jurisdiction under the APA (Administrative Procedure Act), but that the plaintiffs did have standing to raise a constitutional claim under the Fourth Amendment. On the substantial likelihood to prevail on the merits necessary for success on the preliminary injunction, Judge Leon ruled - - - importantly - - - that the collection of metadata did constitute a search. Judge Leon also concluded that the collection of the metadata did violate a reasonable exepectation of privacy. Judge Leon noted that technological changes have made the rationales of Supreme Court precedent difficult to apply, so that cases decided before the rise of cell phones cannot operate as a precedential "North Star" to "navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters."
Having found there was a search that invaded a reasonable expectation of privacy, Judge Leon then concluded that the search was unreasonable. Important to this finding was the efficacy prong of the analysis - - - or in this case, the inefficacy prong. Judge Leon noted that the "Government does not cite a single instance in which the analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature." (emphasis in original).
Judge Leon acknowledged that some other judges have disagreed with his conclusions, and that the matter is far from clear, but he stated:
I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' that this systemtaic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and anlyzing it without prior judicial approval.
As the above makes clear, it is not only the Fourth Amendment that Judge Leon feels has been violated, but the role of Article III courts in the constitutional separation of powers scheme.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Among the materials released today as we discussed earlier, is the 87 page opinion by the Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, again difficult to name or cite given that the usual caption material is redacted:
But the opinion's footnote 27 with the portions redacted - - - and not redacted - - - does deserve special notice:
"For ease of reference, the term XXXXXXXXXXXXX is used to mean XXXXXXXXXXXXXX."
The Obama administration late Monday released a trove of documents related to NSA surveillance, including key FISA court rulings and other materials going back to the Bush administration. The NYT reports here. Lawfare is covering the release and analyzing particular documents here.
The materials include documents on government e-mail and domestic phone surveillance, including the Bush administration's 2006 application for initial approval by the FISA court to collect bulk logs of domestic phone calls and a FISA court ruling approving a program to track e-mails during the Bush administration.
Monday, November 18, 2013
In its routine order list today, the Court's list of "MANDAMUS DENIED" included "13-58 - IN RE ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER."
The petition for writ of mandamus and prohibition or writ of certiorari was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and essentially sought review of an Order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The order redacts the names of the parties from whom the "tangible things" are sought, but the petition describes the order as compelling "Verizon Business Network Services to produce to the National Security Agency, on an ongoing basis, all of the call detail records of Verizon customers."
As one of its Questions Presented, the petition stated:
Whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exceeded its narrow statutory authority to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance, under 50 U.S.C. § 1861, when it ordered Verizon to disclose records to the National Security Agency for all telephone communications “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
The import of the Supreme Court's denial is both trivial and momentous. On the one hand, there is little if anything to be read into the Court's refusal to exercise its highly discretionary power to grant a petition for a writ as it does in 1% of cases. On the other hand, there is something to be inferred about the Court's interest in and willingness to supervise the unusual FISA given constitutional rights.
But the Court's failure to accept the case certainly does not mean the underlying issues will be so easily dispatched.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
The Department of Justice for the first time notified a criminal defendant that evidence against him was obtained through a warrantless wiretap, according to the New York Times. The move gives the criminal defendant the standing to challenge warrantless wiretapes that the plaintiffs in Clapper v. Amnesty International lacked and invites his challenge of warrantless wiretaps. Our previous post on the issue is here.
The defendant, Jamshid Muhtorov, is charged with "provid[ing] and attempt[ing] to provide material support and resources, to wit: personnel . . . to a foreign terrorist organization, specifically the Islamic Jihad Union . . . knowing that the organization was a designated terrorist organization, that the organization had engaged in and was engaging in terrorist activity and terrorism, and the offense occurred in whole or in part within the United States" in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2339B. The notice says that the government
hereby provides notice to this Court and the defense, pursuant to 50 U.S.C. Secs. 1806(c) and 1881e(a), that the government intends to offer into evidence or otherwise use or disclose from acquisition of foreign intelligence information conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 . . . .
The Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs in Clapper lacked standing to challenge warrantless wiretaps, because they couldn't show that they'd been, or would be, wiretapped under the specific statutory authority they sought to challenge. Now that the government has disclosed that its evidence resulted from warrantless wiretaps, Muhtorov has clear standing to challenge the wiretaps.
This merely puts the legality of the wiretaps before the courts; it doesn't answer the underlying question. For that, we'll have to await the ruling and appeals.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
It's worth comparing two views of the National Security Administration (NSA) and its searches.
First, take a look at the views of Amy Zegart, the co-director of Stanford University's "Center for International Security and Cooperation." Zegart and other scholars participated in a "rare briefing" at NSA to consider "cybersecurity, the plummeting public trust in the agency, its relationship with Congress and how to rebuild the agency’s reputation and rethink its program operations." Zegart's interview is mostly sympathetic to NSA concerns, but she does say this:
They definitely wanted us to believe that what they are doing is lawful and effective. I believe the lawful part; I’m not so sure about the effective part. I think they haven’t looked hard enough about what effective means. Do they know it when they see it? And who’s to judge?
Nevertheless, it's a rather sharp contrast with a NYT article, co-authored by James Risen (recall his lititgation asserting a reporter's First Amendment right to protect sources) and Laura Poitras (recall her involvement in the Snowden revelations) that discusses wide ranging collection of data and metadata. They often rely on anonymous sources discussing classified information. Perhaps most startling is this passage in the article's last paragraph, quoting from a 2011 memo, that said even
after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
The image is from an architectural brochure linked in Glenn Greenwald's article this morning in The Guardian, "Inside the mind of NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander," subtitled "A lavish Star Trek room he had built as part of his 'Information Dominance Center' is endlessly revealing."
Worth a look - - - and read - - - for anyone working on national security, state secrets, or surveillance issues.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Daily Read: Interview with the Authors of Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America
Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America is the just released book that lots of people who have an interest in surveillance and its constitutionality are talking about.
The authors, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, two AP reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the New York City Police Department's surveillance of Muslims, gave an interview to "The Gothamist" and it's definitely worth a read. For example, the authors say that some police officials essentially said "Hey look we have to think differently about activities that would be protected by the First and Fourth Amendments because they could actually be precursors to terrorism." As one author responds: "That's just an incredible thing, when you think about the fact that a municipal police department is taking it upon itself [to decide] that constitutionally-protected speech is a warning sign for terrorism."
The authors state that their book is well-sourced, and indeed, the book has a companion website with maps and documents.
The authors will be appearing with Don Borelli, Former FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, at the Brennan Center for Justice in NYC on September 16, 2013. Info and rsvp here.
Friday, August 30, 2013
The ACLU earlier this week filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in ACLU v. Clapper, the case in the Southern District of New York challenging the NSA's mass collection of Americans' telephone data. We most recently posted on the NSA program, in EFFs suit against it, here.
The ACLU argues that it has a substantial likelihood of success on its Fourth and First Amendment challenges to the NSA program. The group also argues that the government exceeded its statutory authority under Section 215 of the Patriot Act in collecting telephony metadata.
At the same time, the government filed a motion to dismiss. The government claims that the ACLU lacks standing (under Clapper v. Amnesty International), that Congress impliedly precluded judicial review of the NSA program, that the NSA program is authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and that the program doesn't violate the Fourth and First Amendments.
Standing will certainly be an important threshold issue in the case, especially after the Court's ruling in Amnesty International. In that case, the Court ruled that a group of attorneys and organizations didn't have standing to challenge the FISA Amendments Act, which allowed the Attorney General and the DNI to acquire foreign intelligence information by jointly authorizing the surveillance of individuals who are not "United States persons" and are reasonably believed to be outside the United States. The Court said that the plaintiffs' alleged injury-in-fact was too speculative--that the plaintiffs couldn't show that they'd be targets of surveillance under this FISA authority, that the FISA court would necessarily approve the surveillance of them, or that the government would succeed in its surveillance of them.
Here, in contrast, the ACLU alleged in its complaint that its telephone communications were and are monitored, that this monitoring would reveal privileged and sensitive information between the ACLU and its clients, and that the monitoring will likely have a chilling effect on the group's communications with clients. In other words, the ACLU tried to navigate the Amnesty International barrier and show with more determinacy that it has suffered a sufficient injury in fact.
August 30, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | 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).
In 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.
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)