Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Federal District Judge: Equal Protection Prohibits Policy Banning Transgender Student from Facilities

In his opinion in M.A.B. v. Board of Education of Talbot County, United States District Judge George Russell, III of the District of Maryland denied the motion to dismiss by the school board of a challenge to its decision to require M.A.B., a transgender boy, to use restrooms and locker rooms for girls.

Judge Russell first found that the school's decision violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), entering the murky waters left by the United States Supreme Court's stay and vacation of the Fourth Circuit's decision in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board after the Trump Administration change interpretation of the anti-discrimination policy.

Judge Russell also decided that the school's decision violated the Equal Protection Clause, in an extensive discussion relying upon the developing transgender equal protection doctrine, including the Seventh Circuit's 2017 decision in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District as well as the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Glenn v. Brumby, the only two circuits to have ruled on the issue, and district court cases in the school context such as Evanacho v. Pine-Richland School District and those regarding the transgender military ban such as Doe v. Trump and Stone v. Trump

Judge Russell found that classifications based on transgender status merit intermediate scrutiny for two reasons. First, he found that transgender classifications were tantamount to sex classifications, specifically discussing sex-stereotyping.

Second, he found that "transgender individuals are, at minimum, a quasi-suspect class," under a four-factor test similar to that first articulated in Carolene Products footnote 4:

  • whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination;”
  • whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society;"
  • whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;”  and
  • whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.” 

FootnoteJudge Russell then analyzed each of these factors, with an interesting reference in a footnote, and found them satisfied, concluding that intermediate scrutiny was appropriate, and quoting the standard as that articulated in United States v. Virginia (VMI). 

While Judge Russell's opinion seemed to cast some doubt on whether the school board's proffered privacy rationale could satisfy the "important" prong, especially as described in VMI, he noted that the procedural posture of the decision was a motion to dismiss. However, even assuming privacy was an important interest, he concluded that the means chosen - - - the banning of the transgender male student from male bathrooms and locker rooms - - - was not substantially related to the privacy interest. Again, Judge Russell quoted Whitaker rejecting the school board's attempt to distinguish it on the basis that locker rooms were not at issue in the Seventh Circuit case and stated that Whitaker's "reasoning applies with similar force."Judge Russell then countered the school board's argument that "if M.A.B. changing clothes in the designated restrooms makes him feel humiliated and embarrassed, as well as alienated from his peers, then students who use those restrooms for greater privacy will feel the same way," with four separate reasons why the argument was flawed. For example, Judge Russell wrote that the school board's argument "overlooks the entire context surrounding the Policy:  "It singles M.A.B. out, quite literally because it does not apply to anyone else at the High School, and marks him as different for being transgender."  On the contrary, Judge Russell wrote, "a boy who makes the personal choice to change clothes in a single-use restroom or stall does not experience any such singling out at the hands of his school."

Judge Russell, however, did not grant M.A.B.'s motion for preliminary injunction, given M.A.B.'s status for the current school year, but "aware that the parties likely hope for a resolution to this case before the following school year," directed "the parties to confer and submit to the Court a joint proposed scheduling order." 

March 14, 2018 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Stormy Daniels Sues President Trump: Is the President Immune?

 Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, aka Peggy Peterson has filed a complaint in California state court seeking a declaratory judgment that a "Hush Agreement" she signed regarding a nondisclosure agreement is invalid. Her attorney posted access to a copy of the complaint and the underlying agreements:


The complaint seeking declaratory judgment again implicates the issue of whether Trump, as the current President of the United States, is immune, even temporarily, from suit.  In Clinton v. Jones (1997), the United States unanimously held that then-President Clinton was not immune from a federal law suit for sexual harassment arising from events before he became President.  Should the outcome be different if the lawsuit is in state rather than federal court? Recall that this same issue arises in Zervos v. Trump, a suit for defamation filed in New York state court. Recall also our discussion of an amicus brief by three law professors who submitted an amicus brief in Clinton v. Jones in support of a plaintiffs' right to sue the sitting President in federal court argue that the rule should apply to state court as well. The President's motion to dismiss or for a stay has not yet been decided. (Trump is also seeking dismissal on the merits of the defamation claim contending that the allegations are not actionable as defamation).

The fact that the President has engaged in numerous other lawsuits while President does tend to dilute any "distraction" claim under Clinton v. Jones.

March 7, 2018 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Gender, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Ninth Circuit Recognizes Right to Intimate Association for Police Employee

In its opinion in Perez v. City of Roseville, a panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed a district judge's granting of summary judgment to the government on a constitutional challenge by Janelle Perez to her termination from the City of Roseville after an internal affairs investigation into her "romantic relationship" with a fellow officer. The investigation noted that both officers "are married and have young children."

Authored by Judge Reinhardt, the opinion noted that its conclusion was required by Thorne v. City of El Segundo, 726 F.2d 459 (9th Cir. 1983), in which the Ninth Circuit held that the city violated Thorne's constitutional rights when it relied on her private, non-job-related sexual conduct as a clerk-typist in refusing to hire her as an officer, without “any showing that [her] private, off-duty personal activities ... [had] an impact upon [her] on-the-job performance,” or contravened “specific policies with narrow implementing regulations.” Likewise, Roseville failed to "introduce sufficient evidence that Perez’s affair had any meaningful impact upon her job performance."

Interestingly, the Ninth Circuit identifies a circuit split on the issue: We recognize that, since Thorne, at least two other circuits have adopted rules that appear to be in some tension with our case. See Coker v. Whittington, 858 F.3d 304, 306 (5th Cir. 2017) (concluding Constitution not violated where two sheriff’s deputies were fired for moving in with each other’s wives before finalizing divorce from their current wives because the Sheriff’s policies were supported by a rational basis); Seegmiller v. LaVerkin City, 528 F.3d 762, 770 (10th Cir. 2008) (upholding termination of officer on basis of extramarital affair under rational basis test because there is no “fundamental liberty interest ‘to engage in a private act of consensual sex’”). > Affair_at_the_InnHowever, the Ninth Circuit rejects the "approach taken by the Fifth and Tenth Circuits" for two reasons. First, there is the "binding precedent" of Thorne:

Because the State’s actions in this case “intrude on the core of a person’s constitutionally protected privacy and associational interests,” we must analyze them under “heightened scrutiny.” Thorne, 726 F.2d at 470. Moreover, even if we were to agree that the Department’s action here need only satisfy rational basis review, Thorne explains that it cannot survive any level of scrutiny without either a showing of a negative impact on job performance or violation of a constitutionally permissible, narrowly drawn regulation. Id. at 471. Under our precedent, the Department must do more than cite a broad, standardless rule against “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Second, the "Fifth and Tenth Circuits fail to appreciate the impact of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), on the jurisprudence of the constitutional right to sexual autonomy." 

"Lawrence did much more than merely conclude that Texas’ anti-sodomy law failed the rational basis test. Instead, it recognized that intimate sexual conduct represents an aspect of the substantive liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. As such, the constitutional infirmity in Texas’ law stemmed from neither its mere irrationality nor its burdening of a fundamental right to engage in homosexual conduct (or even private consensual sexual conduct,  Rather, Texas’ law ran afoul of the Constitution’s protection of substantive liberty by imposing a special stigma of moral disapproval on intimate same-sex relationships in particular. As the Court explained, the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause must extend equally to all intimate sexual conduct between consenting adults, regardless of whether they are of the same sex or not, married or unmarried. . . . Lawrence makes clear that the State may not stigmatize private sexual conduct simply because the majority has “traditionally viewed a particular practice,” such as extramarital sex, “as immoral.” Thus, without a showing of adverse job impact or violation of a narrow, constitutionally valid departmental rule, the Constitution forbids the Department from expressing its moral disapproval of Perez’s extramarital affair by terminating her employment on that basis.

[citations omitted].

Thus, the Ninth Circuit holds that Thorne, decided 20 years before Lawrence was correct and the Fifth and Tenth Circuit opinions, both decided after Lawrence, do not give Lawrence proper effect.

Concurring, Judge Tashima stresses that Perez was a probationary police officer and thus the government need not have provided reasons. However, when the government did provide reasons "those reasons all arose in such short order after the internal affairs review that a reasonable inference may be drawn that they may have been pretextual." Additionally, the majority opinion held that the government had no right to qualified immunity because the rights were clearly established, again relying on Thorne, decided in 1983.

The majority panel opinion rejected a procedural due process claim and a gender discrimination claim.The court thus reversed the summary judgment in favor of the government and remanded the case for further proceedings given the factual disputes regarding the actual reasons Perez was termination. 

February 12, 2018 in Association, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Daily Video: Watch Justice Ginsburg Talk About Her Career and #MeToo

 Worth a watch is a 90 minute video discussion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg being interviewed by Nina Tottenburg.

Noteworthy are Ginsburg's comments about sexual harassment by a male professor, her reactions to the #MeToo phenomenon, and her responses to her own icon status.




January 23, 2018 in Gender, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ninth Circuit Rejects Constitutional Challenge to California's Criminalization of Commercial Sex

In its opinion in Erotic Service Provider Legal Education and Research Project v. Gascon, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of a constitutional challenge to California Penal Code § 647(b) which criminalizes the commercial exchange of sexual activity.

Judge Jane Restani, writing for the unanimous panel, rejected that claim that the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) conferred a fundamental right to sexual intimacy under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.  Restani's opinion declares that "whatever the nature of the right protected in Lawrence, one thing Lawrence does make explicit is that the Lawrence case “does not involve ... prostitution,” quoting from what some have called Lawrence's "caveat paragraph." 

Given that there was no fundamental right at stake, the Ninth Circuit then applied rational basis and found there were several legitimate purposes found by the district court including links between commercial sex and trafficking in women and children; creating a "climate conducive to violence against women;" a "substantial link between prostitution and illegal drug use," and a link between commercial sex and "the transmission of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases." Judge Restani's opinion then summarily rejected the argument that the criminalization of commercial sex actually exacerbated the very problems it sought to remedy, stating that such assertions do not undermine the “rational speculation” sufficient to sustain the statute. The opinion relied on  FCC v. Beach Communications (1993) for its highly deferential rational basis standard, despite the constitutional doctrine in Beach Communications being equal protection (albeit under the Fifth Amendment) rather than due process.


[image, "Female convicts at work in Brixton Women's Prison," UK 1862 via]

The Ninth Circuit was no more receptive to the other constitutional challenges.  On the First Amendment free association claim, the court found that this was more properly analyzed as due process, and thus the rejection of the due process claim was dispositive. On the "right to earn a living" claim under due process, the court again relied on Lawrence's exclusion of commercial sex.  Finally, on the First Amendment free speech claim, the court considered the solicitation of commercial sex as speech and analyzed it under the landmark test of  Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y (1980). The court noted that the first prong regarding the exclusion for "unlawful activity" was determinative, but nevertheless continued, and briefly applied the other parts of the Central Hudson and found the statute did not violate the First Amendment.

In this 20 page opinion, the Ninth Circuit both manages to take the constitutional challenges to the criminalization of commercial sex seriously and to repudiate them. 


January 17, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Daily Read: Reconstructing the (Male) Voice of Authority

 Recall that Chief Justice Roberts' 2017 year-end report on the judiciary included an announcement of a working group to address the "depth of sexual harassment" in the judicial workplace. One might hope that the working group also addresses the seeming backtracking of the commitment to diversify the federal bench with regards to gender, as well as other disproportionately underrepresented people. Perhaps this new working group will re-examine the plethora of gender bias in the courts reports - - - and responses to them - - - from previous decades. (For a good discussion and survey see, Rena M. Atchison, A Comparison of Gender Bias Studies: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and South Dakota Findings in the Context of Nationwide Studies, 43 S.D. L. Rev. 616 (1998)).

While not focusing on judicial diversity or sexual harassment specifically, Professor Susie Salmon (University of Arizona College of Law) argues that the problem of women's persistent inequality in the legal profession is rooted in classical notions of what it means to be a judge and advocate. In her article Reconstructing the Voice of Authority, 51 Akron Law Review 143 (2017), Salmon begins by quoting famous feminist classicist Mary Beard who has written tellingly about the mythic Penelope, the first woman in recorded Western history to be told to be quiet (and by her son). Salmon argues

1024px-Penelope_(the_faithful_wife_of_Odysseus) _from_Rome _Hadrianic_copy_of_Greek_work_from_5th_century_BC _Ny_Carlsberg_Glyptotek _Copenhagen_(12948415925)until we stop indoctrinating law students that a “good lawyer” looks, sounds, and presents like the Classical warrior—that is, a male—these barriers will persist. For many law students, the first place they get to model what it means to look, sound, and act like a lawyer is in moot court or other oral-argument exercises. Especially in light of an overall law-school culture that reinforces the significance of inborn abilities, it is not hard to see how moot court’s frequent emphasis on “natural” oral-advocacy talent, and its implicit connection of that talent to traits traditionally associated with men, can influence how students—and later lawyers—develop rigid conceptions of what a good lawyer looks, sounds, and acts like. And continuing to uncritically teach the values of Classical rhetoric—values inherited from a culture that silenced women’s voices in the public sphere—exacerbates the problem.

idely used term tha

Rena M. Atchison, A Comparison of Gender Bias Studies: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and South Dakota Findings in the Context of Nationwide Studies, 43 S.D. L. Rev. 616 (1998)
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Rena M. Atchison, A Comparison of Gender Bias Studies: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and South Dakota Findings in the Context of Nationwide Studies, 43 S.D. L. Rev. 616 (1998)
myriad of definitions

Rena M. Atchison, A Comparison of Gender Bias Studies: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and South Dakota Findings in the Context of Nationwide Studies, 43 S.D. L. Rev. 616 (1998)
myriad of definitions

Rena M. Atchison, A Comparison of Gender Bias Studies: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and South Dakota Findings in the Context of Nationwide Studies, 43 S.D. L. Rev. 616 (1998)

Her concentration on moot court comes two decades after Mairi N. Morrison, May It Please Whose Court?: How Moot Court Perpetuates Gender Bias in the “Real World” of Practice, 6 UCLA WOMEN’S L.J. 49 (1995), and essentially asks why things have not changed.

Perhaps it is because there is a continued effort to police women's voices. As Salmon states:

And, as modern  moot- court wisdom would have it, the voice of authority is still a deep and  resonant one. No lesser authorities than U.S. Supreme Court Justice  Antonin Scalia and noted legal-writing expert Bryan Garner advise advocates to spend time on efforts to lower their vocal pitch, opining that  “a high and shrill tone does not inspire confidence.” Scalia and Garner hardly stand alone; advice about lowering vocal register pervades books  and articles on effective oral advocacy. Even those oral-advocacy experts who explicitly acknowledge the sexism that may underlie the  connection between low voices and authority nonetheless counsel advocates to speak in the lower end of their vocal range.

Salmon's article ends with a "menu of solutions" particular to moot court, but they could easily be translated to issues of sexual harassment as well as judicial diversity and constitutional equality.
[image: "Penelope (the faithful wife of Odysseus)" 5th C. BCE via]


January 1, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Gender, Scholarship, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Chief Justice Roberts' Year End Report Highlights Disasters and Harassment

In his 2017 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary United States Supreme Court Chief Justice concentrated on disaster-preparedness, stating that

we cannot forget our fellow citizens in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands who are continuing to recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and those in California who continue to confront historic wildfires and their smoldering consequences. The courts cannot provide food, shelter, or medical aid, but they must stand ready to perform their judicial functions as part of the recovery effort.

As part of the effort to maintain judicial functions, Roberts' noted that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has established an Emergency Management and Preparedness Branch, including having response teams. He added:

I recognize that this might sound like trying to fight fire with administrative jargon. But imagine yourself one of a handful of employees of the bankruptcy court in Santa Rosa, California, when raging wildfires suddenly approach the courthouse where you work and state officials order evacuation—as happened this past September. The staff members did not face the emergency alone; they had at their disposal a professional response team to assist in making quick decisions to protect personnel, relocate services, and ensure continuity of operations.

He also lauded the oft-forgotten territories in the United States that have been coping with the after-effects of disaster:

The hurricanes brought flooding, power outages, infrastructure damage, and individual hardship to Texas and Florida. But the judicial districts of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were especially hard hit. Judges and court employees responded in dedicated and even heroic fashion. They continued to work even in the face of personal emergencies, demonstrating their commitment to their important public responsibilities.

800px-Official_roberts_CJAnd he pointed out that the obligation of the judicial system included persons subject to the courts’ continuing jurisdiction, including those who are imprisoned, as well as other challenges.

Roberts' ended the 16 page report with a segue to the "new challenge" of dealing with the "depth of sexual harassment."

Events in recent months have illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and events in the past few weeks have made clear that the judicial branch is not immune. The judiciary will begin 2018 by undertaking a careful evaluation of whether its standards of conduct and its procedures for investigating and correcting inappropriate behavior are adequate to ensure an exemplary workplace for every judge and every court employee.

I have asked the Director of the Administrative Office to assemble a working group to examine our practices and address these issues. I expect the working group to consider whether changes are needed in our codes of conduct, our guidance to employees—including law clerks—on issues of confidentiality and reporting of instances of misconduct, our educational programs, and our rules for investigating and processing misconduct complaints. These concerns warrant serious attention from all quarters of the judicial branch. I have great confidence in the men and women who comprise our judiciary. I am sure that the overwhelming number have no tolerance for harassment and share the view that victims must have clear and immediate recourse to effective remedies.

Roberts' is undoubtedly responding to the high-profile resignation of Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and public letters from former law clerks, professors, and others to address the issue of inappropriate conduct by federal judges.

What might have also been in the report?  The need for diversity among Article III judges, especially given the tendency of the recent and current nominations to be white and male.

December 31, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Gender, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Another District Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Transgender Military Ban

 A third district judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the President's ban on transgender troops in the military.  In her opinion in Karnoski v. Trump, United States District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction on the basis of the plaintiffs' likelihood to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment claims.

Recall that after several tweets this past July, embedded President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." Recall that in October, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Doe v. Trump partially enjoined the president's actions denying the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive based on a lack of standing and granting the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives. Recall that in November, United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland in Stone v. Trump issued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures. 

In Karnoski, Judge Pechman finds that the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the State of Washington all have standing to challenge the Presidential Memorandum and that the claims are ripe. She does grant the motion to dismiss as to the procedural due process claim.

On the merits, Judge Karnoski's analysis is succinct.  She concludes that the policy "distinguishes on the basis of transgender status, a quasi-suspect classification, and is therefore subject to intermediate scrutiny." She then states that while the government defendants "identify important governmental interest including military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and preservation of military resources, they failed to show that the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly is related to the achievements of those interests." Indeed, she concludes, the reasons proffered by the President are actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions, and judgment of the military itself," quoting and citing Doe v. Trump.

Departing from the earlier cases, Judge Pechman also finds the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on a substantive due process claim based on a fundamental liberty interest:

The policy directly interferes with Plaintiffs' ability to define and express their gender identity, and penalizes plaintiffs for exercising their fundamental right to do so openly by depriving them of employment and career opportunities.

On the First Amendment claim, Judge Pechman concludes that the "policy penalizes transgender service members but not others for disclosing their gender identity, and is therefore a content based restriction."

She then quickly finds that on balance, the equities weigh in favor of the preliminary injunction.

With this third court finding the Presidential Memorandum has constitutional deficiencies, the transgender ban is unlikely to go into effect by January 1.  Additionally, the Pentagon has reportedly announced that the ban will not take effect.



December 11, 2017 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Ripeness, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

District Judge Partially Enjoins President's Transgender Military Ban

 In an Order and Opinion in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions to limits the service of transgender persons in the United States military. Judge Kollar-Kelly denied the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive, but granted the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.

Recall that this lawsuit, filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of several complaints challenging the president's military action, and included claims for a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly's 76 page opinion, which begins with a recitation of the President's "statement via Twitter" on July 26, 2017, announcing that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This was followed almost a month later by the TG TweetsPresident's Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." The President's Twitter statement and the subsequent Presidential memorandum are the centerpiece of the Government's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing and that their claims are not ripe under Article III.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote:

Defendants have moved to dismiss this case, principally on the basis that the Court lacks jurisdiction. Although highly technical, these jurisdictional arguments reduce to a few simple points: the Presidential Memorandum has not effected a definitive change in military policy; rather, that policy is still subject to review; until that review is complete, transgender service members are protected; and any prospective injuries are too speculative to require judicial intervention.

These arguments, while perhaps compelling in the abstract, wither away under scrutiny.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly's opinion then spends the majority of the opinion discussing the standing and ripeness issues. As to the Surgery challenge, the opinion concludes that "none of the Plaintiffs have demonstrated an injury in fact with respect to the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive," because none of the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are substantially likely to be impacted by the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive"  In fact, the plaintiffs' medical procedures would be performed.  However, there was standing on the Accession and Retention Directives because although an Interim Guidance possibly protects some transgender service members and allows for waivers,

The President controls the United States military. The directives of the Presidential Memorandum, to the extent they are definitive, are the operative policy toward military service by transgender service members.

Moreover, "the injury in fact element of standing in an equal protection case is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the imposition of the barrier.”

Compared to the extensive analysis of the Article III issues, Judge Kollar-Ketelly's analysis of the equal protection claim based on the Fifth Amendment is much more succinct. The opinion first determines the level of scrutiny, deciding on intermediate scrutiny for two reasons.

First, "on the current record, transgender individuals—who are alone targeted for exclusion by the Accession and Retention Directives—appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification," considering  whether they have "experienced a ‘history of purposeful unequal treatment’ or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities," and whether they have been as a group “relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process," and whether the group “exhibit[s] obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group.” Judge Kollar-Ketelly found that transgendered people satisfied these criteria, noting that although there was no binding precedent on this issue, other courts had reached similar conclusions and citing Evancho v. Pine-Richland Sch. Dist.

Second, Judge Kollar-Ketelly was "also persuaded that the Accession and Retention Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender, which is itself subject to intermediate scrutiny. It is well-established that gender-based discrimination includes discrimination based on non- conformity with gender stereotypes."

In the application of intermediate scrutiny, Judge Kollar-Ketelly recited the rule of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), and held that the Accession and Retention Directives relied on overbroad stereotypes and were not substantially related to the Government's stated interests.  The opinion then considered the question of deference in the military context:

Nonetheless, given the deference owed to military personnel decisions, the Court has not based its conclusion solely on the speculative and overbroad nature of the President’s reasons. A second point is also crucial. As far as the Court is aware at this preliminary stage, all of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself. As described above, the effect of transgender individuals serving in the military had been studied by the military immediately prior to the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum. In connection with the working group chaired by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the RAND National Defense Research Institute conducted a study and issued a report largely debunking any potential concerns about unit cohesion, military readiness, deployability or health care costs related to transgender military service. The Department of Defense Working Group, made up of senior uniformed officers and senior civilian officers from each military department, unanimously concluded that there were no barriers that should prevent transgender individuals from serving in the military, rejecting the very concerns supposedly underlying the Accession and Retention Directives. In fact, the Working Group concluded that prohibiting transgender service members would undermine military effectiveness and readiness. Next, the Army, Air Force and Navy each concluded that transgender individuals should be allowed to serve. Finally, the Secretary of Defense concluded that the needs of the military were best served by allowing transgender individuals to openly serve. In short, the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself. This highly unusual situation is further evidence that the reasons offered for the Accession and Retention Directives were not substantially related to the military interests the Presidential Memorandum cited.

The opinion also considered "the circumstances surrounding the announcement of the President’s policy":

the President abruptly announced, via Twitter—without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans—that all transgender individuals would be precluded from participating in the military in any capacity. These circumstances provide additional support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.

Finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the equal protection claim, the opinion quickly dispatched the other considerations used in evaluating the issuance of a preliminary injunction, finding them met.

Expect the government to appeal as well as opinions in the other pending cases.


October 30, 2017 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Sexuality, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sixth Circuit Finds Lack of Procedural Due Process in Title IX Disciplinary Hearing

 In its opinion in Doe v. University of Cincinnati, a Sixth Circuit panel affirmed a district judge's grant of a preliminary injunction against the university suspension of student John Doe.  The university suspended graduate student John Doe after a finding of a sexual offense in a Title IX hearing at which the complaintant did not appear. 

Using the well-established criteria for procedural due process claims, Judge Richard Griffin's relatively succinct opinion found that the risk of erroneous deprivation of Doe's acknowledged interest was great.  Doe claimed that his inability to cross-examine the complaintant in a context in which the basic issue was one of credibility - - - a choice of believing Doe's assertion that the sex was consensual and Jane Roe's complaint that it was not consensual - - - was a fundamental flaw.  The court agreed, even though the university had no ability to compel Jane Roe's appearance.  The court also found the time lapse troubling: the university waited a month after the complaint to interview Jane Roe, four months after that to notify John Doe, and four months after that to hold the hearing.


The court did consider the potential for "emotional trauma" to Jane Roe, but concluded that when there is an issue of credibility, there must be a mutual test of credibility as part of the process "where the stakes are this high."  The court did seek to qualify its rationale as not requiring John Doe be allowed to cross-examine Jane Roe during the hearing:

However, we emphasize that UC’s obligations here are narrow: it must provide a means for the ARC [the university’s Administrative Review Committee] panel to evaluate an alleged victim’s credibility, not for the accused to physically confront his accuser.

The University has procedures in place to accommodate this requirement. A month before the ARC hearing, Mitchell informed Doe and Roe that they could “participate via Skype . . . if they could not attend the hearing.” Doe did not object to Roe’s participation by Skype, and he does not object to this practice on appeal. To the contrary, the record suggests that he or one or more of the ARC panelists in fact appeared at the hearing via Skype. What matters for credibility purposes is the ARC panel’s ability to assess the demeanor of both the accused and his accuser. Indisputably, demeanor can be assessed by the trier of fact without physical presence, especially when facilitated by modern technology.

The court's opinion added that it was "sensitive" to the "competing concerns" of the case: the goal of reducing sexual assault is more than laudable, it is necessary; but the elimination of "basic procedural protections" may not be a "fair price" to achieve that goal. 

These "competing concerns" are likewise the subject of debate as controversial Secretary of Education Betsy De Vos has acted to rescind the previous guidelines for educational institutions dealing with sexual assault based in part on the perceived "deprivation of rights" for accused students. While the new memo does not mandate cross-examination (unless it is provided to one party and then must be provided to both),  no doubt the Sixth Circuit's opinion in Doe v. University of Cincinnati will be used to bolster Secretary de Vos's decision.


September 27, 2017 in Current Affairs, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lawsuits Filed Against Transgender Troop Ban

 Late Friday August 25, President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex."  By Monday, there were at least three lawsuits challenging the action on constitutional grounds.

A month before, Trump had tweeted his thoughts regarding transgender individuals in the military, reportedly taking military officials by surprise.


Soon after the tweets, the complaint in Doe v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging any military action on the basis of a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.

This complaint is now joined by two others: The complaint in Stone v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the ACLU in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, challenging the 3 policies of the military ban - - - existing troops, enlistment of new troops, and medical care - - - as well as the policies taken as a whole.  Again, the two constitutional issues are equal protection and due process. The complaint in Karnoski v. Trump was filed by lawyers for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, challenging the policy on the basis of equal protection, due process, as well as the First Amendment's free speech clause.

On the core challenge of equal protection - - - as applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment - - - the complaints vary in their detail and possible theories.  In Doe, the NCLR and GLAD complaint, paragraph 71 reads: "The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests." In Stone, the ACLU complaint, paragraph 140 contends that transgender classifications should be treated as sex classifications, deserving heightened scrutiny, and additionally in the next paragraph that transgender status itself warrants heightened scrutiny because "men and women who are transgender, as a class" have historically been subject to discrimination, have a defining characteristic that frequently bears no relation to an ability to contribute to society, exhibit immutable or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group, and are a minority with relatively little political power.  In Karnoski, the complaint contends that in addition to sex-discrimination, discrimination on the basis of transgender status "bears all the indicia of a suspect classification requiring strict scrutiny by the courts," enumerating similar criteria including history of discrimination, discrete and insular minority, no relation to ability to contribute to society, and arguing the characteristic sometimes expressed as immutability in stating that "gender identity is a core, defining trait" so "fundamental to one's identity and conscience that a person should not be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment."

However, whatever standard of scrutiny is applied, all the complaints contend that there is not a sufficient government interest in the policy - - - an argument that may well lead into judicial inquiry into Trump's unorthodox announcement on Twitter as well as any details of thoughtful decision-making.

While there has been some reporting that military officials have discretion in implementing Trump's directives, professors of military law have issued a worth-reading policy statement that the discretion is quite limited; they also argue that the directives are discriminatory and based on inaccuracies.

This litigation is certain to accelerate. Expect more action from the NCLR and GLAD action filed before the Friday policy announcement and requests for preliminary relief. 


August 28, 2017 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Gender, Sexuality, Speech, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 12, 2017

SCOTUS holds Gender-Differential in Unwed Parents Citizenship for Child Violates Equal Protection

 In its opinion in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, the United States Supreme Court has held that the differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child violated equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment's protections.  Recall that the Second Circuit had held there was an equal protection violation and had subjected the  the statutory scheme to intermediate heightened scrutiny under United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), rejecting the government's argument that essentially all citizenship statutes should be subject to mere rational basis review.  The Supreme Court opinion in Morales-Santana, authored by Justice Ginsburg (who also wrote VMI), was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Justices Thomas and Alito briefly dissented.

But while the Court's opinion affirms the Second Circuit's constitutional conclusion, it nevertheless holds that Morales-Santana is not entitled to relief, reversing the Second Circuit on that point.

Fabritius_-_van_der_HelmThe Court first rehearses the complicated statutory scheme and facts. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1409(c), was the one in effect when Morales-Santana was born in 1962 outside the US to unwed parents.  His parents married each other in 1970 and he was admitted to the US as a lawful permanent resident in 1975.   In 2000, Morales-Santana was placed in removal proceedings after a conviction for various felonies and applied for withholding based on derivative citizenship from his father.  Derivative citizenship, which occurs at the moment of birth, is bestowed on a child born abroad to an unwed citizen mother and non‐citizen father has citizenship at birth so long as the mother was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of at least one year at some point prior to the child’s birth. By contrast, a child born abroad to an unwed citizen father and non‐citizen mother has citizenship at birth only if the father was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth for a period or periods totaling at least ten years, with at least five of those years occurring after the age of fourteen.  Morales-Santana's father, born in Puerto Rico in 1900, met the one year requirement but not the ten year requirement at the time of his son's birth.  Both parties agreed that had Morales‐Santana’s mother, rather than his father, been a citizen continuously present in Puerto Rico until 20 days prior to her nineteenth birthday, she would have satisfied the requirements to confer derivative citizenship on her child. It is this gender‐based difference in treatment that Morales‐Santana claims violated his father’s right to equal protection.

The Court finds that the Morales-Santana has standing to raise the differential as applied to his parents and that the difference between unwed mothers and unwed fathers is "of the same genre of classifications" as the one in landmark sex equality cases, thus "heightened scrutiny is in order."  The Court finds that there is no exceedingly persuasive justification and notes that the statutory scheme dates "from an era when the lawbooks of our Nation were rife with overbroad generalizations about the way men and women are."  The Court also concluded that previous immigration cases, such as Nguyen v. INS (2001) which upheld gender discrimination regarding establishment of paternity were not controlling.  The Court rejected the government's rationale of "risk-of-statelessness" for the children as being "an assumption without foundation."

Despite the Court's resounding conclusion that the provision violates equal protection, the Court declines to extend the shorter unwed mother residency period to the unwed father.  Instead, the "right of equal treatment" here should be a withdrawal of benefits from the favored class (women) rather than an extension of benefits to the disfavored class (men).  The Court states that any choice between the methods of achieving equal treatment "is governed by the legislature's intent, as revealed by the statute at hand."  Thus, although the general approach is extension of benefits, because the statutory general rule was the longer one, the exception for favorable treatment is the one that should be stricken.

Thus, this is one of those relatively rare equal protection cases in which the challenger wins the battle to have the provision declared unconstitutional, but loses the war because equal treatment becomes the harsher rule.

[image via]

June 12, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Gender, Race, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Seventh Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Against School District in Transgender Sex-Segregated Restroom Case

In its opinion in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, Judge Ann Williams begins for the unanimous panel including Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Illana Rovner, by stating that  the issue would seem to be a "simple request: to use the boys' restroom while at school," but the school district believed it was "not so simple because Ash is a transgender boy."

The Seventh Circuit decision to affirm the preliminary injunction directing the school district allowing the plaintiff, a transgender student, Ash (also known as Ashton), to use the boy's restroom rests both on Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.  As a preliminary issue, the court found that pendent jurisdiction of the district court's order denying the school district's motion to dismiss was not appropriate.

On the likelihood to succeed on the merits of Title IX, the court considered companion Title VII doctrine in the circuit, including the doctrine of sex-stereotyping.  The fact that Congress has not added transgender status to Title IX (or Title VII) was not determinative.  Instead,

Custom-boys-restroom-school-braille-sign-se-3937Ash can demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim because he has alleged that the School District has denied him access to the boys’ restroom because he is transgender. A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non‐conformance, which in turn violates Title IX. The School District’s policy also subjects Ash, as a transgender student, to different rules, sanctions, and treatment than non‐transgender students, in violation of Title IX. Providing a gender‐neutral alternative is not sufficient to relieve the School District from liability, as it is the policy itself which violates the Act. Further, based on the record here, these gender‐neutral alternatives were not true alternatives because of their distant location to Ash’s classrooms and the increased stigmatization they caused Ash. Rather, the School District only continued to treat Ash differently when it provided him with access to these gender‐neutral bathrooms because he was the only student given access.

And, while the School District repeatedly asserts that Ash may not “unilaterally declare” his gender, this argument misrepresents Ash’s claims and dismisses his transgender status. This is not a case where a student has merely announced that he is a different gender. Rather, Ash has a medically diagnosed and documented condition. Since his diagnosis, he has consistently lived in accordance with his gender identity. This law suit demonstrates that the decision to do so was not without cost or pain.

On the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court found that "the School District's policy cannot be stated without referencing sex" and thus the correct level of scrutiny should be the heightened one for sex classifications, citing United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996).  The court rejected the District's asserted interest of protecting the "privacy rights" of all the other students as too abstract and conjectural to be genuine.  Moreover, the court faulted the representation at oral argument regarding the necessity for a birth certificate by first noting that this was not in the policy itself, and later returning to the issue regarding passports. Perhaps more importantly, the court also critiqued the notion of documents to prove sex designations:

Further, it is unclear that the sex marker on a birth certificate can even be used as a true proxy for an individual’s biological sex. The marker does not take into account an individual’s chromosomal makeup, which is also a key component of one’s biological sex. Therefore, one’s birth certificate could reflect a male sex, while the individual’s chromosomal makeup reflects another. It is also unclear what would happen if an individual is born with the external genitalia of two sexes, or genitalia that is ambiguous in nature. In those cases, it is clear that the marker on the birth certificate would not adequately account for or reflect one’s biological sex, which would have to be determined by considering more than what was listed on the paper.

 Thus, court found the School District did not satisfy the equal protection standard of United States v. Virginia. 

Recall that the district judge in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District reached a similar conclusion on the Equal Protection Clause in February, and the constitutional claim seems to have more traction given the Title IX claim's uncertainty after the Court's dismissal and remand of  G.G. v. Glouster County School Board.


May 30, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Federal Judge Enjoins Indiana's Ultrasound Law as Undue Burden

In her Opinion and Order in Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner, Indiana State Dept of Health, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt enjoined Indiana Code § 16-34-2-1.1(a)(5), requiring a woman to have an ultrasound at least eighteen hours prior to an abortion. 

The judge found that Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) was likely to prevail on the merits under the undue burden standard rearticulated most recently in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) regarding the substantive due process right to an abortion.  The new statute combined two prior Indiana laws – an ultrasound requirement and a time sensitive informed consent requirement – into one new law that required a woman seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound at least 18 hours before her abortion.  Indiana's  
principle rationale for the statute was fetal life, but the judge found that  “the State has not provided any convincing evidence that requiring an ultrasound to occur eighteen hours prior to an abortion rather than on the day of an abortion makes it any more likely that a woman will choose not to have an abortion.”  The judge was similarly unconvinced by the state's "alternative justification" of the "psychological importance" to the woman of viewing the ultrasound if she chose to do so. Even accepting the proposition that there could be psychological benefit, the evidence did not address the relevant question of the difference between "women having an ultrasound eighteen hours prior to the abortion as opposed to the day of the abortion." 

The judge found that the burdens imposed by the statute, including increased travel distances and delays in obtaining abortion services, were not balanced by the state's unsubstantiated interest.  Moreover, the judge found it relevant that the burdened women were mainly low-income women who would suffer financial burdens disproportionately, explaining that many women miss work because of these laws, and may have to reserve childcare for the days that they are away or traveling.  Additionally, the judge weighed delays, explaining increases in double booked appointments, as well as increases in delays for women struggling to meet timing requirements for their abortions.  The judge relied both on expert testimony as well as "specific examples" from nine woman relating to these burdens.

In sum, Judge Pratt concluded:

The new ultrasound law creates significant financial and other burdens on PPINK and its patients, particularly on low-income women in Indiana who face lengthy travel to one of PPINK’s now only six health centers that can offer an informed-consent appointment. These burdens are clearly undue when weighed against the almost complete lack of evidence that the law furthers the State’s asserted justifications of promoting fetal life and women’s mental health outcomes. The evidence presented by the State shows that viewing an ultrasound image has only a “very small” impact on an incrementally small number of women. And there is almost no evidence that this impact is increased if the ultrasound is viewed the day before the abortion rather than the day of the abortion. Moreover, the law does not require women to view the ultrasound imagine at all, and seventy-five percent of PPINK’s patients choose not to. For these women, the new ultrasound has no impact whatsoever. Given the lack of evidence that the new ultrasound law has the benefits asserted by the State, the law likely creates an undue burden on women’s constitutional rights.

The law was signed by now Vice President Pence when he was Governor of Indiana; it is uncertain whether the present state administration will pursue the same agenda.

h/t Juliet Critsimilios

April 4, 2017 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

District Judge Finds School District's Exclusionary Bathroom Policy Likely Violates Equal Protection

In his well-reasoned and comprehensive 48 page opinion in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania has issued a preliminary injunction against a school policy that limits students to facilities that "correspond to their biological sex" or to "unisex facilities," finding that the policy likely violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The Pittsburgh-area school district passed Resolution 2 in 2016 by a close vote (5-4), after Resolution 1 which would have preserved the status quo failed to pass in a tied vote (4-4), after meetings and after some sporadic parental complaints.  The policy seemed focused on three transgender students, including the named plaintiff Juliet Evancho, the sister of Jackie Evancho who sang at the President's January inauguration.  As Judge Hornak relates, before 2016 "there were simply no issues or concerns" about the plaintiffs and everyone in the school district treated the students "consistently with their gender identities."  He added that the "most distinctive and illustrative evidence of this is that Juliet Evancho ran for Homecoming Queen in 2016, and she was elected by her peers to the “Homecoming Court” of finalists for that honor." 

After extensively discussing the record, including the school district's privacy concerns, Judge Hornak found there was a indeed a classification being made, the plaintiffs being "distinguished by governmental action from those whose gender identities are congruent with their assigned sex" and the "only students who are not allowed to use the common restrooms consistent with their gender identities.” Later in the opinion, Judge Hornak discussed the unsatisfactory solution of the "safety valve" of unisex facilities:

the law does not impose on the Plaintiffs the obligation to use single-user facilities in order to “solve the problem.” In these circumstances, that would compel them to use only restrooms inconsistent with their gender identities or to use the “special” restrooms. That is a choice directed by official edict, and it is not a choice compelled of other students. It is no answer under the Equal Protection Clause that those impermissibly singled out for differential treatment can, and therefore must, themselves “solve the problem” by further separating themselves from their peers.

As to the Equal Protection standard to be applied, Judge Hornak first discussed rational basis but decided that the intermediate scrutiny standard of United States v. Virginia (VMI) for sex classifications was applicable.  The selection of standard rested on the conclusion that "transgender status" is the "epitome of gender noncomformity" and discrimination based on transgender status is "akin to discrimination based on sex."  Additionally, the opinion recited factors determining whether a "new" classification deserves heightened scrutiny.    

In applying the standard, Judge Hornak found that the record did not establish facts that demonstrated there was an important government interest or exceedingly persuasive justification that was substantially related to those interests:

First, such an application of Resolution 2 would not appear to be necessary to quell any actual or incipient threat, disturbance or other disruption of school activities by the Plaintiffs. There is no record of any such thing. ****

Second, Resolution 2 would appear to do little to address any actual privacy concern of any student that is not already well addressed by the physical layout of the bathrooms. The District has stated that Resolution 2 is necessary to protect the privacy of students (presumably including the Plaintiffs), by which the District has stated it means the sanctity of excretory functions. The record simply does not reveal any actual risk (or even an actual risk of a risk) in such regards. ****

Third, Resolution 2 would not appear to have been necessary in order to fill some gap in the District’s code of student conduct or the positive law of Pennsylvania in order to proscribe unlawful malicious “peeping Torn” activity by anyone pretending to be transgender.” There is no evidence of such a gap. The existing disciplinary rules of the District and the laws of Pennsylvania would address such matters. And as noted above, there is no record evidence of an actual or threatened outbreak of other students falsely or deceptively declaring themselves to be “transgender” for the purpose of engaging in untoward and maliciously improper activities in the High School restrooms.”

Fourth, such application of Resolution 2 also would not appear to be supported by any actual need for students to routinely use the comers of the restrooms for changing into athletic gear from street clothes. 

Interestingly, this last consideration seems to have arisen from a "hypothetical matching a personal experience from his own school days" asserted by counsel for the school district.  (Evidence and Professional Responsibility Professors might take note of this).  Judge Hornak opined that perhaps that "reported anecdotal evidence can be treated" as being a "plausible historical recitation of life events," but there was no "record evidence" that this was the situation in the district.

While Judge Hornak found that the plaintiffs would prevail on the Equal Protection Clause claim, the judge did not find a likelihood of success on the Title IX claim in light of the pending Supreme Court case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., oral argument scheduled later this month. Section IV of the Judge Hornak's opinion, about 10 pages, coupled with the preliminary footnote regarding the recent Department of Education activities, is an excellent overview of the GG litigation including the pertinent issues. 

Judge Hornak's opinion is also an excellent reminder that whatever might happen in GG at the Supreme Court, there are remaining equal protection issues.  Recall that although the Fourth Circuit in GG centered on Title IX and the administrative law issues, Count I of the original complaint in GG is an equal protection claim.  


video: from Lambda Legal representing Evancho


February 28, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Melania Trump's Defamation Claims

The wife of the President has two pending defamation claims that not only involve interesting First Amendment issues, but may also be relevant to the pending Emoluments Clause challenge.

First there is the complaint in Melania Trump v. Tarpley (and Mail Media), filed in Maryland state court. This suit alleges that statements by blogger Webster Griffin Tarpley in a blog post, including “Ms. Trump Reportedly Obsessed by Fear of Salacious Revelations by Wealthy Clients from Her Time as a High-End Escort” and “It is widely known that Melania was not a working model but rather a high end escort.”  The complaint survived the motion to dismiss by Tarpley, with the Judge ruling from the bench reportedly rejecting the blogger defendant’s argument that he was not making the statement as a fact but merely reporting rumors. The judge further reportedly stated that the alleged statements were defamatory: “The court believes most people, when they hear the words 'high-end escort' that describes a prostitute. There could be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute."

Melania Trump at the Inauguration, January 2017, via

Additionally, as the news report stated:

The judge also seemed skeptical that such salacious claims were deserving of the highest level of legal protection given that Melania Trump was the wife of a candidate and not a candidate herself.

"The interests affected are arguably not that important because the plaintiff wasn't the one running for office," [Judge] Burrell said.

This would seem to imply that Melania Trump was not a public figure, a conclusion that does not seem sustainable. The judge did, however, seem to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim that the false statements included injuries to her husband’s business.

Maryland Judge Burrell did , however, dismiss the complaint as against Mail Media for lack of jurisdiction against the company.

Ms. Trump has now filed a complaint in New York against Mail Media (Mail Online), alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on the same facts.  Interestingly, Ms. Trump has dropped the allegations of injuries to her husband's business and included more specific injuries to her own business and lost opportunities.  Paragraph 3 of the Complaint reads:

As a result of Defendant’s publication of defamatory statements about Plaintiff, Plaintiffs brand has lost significant value, and major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her have been lost and/or substantially impacted. The economic damage to Plaintiffs brand, and licensing, marketing and endorsement opportunities caused by the publication of Mail Online’s defamatory article, is multiple millions of dollars. Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world. These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.

This allegation has raised some eyebrows as it seems to allege that Melania Trump intended to monetize her "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for a "multi-year term" as First Lady by promoting her personal products.  Indeed, Melania Trump's initial biography on the White House website lends credence to this view:

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 5.18.58 PM

This entry has since been removed, although it does not seem the removal is connected to the August 2016 publications about Melania Trump.

Should discovery on damages ensue, it could be a trove of material for those claiming that conflicts of interests exist in Donald Trump's official position and his businesses, including his family businesses.  However, note that under Seattle Times v. Rhinehart (1984), a judge could certainly order nondisclosure of the material gained by Mail Media despite the defendant's press status.  

Meanwhile, also in New York state court, Donald Trump is defending a defamation suit filed by Zervos Summer based on allegations that he called her charges of sexual harassment by him false.


February 7, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Executive Privilege, First Amendment, Gender, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Daily Read: Defamation Complaint Against the President

A few days before he was sworn in as President of the United States, the complaint in Zervos v. Trump was filed in New York state court alleging a cause of action for defamation, raising several constitutional issues.

First, the issue of whether the chief executive of the United States is entitled to a stay of the proceedings while he occupies the office seems to be resolved by the United States Supreme Court's unanimous 1997 decision in Clinton v. Jones.  Jones was decided on a separation of powers issue, of course, given that Paula Jones had filed an action alleging sexual harassment by Bill Clinton before he became president.  However, the general reasoning seems applicable.  The Court in Jones stated that it was not persuaded of the seriousness of the alleged risks that this decision will generate a large volume of politically motivated harassing and frivolous litigation and that national security concerns might prevent the President from explaining a legitimate need for a continuance, noting that it had confidence  in the ability of  judges to deal with both concerns. 

Second, a complaint of defamation almost always raises a First Amendment concern.  Interestingly, here one question would be whether the plaintiff, Summer Zervos, was a public figure under Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc, so that she would have to prove "actual malice" on the part of the defendant.  It would seem that Zervos appearance on Trump's television show, The Apprentice, would make her at least a limited public figure.  Moreover, even if  not then, her decision to "speak publicly" about her interactions with Trump after sexual harassment became an issue in the campaign, most likely made her a limited public figure. 

Yet even if Zervos is a public figure, the complaint alleges that Trump made the statements knowing that they were false or with reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.  The complaint makes allegations of numerous statements, including embedding a tweet with a photograph of Zervos:


Interestingly, the complaint also alleges that "all these liars" - - - the women who claimed Trump had sexually harassed them - - - "will be sued after the election is over."  Trump has been called a "libel bully" in an article that briefly made headlines for being stifled by the American Bar Association for fear of it provoking the very conduct it analyzed.  But it seems as if the tables have been turned.

It's far too early for predicting outcomes, but meanwhile ConLawProfs could use this as an interested Con Law problem - - - or an exam question.

January 20, 2017 in Executive Privilege, First Amendment, Gender, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Glouster County School Board v. G.G.: Transgender School Case

The Court today has granted certiorari in Glouster County School Board v. G.G.  

As we previously discussed, while the constitutional issues are not in the foreground, it does involve important equality issues for transgender and gender nonconforming students as well as issues of Exceutive - - - or perhaps more properly, administrative agency - - - power.  

The Court's Order limits the grant to Questions 2 and 3, thus eliminating the issue of the viability of "Auer deference" from consideration.  The Questions presented in the certiorari petition are:

(1) Whether the court should retain the Auer v. Robbins doctrine despite the objections of multiple justices who have recently urged that it be reconsidered and overruled;

(2) whether, if Auer is retained, deference should extend to an unpublished agency letter that, among other things, does not carry the force of law and was adopted in the context of the very dispute in which deference is sought; and

(3) whether, with or without deference to the agency, the Department of Education's specific interpretation of Title IX and 34 C.F.R. § 106.33, which provides that a funding recipient providing sex-separated facilities must “generally treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity,” should be given effect.



image via

October 28, 2016 in Executive Authority, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Is New York's Loitering for Prostitution Statute Unconstitutional?

In a nearly 100 page complaint filed in the federal court in D.H. v. City of New York, the plaintiffs argue that New York's Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, NY Penal Code § 240.37[2], is unconstitutional on its face and as applied.  Represented by The Legal Aid Society, the central constitutional claims are that the statute is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause and that its enforcement violates First Amendment rights to expression, Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and Fourth Amendment rights.

The intersections and distinctions between vagueness under the Due Process Clause and overbreadth under the First Amendment were elucidated by the United States Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010) and the complaint in D.H. might serve as a textbook example of these issues.  Essentially, the complaint alleges that the NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] , does not provide people with adequate notice of the conduct they should avoid to preclude arrest and results in the inclusion of First Amendment protected speech, expressive conduct, and association.  Further, these lack of statutory guidelines have meant that law enforcement actions under the statute have been arbitrary as well as discriminatory on the basis of classifications involving race, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity.

In addition to the statutory arguments, plaintiffs allege that the NYPD guidelines and practices have failed to remedy the problems and have in fact exacerbated them.  One central allegation regards attire:

Furthermore, the purported guidance provided in the NYPD Patrol Guide is equally vague and otherwise flawed, thereby increasing arbitrary enforcement. For instance, the NYPD Patrol Guide instructs officers that an arrestee’s “clothing” is “pertinent” to the probable cause inquiry. At the same time, the NYPD Patrol Guide does not provide any objective criteria regarding what types of attire may or may not have probative value for purposes of establishing probable cause, thus encouraging officers to make arrests based on individual, subjective opinions regarding what clothing someone who might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” would wear.    In pre-printed affidavits provided by prosecutors (also referred to as supporting depositions), which prompt the arresting officer to describe “revealing” or “provocative” clothing, officers often respond by citing a wide range of innocuous attire, such as “jeans,” a “black pea coat” or a pair of leggings.

[¶ 54].  The "black pea coat" as grounds supporting a solicitation for prostitution charge attracted attention in 2013 when a judge dismissed a charge which was based on the defendant "wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes."  

The unconstitutional inequality in the application of NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] is analogous to the equal protection problems in New York City's practice of stop and frisk.  Recall that a federal judge found NYC's practices violated equal protection in her opinion in Floyd v. City of New York, later stayed - - - and thereafter clarified - - - by the Second Circuit, followed by the City's new administration agreeing with the decision and abandoning the appeals.  One of the complaint's pendent state law claims is a violation of the city's own prohibition of bias-based profiling, NYC Admin. Code §14-151 (passed in 2013 by City Council overriding the then-mayor's veto).

Loitering statutes in general, and more specifically loitering (and even soliciting) for "criminal sex" statutes, whether that sex is criminalized because it is commercial, public, or "unnatural" (as in previous sodomy prohibitions), have always been constitutionally problematic.  And the use of dress or appearance to establish "probable cause" or to constitute elements of a crime are constitutionally suspect. It will be interesting to see whether or not the City defends the action, and if it does, how vigorously.


 [image: Moulin Rouge by Toulouse Latrec via]



October 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Sexual Conversion Ban Case

In the continuing - - - yet seemingly concluding - - - saga of challenges to the constitutionality of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit's opinion today in Welch v. Brown revisited its August opinion upholding the law.  Today's opinion announces that the Ninth Circuit will not rehear the case en banc - - - "no judge of the court" having requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc - - - and issues an amended opinion.

The change from the August opinion is slight, adding an example in the opinion's description of the challengers' argument in one paragraph:

Plaintiffs first argue that, under the Establishment Clause, SB 1172 excessively entangles the State with religion. Their argument rests on a misconception of the scope of SB 1172. For example, Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Welch may not “offer certain prayers or quote certain Scriptures to young people” even “while working as a minister for Skyline Church” within “the four walls of the church . . ., while engaging in those religious activities.” The premise of this Establishment Clause argument is mistaken, and the argument fails, because SB 1172 regulates conduct only within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.

[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].

With such a small revision, it would seem there was little contention about the case.  Recall that Welch itself is a sequel to Pickup v. Brown, in which the Ninth Circuit declined en banc review (albeit more divisively), to other First Amendment challenges to the California statute. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit in King v. Christie rejected a challenge to New Jersey's similar SOCE-ban statute.  The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in both Pickup and King, making prospects for a grant of certiorari in Welch v. Brown rather slim, especially for an eight Justice Court.


 [image via]



October 4, 2016 in Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)