Friday, January 20, 2017
With the notable exception of torture, in restoring the rule of law, [President Obama] did not actually renounce Bush's extraordinarily broad vision of executive power. Instead, Obama sought to put it on firmer legal footing--sometimes with help from Congress or the courts, sometimes simply by articulating a legal justification for government actions.
This choice may prove to have fateful consequences. . . .
Check out Linda Greenhouse's analysis at the NYT of Peruta v. California, the case testing whether the Second Amendment protects a right to carry a gun outside the home. We last posted on the case here, when the Ninth Circuit denied rehearing its 7-4 en banc ruling upholding California's "good cause" requirement for a concealed carry permit. Plaintiffs sought review at the Supreme Court last week.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
The Seventh Circuit ruled yesterday that Chicago's restrictions on firing ranges violate the Second Amendment. The ruling means that the City can no longer enforce two of its zoning restrictions and an age regulation for firing ranges, and that Chicago will have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to zone or regulate.
The case has some history. Chicago previously banned all firing ranges from the City. But the Seventh Circuit struck that ban, ruling that it intruded on "the core individual right of armed defense[,] includ[ing] a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in firearm use through target practice at a range."
The City came back with a bevy of regulations, including three at issue here: (1) a zoning restriction that limits firing ranges only as special uses in manufacturing districts; (2) a zoning restriction that prohibits ranges within 100 feet of another range or within 500 feet of a residential district, school, place of worship, and multiple other uses; and (3) a provision barring anyone under age 18 from entering a shooting range.
The court applied the familiar two-part framework to Second Amendment challenges. It first asked whether the regulated activity fell within the scope of the Second Amendment. It next asked, if so, do the regulations meet the sliding scale of heightened scrutiny, where a regulation must more closely fit the government's objectives the most closely the regulations touch on the core of the Second Amendment?
Drawing on its earlier case and the "Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use via target practice at a range," the court said that the three regulations all fell within the scope of the Second Amendment. The court then held that the City failed to provide any evidentiary support for its claimed concerns to justify the regulations--firing range attract gun thieves, they cause airborne lead contamination, and they carry a risk of fire--and therefore they must fail.
Importantly, the court held that the two zoning restrictions had to be considered as a package, not separately. The court then noted that between the two, only about 2.2 percent of City area was available to firing ranges. Moreover, since the court's earlier ruling, no firing range had opened in the City.
Judge Rovner wrote a lengthy opinion dissenting on the distance-zoning regulation, but concurring on the other points. Judge Rovner argued that the court should have analyzed the two zoning regulations separately, and, if it had, it should have ruled that the City had sufficient interests in regulating the distance between a firing range and certain other sites. Judge Rovner also wrote that the City should have greater leeway in regulating "the limited rights of minors under the Second Amendment," citing a host of stories about injuries and deaths of youths at firing ranges. But ultimately she agreed with the majority that "the outright ban on all children under the age of eighteen entering a firing range is impermissible . . . ."
An unusually short-stafffed Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Ziglar v. Abbasi, the case testing whether detainees in the early post-9/11 round-ups could sue government officials for damages for constitutional violations based on their harsh conditions of confinement. (Our preview is here.)
The Court leaned toward the government.
The deck was already stacked against the detainees, what with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan both recused. This left a six-member Court, with just two (Justices Ginsburg and Breyer) more likely to favor the detainees. But even if Justices Ginsburg and Breyer would rule for the detainees, they'd need a third vote to tie and affirm the Second Circuit's ruling, or a fourth to outright win. It didn't look like that will happen.
The deck was stacked for another reason: defendants challenged the Second Circuit's ruling on three independent grounds--failure to meet the pleading standards in Iqbal, lack of a Bivens remedy, and qualified immunity. A ruling for the officials on any one of these grounds would result in a loss for the plaintiffs. And based on the arguments, it seems likely that the Court could rule on different grounds for the different classes of defendants.
Much of the arguments focused on Bivens, and whether the plaintiffs' claim raised a "new context" for Bivens. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy--the two perhaps next most likely to rule for the plaintiffs, after Justices Ginsburg and Breyer--both said yes, based on the national security and immigration context of the case. (The plaintiffs have always maintained that the context is the condition in ordinary prison detention (and therefore a familiar Bivens context), not national security and immigration, because that's what they complained about. But Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy didn't buy it.) If so, the Court will likely rule that Bivens doesn't extend to this case, and toss the plaintiffs' claims.
Pleading standards and qualified immunity got somewhat less attention, but could also defeat the plaintiffs' claims. As to pleading standards, the government argued that this case is simply a re-do of Iqbal itself, with the same pleading deficiencies. As to qualified immunity, the government argued that high-level DOJ officials couldn't be held liable for establishing policies, while the prison officials argued that they couldn't be held liable simply for implementing policies. If so, qualified immunity puts the plaintiffs between a rock and a hard place, getting relief neither against high level DOJ officials nor lower-level prison officials.
At the same time, the Court (particularly Justice Kennedy) seemed concerned that the plaintiffs would have some remedy, even if not a Bivens remedy. Habeas, the Administrative Procedures Act, injunctive relief, civil rights conspiracy (42 U.S.C. 1985), and the Federal Tort Claims Act were all floated at one time or another as potential remedies, but each has its limits or outright problems. Between some or all of these, though, there's probably enough of a non-Bivens remedy to satisfy Justice Kennedy and even Chief Justice Roberts, if, indeed, that's a concern that might sway them.
Check out The Federalist Society page, where it posted videos of its recent Faculty Conference, and a registration announcement for its annual Student Symposium on March 3 and 4, in New York.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
The D.C. Circuit rejected a claim today that the Park Service's set-aside of Freedom Plaza for the Inauguration Committee violated the free speech rights of a group that sought to protest in that space during President-Elect Trump's inauguration.
The ruling ends this challenge, and means that the group will have to find some other place to protest.
The case involves a 2008 Park Service regulation that authorizes a priority permit setting aside a portion of space along the Inaugural Parade route to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for ticketed spectator bleachers. (The set-aside amounts to about 13 percent of the space along the route. In total, about 30 percent of the space along the route is not open to the public; the other 70 percent is available on a first-come, first-served basis.) That area includes Freedom Plaza, a park along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The set-aside priority permit does not displace the regular permit process for protestor along the parade route. But it means that protestors can't use the area set aside for the Inaugural Committee.
That's where ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) comes in. ANSWER sought to protest on Freedom Plaza, but couldn't, because the space was reserved for the Inaugural Committee. ANSWER sued, arguing that the set-aside violated its free speech rights.
The D.C. Circuit rejected this claim. The court ruled that the Park Service set-aside was a content-neutral, time, place, manner regulation of speech in a public forum, that was narrowly tailored to achieve a significant government interest (celebrating the inauguration), and left open ample alternatives for speech.
The court rejected ANSWER's argument that the regulation was viewpoint based, because the group sought to protest against President-Elect Trump: "ANSWER's admittedly viewpoint-based reason for seeking access to the Plaza does not, however, make any rule that stands in its way content based."
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Lee v. Tam, the case testing whether the Patent and Trademark Office violated free speech when it denied a trademark to an all-Asian-American dance-rock band called The Slant, pursuant to a statutory prohibition against registering a "disparaging" mark.
Here's my preview, from the ABA Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
Simon Tam is the front-man for an all-Asian-American dance-rock band called The Slants. Tam formed the band in 2006 not only to play music, but also to express his views on discrimination against Asian-Americans. So when Tam turned to name the band, he sought to embrace a term that has been used as a racial insult against Asian-Americans, “slant.” (In so doing, Tam drew on a tradition of “re-appropriation.” Re-appropriation is when members of a minority group reclaim terms that have been used to insult or stigmatize them and redirect those terms as badges of pride.)
The Slants’s political statements sweep well beyond the band’s name. For example, their first album was called “Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts”; their fourth was called “The Yellow Album.” Some of their song lyrics advocate for Asian pride and promote cultural heritage. (For more on The Slants, check out their web-site, at www.theslants.com.)
In 2011, Tam sought to register The Slants as a trademark. The trademark examiner refused to register the mark, however, because it was likely to disparage persons of Asian descent, under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. (As described below, this section prohibits the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks.) The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed.
Tam appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that the Board erred in finding the mark disparaging and that Section 2(a) violated the First Amendment. A three-judge panel affirmed the Board’s determination that the mark was disparaging, and rejected Tam’s free-speech claim. The full court, however, reversed and ruled that Section 2(a) violated the First Amendment. The government brought this appeal.
Congress enacted the Lanham Act in 1946 to provide a national system for registering and protecting trademarks used in interstate and foreign commerce. In enacting the Act, Congress sought to help assure consumers that a product bearing a particular mark is, indeed, the product that the consumer seeks, and to protect a markholder from misappropriation and misuse of the mark.
Under the Act, trademark registration comes with significant benefits. For example, the holder of a federal mark has the right to exclusive, nationwide use of the mark where there is no prior use by others. Moreover, a markholder can sue in federal court to enforce the trademark; obtain assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection in restricting importation of infringing good; and qualify for a simplified process for obtaining protection in countries that have signed the Paris Convention. Finally, a markholder can use registration as a complete defense to state or common law claims of trademark dilution.
Under the Act, the PTO must register a trademark unless it falls into one of several categories of marks precluded from registration. One of those categories, Section 2(a) of the Act, bars registration of a mark that “[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The PTO has used Section 2(a) to deny or cancel “disparaging” marks such as Stop the Islamisation of America, The Christian Prostitute, Marriage is for Fags, Democrats Shouldn’t Breed, Republics Shouldn’t Breed, and others. Perhaps most famously, the PTO used Section 2(a) to cancel six trademarks of the Washington Redskins NFL football team (although this decision is now on appeal and may be affected by Tam’s case).
In denying a mark under Section 2(a), the PTO denies a significant government benefit to speech based on the content and viewpoint of that speech, even though the government does not prohibit the speech itself. (The Slants can still use The Slants, even if the name does not enjoy trademark protection.) The parties dispute whether this kind of denial violates the First Amendment.
The government argues that Section 2(a) does not violate the First Amendment, because it does nothing to restrict Tam’s speech. The government argues that laws that restrict speech can violate the First Amendment, but that federal programs that subsidize speech (like the Lanham Act) cannot. The government points to precedents upholding the denial of federal tax-exempt status for non-profit organizations’ lobbying activities and sustaining federal regulations that prohibited the use of family-planning funds for abortion-related services. The government also says that it can decide not to subsidize speech at all, and, based on a case from just two Terms ago, that it need not provide a “mobile billboard” for offensive messages on state specialty license plates. Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2239 (2015). In short, the government contends that it has “significant discretion to decide which activities to fund and what criteria to use for inclusion in government programs.”
The government argues that Section 2(a) falls squarely within these principles. It says that trademark registration confers a significant government benefit, and that it has discretion in determining how to allocate this benefit. The government claims that the PTO’s denial of registration does not restrict Tam from using “The Slants”; it just means that Tam does not get the benefits of federal registration.
The government argues next that the lower court erred in ruling that Section 2(a) was facially unconstitutional. The government says that Section 2(a) is not an unconstitutional condition on a government program, and it is not an impermissible viewpoint-based restriction on speech. Instead, Section 2(a) simply sets out criteria for a government benefit in a way that the Court has upheld, again, just two Terms ago. The government contends that Section 2(a)’s criteria serve legitimate government interests not to encourage the use of disparaging terms and to disassociate itself from racial slurs and other offensive speech. Finally, according to the government, “[t]he Constitution does not put Congress to the choice of either eliminating the federal trademark-registration program altogether or promoting the use of racial slurs in interstate commerce.”
In response, Tam argues that Section 2(a) creates an impermissible viewpoint-based burden on speech. Tam says that Section 2(a) permits the registration of marks that express a positive or neutral view, but not those that express a negative view. He claims that the government’s only interest is in protecting people from offensive trademarks, and that this interest is not sufficiently compelling to justify the viewpoint-based burden.
Tam argues that the government is wrong to try to shoehorn Section 2(a) into First Amendment principles that would allow a burden on speech. Tam says that trademark registration is not a government subsidy, because (unlike the subsidies in the Court’s precedents) it involves no actual disbursement of funds. He claims that registration does not amount to government speech, because the speech involved is by the markholder, not the government. And he contends that trademarks are not commercial speech subject to certain government regulation (and he says that it would fail the commercial speech standard, anyway).
Tam argues next that Section 2(a) is unconstitutionally vague. He says that the provision is inherently vague—what does “disparaging” mean?—and that the PTO has applied the provision inconsistently. He claims that the PTO’s methodology, which considers whether a name disparages an entire racial or ethnic group, only compounds the problem, because the PTO does not have a determinate way to measure whether and how a name disparages an entire group. Tam contends that Section 2(a), as a vague restriction on speech, chills speech, and facilitates discriminatory enforcement. He claims that it is therefore unconstitutional.
Finally, Tam argues that Section 2(a) does not bar registration of The Slants, even if Section 2(a) is constitutional. Tam says that the The Slants is not disparaging under Section 2(a); instead, it is exactly the opposite—a re-appropriated term used as a badge of pride. He asserts that the PTO was wrong to deny registration based on whether The Slants disparages an entire racial or ethnic group. He claims that the Act requires the PTO instead to apply Section 2(a) only when a name disparages “persons,” not groups. The Slants, he says, does not meet this test.
While this case is certainly important to Simon Tam and his ability to protect his use of The Slants, the underlying issue has received far more attention in the dispute over the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Using the same Section 2(a) involved in this case, the PTO in 2014 cancelled trademark protection for six Redskins trademarks at the request of a group of Native Americans. A federal judge upheld the cancellation, ruling that “Redskins” was disparaging to “a substantial composite of Native Americans” when each of the marks was registered. The Redskins appealed, but the case is on hold pending the outcome of Tam’s case. (The Redskins asked the Supreme Court to review their case along with Tam’s, but the Court declined.) The Redskins’s case illustrates the stakes involved to the markholders: Losing federal trademark protection would mean that markholders could not protect their marks against others’ uses in the federal system, potentially costing markholders substantial revenue and exclusive name rights. The two cases—Tam’s case and the Redskins’s case—together also illustrate the difficulties in identifying and withholding trademark protection from disparaging names, while extending protection to non-disparaging names.
At the same time, denial or cancellation of federal trademark protection does not mean that a person cannot use the name. Tam could still use The Slants, and the Redskins could still use the Redskins, even if they do not receive federal trademark protection. They simply would not get the benefits of federal trademark protection. Moreover, individuals could still seek trademark protection at the state level. (But this would provide protection only within the state, not nationwide. Moreover, states may have restrictions similar to Section 2(a), so that Tam, the Redskins, and others might not qualify at the state level, either.)
Although much of the briefing in the case is couched in constitutional terms, the Court could rule on narrower grounds. For example, the Court could simply rule that the PTO misapplied Section 2(a) in rejecting Tam’s application. (Tam sets the stage for this kind of ruling by arguing that the PTO erroneously considered disparagement to a group, not to “persons,” in evaluating his application.) If so, the Court could simply remand the case with instructions on interpreting Section 2(a), without ruling on its constitutionality. This kind of ruling could limit the application of Section 2(a), but it would not strike the provision.
If the Court engages the constitutional arguments, look for the Court to determine as an initial matter whether the First Amendment even applies. The Court could dodge the harder constitutional issues simply by ruling, as the government argues, that Section 2(a) does not impose a burden on speech, because trademark registration is a benefit or subsidy, and because Section 2(a) does not restrict speech. If so, the Court would uphold Section 2(a), although it might limit it, as above.
If the Court sees Section 2(a) as a burden on speech, however, the Court is almost certain to strike the provision as unconstitutionally vague or as a viewpoint-based restriction on speech. (The Court has consistently expressed its distaste for content-based restrictions on speech in recent years. Viewpoint-based restrictions are even more suspect.)
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Ziglar v. Abbasi, the case testing whether post-9/11 detainees can sue federal officials for constitutional violations. In particular, the case asks (1) whether the plaintiffs have a Bivens claim, (2) whether the federal defendants enjoy qualified immunity, and (3) whether the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded their case for direct liability.
Here's my preview, reprinted with permission from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases:
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI and other agencies in the Department of Justice initiated an investigation aimed at identifying the 9/11 perpetrators and preventing another attack. The investigative unit, PENTTBOM, the Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombing investigation, was initially run out of the FBI’s field offices, but moved to the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center, or SIOC, at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. FBI Director Robert Mueller personally directed PENTTBOM from the SIOC and remained in daily contact with FBI field offices.
As part of DOJ’s response to the attacks, officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Mueller, developed policies on the arrest and detention of alien suspects based on tips that the FBI received from the public. As part of the policies, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint, “any Muslim or Arab man encountered during the investigation of a tip received in the 9/11 terrorism investigation . . . and discovered to be a non-citizen who had violated the terms of his visa, was arrested.” Ashcroft also created the “hold-until-cleared” policy, which required that individuals arrested in the investigation would not be released from custody until FBI Headquarters affirmatively cleared them of ties to terrorism.
In order to coordinate efforts among the various agencies within DOJ that had an interest in, or responsibility for, detainees, the Deputy Attorney General’s Office (DAG) established the SIOC Working Group. The Group included representatives from the FBI, the INS, and the DAG. The group met at least once a day in the months following the 9/11 attacks. Its responsibilities included “coordinat[ing] information and evidence sharing among the FBI, INS, and U.S. Attorneys’ offices” and “ensur[ing] that aliens detained as part of the PENTTBOM investigation would not be released until they were cleared by the FBI of involvement with the September 11 attacks or terrorism in general.”
The FBI dedicated more than 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel to the investigation and the effort to prevent additional attacks. It received about 96,000 tips in the week after the 9/11 attacks alone. (Many of these, including the tips on some of the plaintiffs in this case, were astonishingly weak or unreliable or had nothing to do with terrorism.)
The INS maintained a national list of aliens in which the FBI had “an interest.” Separately, the New York FBI created its own list of individuals that were “of interest” or “special interest.” (The New York effort differed from similar efforts in the rest of the country at least in part because of the New York FBI’s and U.S. Attorney’s Office’s long tradition of independence from their headquarters in Washington, D.C. For at least some number of individuals on the New York list, arresting officers failed to conduct the same vetting that detainees on the INS list received.) FBI Headquarters learned of the New York list in October 2001, and officials eventually merged the two lists. Ultimately, 762 detainees, including the plaintiffs, were placed on the INS Custody List and were subject to the hold-until-cleared policy. (491 of these detainees were arrested in New York, but it is not clear how many of those were arrested as a result of the efforts of the New York FBI.)
(For more on the identification, arrest, detention, and treatment of individuals in the post-9/11 investigation, see the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General Report, A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks (April 2003), available at https://oig.justice.gov/special/0306/full.pdf.)
The plaintiffs were held at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York. Under the MDC confinement policy, created by MDC officials in consultation with the FBI, these plaintiffs were placed in the MDC’s Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit (ADMAX SHU), a particularly restrictive unit within the Center. Conditions in the ADMAX SHU were severe. For example, detainees, including the plaintiffs, were placed in small cells for over 23 hours a day, they were strip-searched whenever they were removed from or returned to their cells, they received “meager and barely edible” food, they were denied sleep, and they were denied basic hygiene items, among other problems. MDC staff also physically and verbally abused the plaintiffs. (The conditions are described in greater detail in the lower court opinion and in the plaintiffs’ briefs. For yet more on the conditions at the MDC, see the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General Report, Supplemental Report on September 11 Detainees’ Allegations of Abuse at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York (Dec. 2003), available at http://www.justice.gov/oig/special/0312/final.pdf. ) The plaintiffs were held from three to eight months.
The plaintiffs filed a putative class-action lawsuit against Ashcroft, Mueller, former Commissioner of the INS James Ziglar, former MDC Warden Dennis Hasty, former MDC Warden Michael Zenk, and former MDC Associate Warden James Sherman, alleging that they discriminated against them and mistreated them in violation of the Constitution. They also alleged a conspiracy to violate their civil rights. (There are eight plaintiffs now in the case. It has not been certified as a class action.) The district court dismissed all the claims against the DOJ defendants and some (but not all) of the claims against the MDC defendants. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed in part and ruled that many of the claims against all of the defendants could move forward. This appeal followed. (The defendants appealed in three separate petitions, but the Court consolidated them into a single appeal. Ashcroft and Mueller are represented by the Solicitor General; Ziglar is represented by private counsel; Hasty and Sherman are represented by different private counsel.)
The case involves three discrete issues. Let’s take them one at a time. (The various defendants make largely the same arguments on each point below. But where they make different arguments, this summary distinguishes between the arguments of the FBI defendants and those of the MDC defendants.)
Can the plaintiffs bring a federal civil rights action?
Civil rights in the U.S. Constitution are not self-executing. This means that Congress has to enact legislation in order for individuals to enforce them in the courts. Congress has not enacted such legislation for civil rights claims against federal officials. But the Supreme Court has recognized an implied right of action against federal officials in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics. 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
Bivens is a quite limited remedy, however. The Court has recognized Bivens actions only in certain contexts (including, as relevant here, a case where a prisoner challenges the conditions of his or her confinement). And the Court will not extend a Bivens claim to new contexts when “special factors counsel hesitation,” that is, when circumstances suggest that Congress, and not the courts, should decide whether an action is appropriate.
The defendants argue that the plaintiffs’ case presents a new context, and that special factors counsel against a Bivens remedy. The defendants say that the context here is the executive branch’s response to an “unprecedented terrorist attack and the detention of foreign nationals illegally in the United States.” They claim that the plaintiffs seek to challenge high-level policy decisions on national security and immigration—new contexts for Bivens. Moreover, they claim that the case implicates the correctness of FBI terrorist designations and federal law enforcement lines of authority and chains of command, in addition to the DOJ’s response to a national-security threat and its implementation of the nation’s immigration laws. They contend that these are all special factors that counsel against extending a Bivens remedy to this new context.
The plaintiffs counter that their case falls squarely within a recognized Bivens context, prisoner challenges to conditions of confinement. But even if their case presents a new context, the plaintiffs argue that a Bivens remedy is appropriate. They say that their claims have nothing to do with national security or immigration enforcement (some of the special factors that the defendants raise that, they say, counsel against a Bivens remedy), and that the interests in deterring federal officials from violating constitutional rights and compensating victims cut in favor of a Bivens remedy. The plaintiffs assert that these points are especially true against the MDC defendants (even if not against the DOJ defendants), because the MDC officials were directly responsible for their conditions of confinement.
The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil liability for alleged constitutional harms, so long as their conduct does not violate “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” In determining whether a right is “clearly established,” the Court looks to “whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001). The inquiry necessarily looks to Supreme Court rulings on the right in question at the time of the officer’s actions.
The defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity, given the special situation in which they operated. The FBI defendants claim that the plaintiffs did not have a “clearly established right to be immediately released from restrictive confinement” when the federal officials learned that “in some instances, arresting officers had failed to conduct the same initial vetting that other September 11 detainees received.” They contend that applying the hold-until-cleared policy was not clearly “so arbitrary as to constitute an impermissibly punitive or impermissibly discriminatory act.” The MDC defendants assert that they were simply implementing FBI and BOP policies in holding the plaintiffs, and that no clearly established law required them to “impos[e] less restrictive conditions [of confinement] based on their own subjective assessment of the [plaintiffs’] terrorism connections.” They claim that the strip-searches did not violate clearly established Fourth Amendment law, because they were reasonably related to prison security.
The plaintiffs argue that the defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. As to the FBI defendants, the plaintiffs claim that at the time of their arrests and detentions, precedent clearly established that officials could not detain individuals arbitrarily and without a purpose reasonably related to a legitimate government interest. They also say that precedent clearly established that officials could not single out individuals for arrest and detention based on race, religion, or ethnicity. As to the MDC defendants, the plaintiffs contend that placing individuals in restrictive detention without individualized justification violates Bureau of Prisons policy and clearly established law at the time of the detention.
While this case was moving through the lower courts, the Supreme Court clarified and heightened the pleading standard that a plaintiff must satisfy in a civil rights case. In particular, the Court ruled that a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” This means “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully,” or that the alleged facts are “merely consistent with a defendant’s liability.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Moreover, a plaintiff’s Bivens claim cannot move forward based on supervisory (or vicarious) liability; instead, a plaintiff must plead that a defendant is directly liability for the unconstitutional conduct.
The defendants argue that the plaintiffs have failed to meet the Iqbal standards. The DOJ defendants point to Iqbal itself and contend that the Court in that case refused to credit similar assertions against the hold-until-cleared policy. They also say that the plaintiffs failed to plead that the DOJ defendants’ decision to merge the New York list and the INS list was based on discrimination, instead of a valid concern that “the FBI could unwittingly permit a dangerous individual to leave the United States.” The MDC defendants claim that they were simply implementing FBI and BOP policies, not acting to discriminate or treat detainees arbitrarily. They also say that they were not personally responsible for certain abuses within the MDC (like strip-searching), because they did not create or approve or even know about those abuses.
The plaintiffs counter that they have met the Iqbal standards against all the defendants. As to the DOJ defendants, the plaintiffs contend that their complaint included sufficiently detailed factual allegations that the DOJ defendants established policies to target Muslim men of Arab and South Asian descent and to hold such men in isolation and to treat them harshly. As to the MDC defendants, they assert that their complaint plausibly claimed that the MDC defendants were deliberately indifferent, and even willfully blind, to the abuse against them. They also say that the MDC defendants failed to correct the abuse when they learned of it.
This is an incredibly important case that tests the boundaries of civil rights claims against individual federal officials for designing and implementing policies on the identification, arrest, detention, and treatment of individuals in the investigations into the 9/11 attacks. In other words, it tests when and how federal officials might be personally liable for civil damages arising out of these hotly disputed events and extremely challenging times for both law enforcement and targeted Muslims and Arabs alike.
But it’s important to remember that this case only touches on threshold defenses, and not on the underlying merits. The Court won’t examine whether the defendants actually violated the plaintiffs’ rights, except to the extent necessary to determine whether the claims arise in new context, whether the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, and whether the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded their case. (Moreover, the Court will almost surely say nothing about the merits of the underlying policies in investigating or preventing terrorist attacks.)
At the same time, however, these threshold defenses are very important. They operate as gate-keepers to the courts for any plaintiffs who seek to bring civil rights claims against federal officials. As such, they largely control whether a plaintiff has a remedy in the federal courts for a federal violation of civil rights. (And for many federal-civil-rights plaintiffs, the federal courts provide their only remedy.) How the Court rules on these defenses will determine whether plaintiffs have access to a federal judicial remedy in this case, and beyond.
When the Roberts Court has ruled on issues like those in this case, it has fairly consistently restricted access to the courts (and not expanded it). But this case involves three different threshold issues with two (or more) sets of differently situated defendants, so it gives the Court a unique opportunity to more carefully explore the particular metes and bounds of these doctrines.
The Court will be particularly short-staffed in this case. That’s because Justices Sotomayor and Kagan are recused. If the Court divides along conventional ideological lines, three justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito) will likely rule in favor of the defendants, and two (Justices Ginsburg and Breyer) will likely rule in favor of the plaintiffs. Justice Kennedy could join the conservatives to hand the defendants a win, or he could join the progressives to create a tie. If so, the Second Circuit ruling will stand, although it will have no nationwide precedential value. Given the number of issues and differently situated defendants, however, it is also possible that the Court could issue a more nuanced ruling.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
The First Circuit ruled yesterday that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge New Hampshire's abortion clinic buffer-zone law. The ruling ends the lawsuit and leaves the buffer-zone law in place, although it's not enforced (and that's why there's no standing).
The case arose from a pre-enforcement challenge to New Hampshire's law that permits (but does not require) a reproductive health care facility to establish a zone "up to 25 feet" onto public property adjacent to its facilities and to exclude members of the public from that zone through civil enforcement measures. Plaintiffs challenged the law soon after the Court handed down McCullen v. Coakley, striking Massachusetts's buffer zone.
But no New Hampshire clinic had established a buffer zone, and none was set to establish one. The plaintiffs therefore couldn't allege a harm, and the court kicked the case for lack of standing:
[T]he plaintiffs have not alleged that the Act has meaningfully altered their expressive activities, nor that it has objectively chilled their exercise of First Amendment rights. Because no facility in New Hampshire has yet demarcated a zone, and there is no present evidence that a zone will ever be demarcated, the plaintiffs' "alleged injury is . . . too speculative for Article III purposes." Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l.
The court also ruled that the case wasn't ripe.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Check out Steve Vladeck's new ACS issue brief, The Bivens Term: Why the Supreme Court Should Reinvigorate Damages Suits Against Federal Officers. Vladeck explains that the Court has two important Bivens cases this Term, Ziglar v. Abassi and Hernandez v. Mesa, and argues that the Court should use the opportunities to reinvigorate Bivens actions, allowing plaintiffs to sue federal officers for monetary damages for constitutional violations.
Although cases raising the scope of Bivens don't tend to generate the same headlines as those involving hot-button social issues, the more general principle of which Bivens is a critical element--that federal courts have an obligation to provide remedies for unconstitutional federal government conduct--is a bulwark of our constitutional system. Without such remedies, there would be little reason for federal officers to comply with the Constitution--especially those provisions that are least likely to be protected through the political process.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled yesterday that SEC Administrative Law Judges violate the Appointments Clause.
The important, pathbreaking ruling creates a circuit split--the D.C. Circuit went the other way earlier this fall--and tees the issue up for Supreme Court review.
The majority was careful to remind that its ruling extended only to SEC ALJs, not all ALJs, so it's not clear exactly how far the logic goes. It probably doesn't matter much, though, at least for now, because the case will almost surely go to the Supreme Court.
The case arose when David Bandimere challenged an SEC ruling against him, in part because the ALJ that issued the initial decision was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause. The SEC rejected the argument, but the Tenth Circuit agreed with Bandimere. (The SEC ruled that the ALJ was an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause.)
The court ruled that SEC ALJs look just like the Tax Court Special Trial Judges at issue in Freytag v. Commissioner. In Freytag, the Supreme Court used a functional analysis to conclude that the STJs were inferior officers, to be appointed by "the President alone, in the Court of Law, or in the Heads of Department." The court said that SEC ALJs, like the STJs, (1) were "established by Law," (2) had "duties, salary, and means of appointment . . . specified by statute," and (3) "exercise significant discretion" in "carrying out . . . important functions." As inferior officers, the court said that they had to be appointed by the President, the courts, or a head of a department, and, because they weren't (this point wasn't contested), they violate the Appointments Clause.
The court parted ways with the D.C. Circuit on the same question, because, it said, the D.C. Circuit put too much emphasis on the third part of the Freytag analysis--in particular, that the ALJs didn't exercise final decisionmaking power: "We disagree with the SEC's reading of Freytag and its argument that final decision-making power is dispositive to the question at hand."
Judge McKay dissented, focusing on the differences between SEC ALJs and the STJs in Freytag ("Most importantly, the special trial judges at issue in Freytag had the sovereign power to bind the Government and third parties," while "the Commission is not bound--in any way--by an ALJ's recommendations") and the potentially sweeping implications of the ruling ("all federal ALJs are at risk of being declared inferior officers," and therefore in violation of the Appointments Clause).
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Check out this Brookings brief, The Emoluments Clause: Its text, meaning, and application to Donald J. Trump, just published by Norman Eisen, Richard Painter, and Laurence Tribe. From the intro:
Foreign interference in the American political system was among the gravest dangers feared by the Founders of our nation and the framers of our Constitution. . . .
As careful students of history, the Framers were painfully aware that entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious risk to the Republic. The Emoluments Clause was forged of their hard-won wisdom. It is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self-governance. . . .
While holding office, Mr. Trump will receive--by virtue of his continued interest in the Trump Organization and his stake in hundreds of other entities--a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers and their agents.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Steve Michel, the attorney who sued Senate Republicans to get them to take up President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, to a vote, reportedly filed for an emergency injunction at the Supreme Court.
Recall that Judge Contreras (D.D.C.) dismissed Michel's suit last month for lack of standing.
Michel's latest move is unlikely to succeed: He still lacks standing.
The Seventh Circuit ruled this week in Brunson v. Murray that an official is not entitled to absolute immunity for a liquor-license renewal decision, even though absolute immunity extends to suspension and revocation decisions.
The ruling reverses circuit precedent on the issue. The court said that changes in state law and federal law (Cleavinger, discussed below) compelled the change.
The difference between a renewal decision, on the one hand, and a suspension or revocation decision, on the other, is that the latter is judicial-like (which triggers absolute immunity), where the former is not. The court determined this based on how each decision operates under state law (a functional analysis) and the six factors "characteristic of the judicial process" in Cleavinger v. Saxner. In short: "Under state law, a local liquor commissioner's action on a license renewal lacks the procedural formalities and protections that apply to the same official's decision to suspend or revoke a license. The differences are great enough to produce different results for the availability of absolute immunity."
The court remanded the plaintiff's claim for the renewal decision, remanded some other claims, and dismissed yet others in this strange and sordid case involving conflicts of interests and apparent vendettas by local public officials against a liquor store owner.
The NYT reports that some Democratic state AGs plan to borrow a page from Republican AGs' playbook: sue the President:
The strategy could be as simple as mirroring the blueprint laid out by their Republican colleagues, who made something of a legal specialty of tormenting President Obama. Conservative attorneys general in states including Texas, Virginia and Florida have sued the Obama administration dozens of times, systematically battering Mr. Obama's signature health care, environmental and immigration policies in the courts.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The Ninth Circuit this week upheld California's ten-day waiting period for gun purchasers against a Second Amendment challenge, even as to those purchasers who already had a concealed carry permit and to those who had cleared a background check in less than ten days.
The ruling is a significant defeat for gun-rights advocates. It means that California's ten-day waiting period stays in place for all gun purchasers as a "reasonable safety precaution" against impulsive gun buys.
The Ninth Circuit applied the familiar two-part test for Second Amendment challenges now used by most of the federal circuits: (1) does the law burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment; and, if so, (2) does the law satisfy the appropriate level of scrutiny? As to the first step, the Ninth Circuit applies an "historical understanding" test--"[l]aws restricting conduct that can be traced to the founding era and are historically understood to fall outside of the Second Amendment's scope may be upheld without further analysis." As to the second step, the Ninth Circuit applies a sliding scale based on how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment and how much it burdens Second Amendment rights.
The court said that it didn't need to address step 1 (the historical understanding), because the ten-day waiting period satisfied the appropriate level of review, intermediate scrutiny. (The court used its sliding scale test to arrive at intermediate scrutiny, because "[t]he actual effect of the [waiting period] on Plaintiffs is very small.") The court held that the law providing a cooling off period to promote safety and to reduce gun violence, even for purchasers who already had a gun (because the purchasers may seek "to purchase a larger capacity weapon that will do more damage when fired into a crowd.") "A 10-day cooling-off period would serve to discourage such conduct and would impose no serious burden on the core Second Amendment right of defense of the home . . . ."
Judge Thomas concurred: "I agree entirely with, and concur in, the majority opinion. I write separately, however, because the challenge to California's ten-day waiting period can be resolved at step one of our Second Amendment jurisprudence. As a longstanding qualification on the commercial sale of arms under [Heller], a ten-day waiting period is presumptively lawful."
Three district courts ruled late last week and early this week that petitioners lacked standing (Article III or otherwise) to challenge President-Elect Trump's election, or to petition for a recount.
On Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court effectively halted the recount effort there. Two concurring justices explained that Jill Stein was not "aggrieved" under the recount statute and therefore couldn't petition for a recount--the same argument that Trump and the Michigan AG made earlier in the process. Then on Monday Judge Diamond (E.D. Pa.) ruled that Jill Stein lacked Article III standing to seek a recount through the federal courts. (Judge Diamond identified several other problems with Stein's complaint.)
On Friday, Judge Moss (D.D.C.) tossed a case by a pro se plaintiff challenging Trump's election, because "[a]n ordinary citizen's challenge to the eligibility of a presidential candidate falls squarely within this category of nonjusticiable 'generalized grievances.'"
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Monday, December 5, 2016
As an orientation for assessing the argument, Lessig trenchantly reminds us:
In 2000, Republican lawyers, desperately seeking a way to stop the recount in Florida, crafted a brilliant Equal Protection argument against the method by which the Florida courts were recounting votes. Before that election, no sane student of the Constitution would have thought that there was such a claim. When the claim was actually made, every sane lawyer (on Gore’s side at least) thought it was a sure loser. But by a vote of 7 to 2, the Supreme Court recognized the claim, and held that the Equal Protection Clause regulated how Florida could recount its votes. That conclusion led 5 justices to conclude the recount couldn’t continue. George Bush became president.
Lessig provides some scholarly sources and reveals he is planning a law review article on the applicability of Bush v. Gore and equal protection principles to the "winner take all" electoral college process.
But he also shares a first take of a legal argument drafted by Jerry Sims, an Atlanta attorney. Here's Sims's Georgia example:
In Georgia, for example, we have 16 Electors and approximately 44% of all voters cast ballots for Clinton. Yet the Clinton Voters receive no representation within the State’s Electors. They are left with no voice whatsoever in the election of the President by the Electoral College, their votes are for all practical purposes thrown away. If Georgia were electing a single candidate then a winner-take-all result would be proper, but in an election of 16 Electors, the Clinton votes are not being given equal dignity with the Trump votes. Of course the state could argue that there is a single slate of Electors is up for election. But therein lies the rub, the State is not free to disregard the one man one vote rule by arbitrarily framing the election of 16 Electors as though it is an election of a single office holder. That argument would be a pretext designed to deny any voice to the voters for the candidate not winning the plurality of the vote within the State, even though in reality multiple representatives are being selected to vote in a second election for a single candidate. This system leaves minority voters in Georgia with no voice whatsoever in the final real election. Thus, if the election is viewed by the State as a statewide election, then Electors should be allocated proportionately, in order to give every vote equal dignity and weight, thereby electing a delegation of Electors that actually represents all of the voters within the State. Under this methodology every vote counts. Proportional allocation of Electors respects the one man one vote principle while preserving the small state bias. It merely eliminates the likelihood of a President being elected who did not win the popular vote and did not win because of the small State bias embedded in the Constitution.
Sims links to a spread sheet that provides the data for other states.
The equal protection framework relies on Bush v. Gore and Reynolds v. Sims, as well as Williams v. Rhodes (1968).
It's certainly worth considering.