Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Obamacare Argument Preview

The Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in King v. Burwell, the case testing whether the Affordable Care Act authorizes the IRS to provide subsidies to purchasers of health insurance on a federally-facilitated exchange. Here's my oral argument preview ("Significance" section is down below), from the ABA Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases, with permission:

FACTS

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” is designed to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and to decrease its costs. In order to achieve these goals, the ACA requires most Americans to obtain “minimum essential” coverage or to pay a tax penalty to the IRS. (The ACA, of course, contains many other provisions to achieve its goals, most notably the expansion of the Medicaid program. But the minimum-coverage provision, sometimes called the “individual mandate,” is the one most relevant to this case.)

To facilitate the purchase of health insurance, the ACA establishes health care “exchanges,” where individuals can purchase competitively-priced coverage. The Act provides that “[e]ach State shall . . . establish an American Health Benefit Exchange.” 26 U.S.C. § 1311. But it also provides that if a state does not “elect” to create an exchange, the federal government “shall establish and operate such exchange within the State.” 26 U.S.C. § 1321(c)(1). When the plaintiffs filed this case, 16 states plus the District of Columbia elected to set up their own exchanges; the remaining 34 states relied on the federally-facilitated exchange. (The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) establishes the federally-facilitated exchange. It’s at www.healthcare.gov.)

To keep health insurance affordable, the Act provides a federal tax credit to low- and moderate-income Americans to offset the cost of insurance policies. The Act provides the credit to individuals who enroll in a health plan “through an Exchange established by the State under Section 1311.” 26 U.S.C. § 36B.

Pursuant to this provision, the IRS promulgated regulations making the tax credit available to qualifying individuals who purchase health insurance on both state-run and federally-facilitated exchanges. The IRS rule says that credits shall be available to anyone “enrolled in one or more qualified health plans through an Exchange.” The rule adopts by cross-reference a definition of “Exchange” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that includes any exchange “regardless of whether the Exchange is established and operated by a State or by HHS.”

The plaintiffs,  Virginia residents who do not want to purchase health insurance, challenged the IRS rule, in particular, the provision of tax credits to purchasers on a federally-facilitated exchange. Virginia declined to establish its own health insurance exchange, so the state uses the federally-facilitated exchange. Without a federal tax credit, the plaintiffs would be exempt from the ACA’s minimum coverage requirement under the ACA’s unaffordability exemption. (This provision exempts individuals from the minimum coverage requirement if the cost of health insurance exceeds eight percent of their projected household income.) But with the federal tax credit, and the resulting reduced cost of health insurance, the plaintiffs do not qualify for the unaffordability exemption, and they must either purchase health insurance or pay the tax penalty. (As this goes to press, media reports have raised serious questions whether some of the plaintiffs are actually affected this way, and therefore whether they have standing to bring this suit. So far, neither the parties nor the Supreme Court have formally addressed these questions.)

The district court rejected the plaitniffs’ claims and upheld the tax credit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. (On the same day that the Fourth Circuit issued its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held the opposite—that the ACA did not authorize the IRS to provide tax credits to purchasers on a federally-facilitated exchange. The full D.C. Circuit later vacated that ruling and agreed to hear the case en banc. The court then held the case in abeyance pending the outcome of this case.) This appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

In ruling on an agency’s interpretation of a statute, the Court uses the two-step process set out in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). In step one, the Court determines whether statutory language is ambiguous—that is, if it is reasonably susceptible of different interpretations. In making this judgment, courts use all the traditional tools of statutory construction, including the text and context of the provision in question. If the language is clear, “that is the end of the matter, for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.”

If the language is ambiguous, however, the court moves to step two. At step two, courts ask whether an “agency’s [action] is based on a permissible construction of the statute”—a highly deferential standard. Courts uphold an agency interpretation so long as it is not “arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.” This standard is called “Chevron deference.”

The parties focus principally on the first step. They both argue that the Act’s text, structure, and history give an unambiguous meaning either against tax credits (the plaintiffs) or for them (the government). The parties also argue briefly why the Court should not grant Chevron deference to the IRS (the plaintiffs) or why it should (the government).

The plaintiffs argue that the plain text of the ACA restricts tax subsidies to health insurance purchases through state-run (and not federally-facilitated) exchanges. The plaintiffs point to three provisions: Section 1311, which says that states “shall” establish exchanges; Section 18041(c), which provides that HHS “shall . . . establish and operate such Exchange within the State,” upon a state’s “failure to establish [an] Exchange”; and Section 36B(c)(2)(A) & (B), which authorizes tax subsidies for coverage that is “enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311.” The plaintiffs say that these three provisions clearly distinguish between state-run and federally-facilitated exchanges, and just as clearly authorize tax credits only for purchasers through state-run, not federally-facilitated, exchanges.

The plaintiffs assert next that the government’s arguments are meritless and do not override the plain language of the text. The plaintiffs say that just because the ACA authorizes HHS to establish exchanges does not mean that those exchanges are “established by the State” (under Section 36B). They claim that the ACA’s instruction to HHS (under Section 18041(c)) to establish “such Exchange” if a state declines to create an exchange does not mean a state-run exchange (and thus turn a federally-facilitated exchange into a state-run exchange); instead, “such Exchange” only means “an exchange,” whichever entity operates it. The plaintiffs contend that the ACA does not authorize HHS to establish an exchange on behalf of a state (thus making a federally-facilitated exchange a state exchange); instead, it only authorizes HHS to establish a federally-facilitated exchange when a state refuses to establish a state exchange. They say that the ACA’s definition of “Exchange” as one established under Section 1331 does not help the government, but instead just creates confusion and thus clarifies that only exchanges “established by the State” trigger subsidies. And finally the plaintiffs contend that the government’s claim that exchanges are “established by the State” as a matter of law is simply belied by the plain text of the Act.

The plaintiffs argue that other provisions in the ACA support its interpretation. As an initial matter, the plaintiffs claim that Section 36B is the only provision in the ACA that defines the scope of the tax subsidy, and so Section 36B is the only provision that the Court need consult. But the plaintiffs say that other provisions, too, support their interpretation. In particular, the plaintiffs argue that other portions of the ACA expressly deem certain non-state entities (but not the federal government) to be “states,” that other portions treat state-run and federally-facilitated exchanges distinctly, and that other provisions show that Section 36B is the provision that sets the terms of the tax subsidy in all relevant respects. Taken together, the plaintiffs say that the ACA authorizes the tax subsidy only to purchasers on a state-run exchange.

The plaintiffs argue that their interpretation leads to only logical results. They say that conditioning tax subsidies on a state’s creation of an exchange is not inconsistent with Congress’s desire to extend subsidies nationwide. Indeed, they say, that might be the most effective way to achieve Congress’s goal. That’s because tax subsidies, so limited, provide a powerful incentive for states to create their own exchanges, and thus to extend subsidies nationwide. (The plaintiffs point to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision as an illustration of how the same ACA uses incentives to states to achieve policy objectives. The plaintiffs claim that the ACA uses tax subsidies for purchasers on a state-exchange to create a similar kind of incentive.) The plaintiffs argue that the ACA’s legislative history supports this interpretation, and they say that its interpretation harmonizes with other provisions in the ACA.

Finally, the plaintiffs argue that Chevron deference cannot save the IRS rule. They say that the text is unambiguous (as above). They also say that an act requiring tax credits must be unambiguous. And they claim that the IRS has no authority to interpret Section 36B, in any event, because Section 36B is codified in Title 42 of the U.S. Code and not the Internal Revenue Code. (For similar reasons, they claim that HHS has no authority to interpret tax laws.)

In response, the government argues first that the Act’s text shows that tax credits are available through both state-run and federally-facilitated exchanges. The government says that “an Exchange established by the State” in Section 36B is a term of art in the Act that includes both state-run and federally-facilitated exchanges. It says moreover that the phrase “such Exchange” in Section 18031(b)(1) means that a federally-facilitated exchange stands in for a state-run exchange, and that therefore tax credits are available under Section 36B to purchasers on both. The government contends that this reading is the only reading that would allow the federally-facilitated exchange to run just like a state-run exchange—and that even the plaintiffs acknowledge that the exchanges should function the same. Finally, the government says that other provisions of the Act—including the Act’s definition of “Exchange” as “an American Health Benefit Exchange established under section 18031”—support its interpretation.

The government argues that the Act’s structure and design confirm its interpretation. It says that nationwide tax credits are essential to the Act’s insurance-market reforms—and that the Act could not achieve its dual goals of increasing coverage and reducing costs without it. Indeed, given the Act’s other provisions, the government says that the plaintiffs’ position “would have disastrous consequences for the insurance markets in the affected States.” Moreover, the government contends that the availability of tax credits in every state is essential to the ACA’s model of cooperative federalism. The government says that the plaintiffs’ reading transforms the ACA’s promise of state flexibility regarding exchanges into a threat that states would suffer severe consequences (lack of affordable health insurance for low- and moderate-income residents), without clear warning from Congress.

The government argues that the history of the Act supports its interpretation, too. The government says that it was well understood when the ACA passed that some states would not establish exchanges for themselves. The government also says that the tax credits are not a condition on a federal spending program available to the states (and thus do not operate as an incentive for states to establish their own exchanges); instead, they are independent federal tax credits, available to federal taxpayers, by virtue of their purchase of health insurance on an exchange. And the government says that the legislative record confirms that Congress intended tax credits to apply in every state.

The government argues that the petitioners’ position would lead to contradictions and other absurd results, given the way other provisions in the Act work. Most notably, the government says, if the plaintiffs’ interpretation were correct, no individual would be eligible to purchase insurance on a federally-facilitated exchange, and no individual-market plans could be sold there. That’s because only a “qualified individual” can purchase individual-market policies on an exchange, and the Act defines “qualified individual” as one who “resides in the State that established the Exchange.” 42 U.S.C. § 18032(f)(1)(A)(ii). Under this definition, there are no qualified individuals in a state with a federally-facilitated exchange.

Finally, the government argues that even if the Act contained an ambiguity, the Court should grant Chevron deference to the IRS interpretation.

SIGNIFICANCE

This case is easily one of the most important cases of the Term, and even of the last several Terms. That’s because a ruling for the plaintiffs would mean that more than eight million people (and perhaps many more) could lose their health insurance, because they would lose their tax credit to purchase insurance at an affordable rate on a federally-facilitated exchange. It would mean that health insurance rates could skyrocket in states with a federally-facilitated exchange as much as 47 percent, according to a recent Rand Corporation study. And it would undermine a critical component of the Affordable Care Act, and probably (as a practical matter) lead to its ruin.

On the other hand, a ruling for the government would only keep the ACA operating as it is, forcing an unspecified (but probably very small) number of individuals to continue to purchase unwanted health insurance with the help of a federal tax credit. To be affected by a ruling for the government, an individual in a state with a federally-facilitated exchange, who did not want health insurance, would have to have just the right income so that the federal tax credit would push them out of an unaffordability exemption to the minimum coverage requirement. Opponents of the ACA who engineered this suit reportedly had difficulty finding individuals who fell into this category to act as plaintiffs. This may be an indication of just how few people are likely to be affected by a ruling for the government. It may also be further evidence that the real purpose of the case is not to protect these plaintiffs, but rather to dismantle the ACA.

Recognizing the importance of the case, amici too numerous to list here have weighed in on both sides. (The medical and insurance industries, at least so far as they participated in this case, favor the government. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is conspicuously absent from the case.) Print periodicals, blogs, and web-sites are filled with analyses, commentaries, and opinions on the case. Not surprisingly, opinions in these media tend to divide along party lines, revealing just how political this case is.

The Court has commonly accepted tools of statutory construction to help it sort this case out. And the parties have not seriously contested those tools. (Even strict textualists like Justices Scalia and Thomas have said that in a statutory case like this courts look to the language and the broader statutory context. The only real debate is over the significance of legislative history. But the justices probably don’t need legislative history to rule (one way or the other) in the case, anyway.) But just because there is agreement on the tools, that doesn’t mean that the case will be simple, or that the justices will all agree on the result. Indeed, as we have seen, the parties have interpreted the Act very differently, even using the same, or similar, tools of statutory construction. Justices on the Court are likely to divide sharply on the outcome, too, even if they apply the same tools.

Whatever the Court says, the Court’s ruling in the case certainly won’t end debates over the ACA. If the plaintiffs prevail, supporters of the ACA will move quickly to amend the Act to authorize tax credits for purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges, or to urge all states to create their own exchanges, or both. But there is little evidence that these tactics will work: the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to amend the Act, at least without using the case as a bargaining chip to exact significant concessions, which themselves would likely destroy the ACA; and states that declined to create their own exchanges would have little increased incentive to create an exchange (because they would recognize that the ruling would effectively unravel the Act). If the government prevails, opponents of the ACA will continue to rail against it, and vote against it in Congress. But unless and until they garner sufficient votes to override a certain veto by this president, or unless and until an opponent of the ACA moves into the White House, with a win here, the ACA will (continue to) be the law.

One final point: As this goes to press, there are serious questions, raised by Mother Jones and The Wall Street Journal, whether the plaintiffs suffered the kinds of harms that they alleged, and therefore whether they even have standing to bring this case. While neither the parties nor the Court have formally addressed the plaintiffs’ standing during this appeal, the government or the Court could raise it at any time. If so, and if the Court ultimately rules that the plaintiffs lacked standing, the Court would not address the merits of the case, thus leaving the tax credits comfortably in place, at least until opponents of the ACA can bring another case. That could happen quickly, if the D.C. Circuit resurrects its case. Or it could happen never, if opponents have the same standing problems in the D.C. Circuit case and if they have the same difficulties finding new plaintiffs that they had in this case.

March 3, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Can a State Use an Independent Redistricting Commission?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the case testing whether Arizona can use an independent commission (established by voter initiative, not by the legislature) to redraw congressional districts in light of the Election Clause's language that says that "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof . . . ."

At its core, the arguments turn on just how pliable the term "the Legislature" is: Does it mean only the state legislature (as the legislature would have it); or does it also mean the lawmaking power of the state (as the commission would have it)?

The Court and attorneys predictably turned to text and history. The precedent, such as it is, wasn't much help.

Paul Clement, for the legislature, argued that the commission completely cuts the legislature out, by "permanently wresting that authority." It'd be a harder case, he conceded, if there were some role for the legislature. That prompted questions by Justices Kennedy and Kagan about voter-referendum-approved efforts like voter ID, or judge-drawn districts in the context of litigation: Don't those cut the legislature out completely? Clement argued that those initiatives actually delegate authority to the state legislature, not away from it. As to judge-drawn districts (a question from Justice Kennedy), Clement said that the Constitution requires the plan to go to the legislature. They also turned to line-drawing: If "the Legislature" means only the legislature, how can the legislature allow for so many exceptions (that is, how can the legislature allow any role for any other body, like a gubernatorial veto)? And doesn't the legislature still have a role under the commission system? Can't it initiate a referendum? Clement said no to this last point (although he conceded that the legislature could initiate a voter initiate, like anyone else). Still, there was some concern about where and how to draw lines.

The government, as amicus, argued that the legislature lacked standing. But this didn't gain any traction with the Court, and basically fizzled out.

Justices Scalia and Alito hit Seth Waxman, for the commission, with a series of questions about what "the legislature" means in other parts of the Constitution. Justice Kennedy jumped in with the history of state legislative appointments to the Senate, and the overriding Seventeenth Amendment. (It took the Seventeenth Amendment to take state legislatures out of Senate appointments. Why take state legislatures out of congressional line-drawing (without an amendment) here?) Waxman responded that the Court's interpretations favored the commission; but that response didn't seem to satisfy. (Again, the precedent didn't seem to persuade anyone much either way.) When Waxman turned to dictionaries to help him out, Justice Scalia (of all the Justices) pounced: "You've plucked that out of a couple of dictionaries!" Maybe this wasn't so surprising, though: Justice Scalia seemed to believe that he could decide the case on the text alone, and the idea that no other constitutional reference to "the legislature" means anything other than the legislature. Chief Justice Roberts added force when he wondered why Waxman's interpretation didn't make "the Legislature" superfluous. Waxman fell back on an argument that the Framers understood that the same word could mean different things in different contexts, but this point fell flat.

Clement at one point said that the legislature's position wouldn't foreclose the use of an independent commission to draw state legislative boundaries, and that in this way the people (and their commission) could influence the direction of the state legislature and thus influence the state legislature's congressional district map. He also said that it'd be a harder case if the commission didn't completely divest the legislature of all power in the map-drawing process.

If the people of Arizona are looking for a way to influence congressional district maps after this case, these may be all that's left.

March 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Oral Argument Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Senate Republicans Say They Have a Health Care Plan

Senators Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander, and John Barrasso wrote in WaPo that Republicans now have a plan for health care, should the Supreme Court strike the IRS subsidies for health-insurance purchasers on a federally facilitated exchange in King v. Burwell. The plan apparently involves "financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period." It also involves giving states "the freedom and flexibility to create better, more competitive health insurance markets offering more options and different choices." But the senators are short on detail.

There's another problem. While Hatch, Alexander, and Barrasso claim that "Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by" the loss of IRS subsidies (should Obamacare opponents win in King), the most they can say is that "there is a good deal of consensus on how to proceed" among congressional Republicans.

March 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Morrison on Arizona Redistricting

Prof. Alan Morrison (GWU) offers his take on Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in this ACS Issue Brief. The case, scheduled for argument on March 2, tests whether Arizona's independent redistricting commission violates the Elections Clause and 2 U.S.C. Sec. 2a(c), and whether the state legislature has standing to bring the challenge.

The state legislature claims that the Commission (created by ballot initiative) violates the Elections Clause because it takes out of the hands of "the Legislature" the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives."

Morrison argues that Arizona's commission is the state's "second effort at electoral reform," after the Court struck its public financing system in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett. He says that gerrymandering reformers "should be rooting hard that the Court rejects the position of the Arizona legislature."

We'll post our oral argument preview soon.

February 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

NJ Trial Judge Overturns Christie's Pension Cuts

A New Jersey trial judge today ruled that Governor Chris Christie's cut to the state's public pension system violated the state and federal contracts clauses. Along the way, the judge also ruled that the state's contractual obligation to fund its public pension system did not violate the state constitutional Debt Limitations Clause and Appropriations Clause, and did not impermissibly infringe on the governor's line-item veto power. Oh, and she also ruled that the trial court had jurisdiction over the case, and that it didn't present a political question.

In a case that "implicate[s] the fragile balance at the heart of the legislative process . . . where political, constitutional, and judicial forces appear to collide," this ruling has a little something for everyone.

As a result of earlier litigation, the state has a statutory obligation to fund its public pension system. And the statute is written to create a contract right on the part of public employees--so that any decision not to fully fund the system immediately implicates the state and federal contract clauses. So when Governor Christie wielded his line-item veto pen to cut the state contribution out of the legislature's appropriation bill (because of unexpectedly low revenues), the plaintiffs were waiting in the wings with their contracts clause claims. And the judge agreed with them. That part of the ruling is unremarkable.

But the Governor's creative defenses--and the court's rejection of them--demand some attention. The governor argued that the statutory obligation to fund the public pension system violated the state constitutional Debt Limitations Clause (which limits state borrowing burdens) and the Appropriations Clause. Moreover, Governor Christie said that the statutory obligation intruded upon his executive power to veto legislation. The court reviewed the text, history, and cases on the relevant state constitutional provisions and concluded that they did not override the state's statutory obligation to fund its public pension system.

The ruling means that the state has to find $1.57 billion to fund the system. Governor Christie will likely appeal.

February 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Contract Clause, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Fifth Circuit to Rehear Off-School Speech Case

The Fifth Circuit last week granted a school district's petition for rehearing en banc in a case involving off-campus student speech. The grant means that the full Fifth Circuit will get a crack at the issue whether and how off-school student speech critical of a school employee, but not otherwise disrupting the school, is protected under the First Amendment.

The case, Bell v. Itawamba County School Board, arose when a high school student was suspended for recording and posting on his Facebook page a rap song criticizing, with vulgar and violent lyrics, two named male athletic coaches for sexually harassing female students at the school. The student, Taylor Bell, wrote the song, recorded it, and posted it off campus, at facilities unrelated to the school. While students heard the song, they shouldn't have heard it at school--no cell phones, no Facebook on campus--and it didn't cause any disruption or interference with school activities. So the majority on the three-judge panel reversed the district court and ruled for Bell:

[T]he Supreme Court's "student-speech" cases, including Tinker, do not address students' speech that occurs off campus and not at a school-approved event. The Court has not decided whether, or, if so, under what circumstances, a public school may regulate students' online, off-campus speech, and it is not necessary or appropriate for us to anticipate such a decision here. Even if Tinker were applicable to the instant case, the evidence does not support the conclusion, as required by Tinker, that Bell's Internet-posted song substantially disrupted the school's work and discipline or that school officials reasonably could have forecasted that it would do so.

Given that the Court hasn't ruled on the issue, this may be one to watch.

February 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Philly DA Sues to Stop Death Penalty Reprieve

Philadelphia DA Seth Williams filed suit in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to stop Governor Tom Wolf from implementing his death penalty moratorium and reprieve for a certain condemned prisoner. DA Williams argues that Wolf exceeded his state constitutional authority in issuing these, because the governor has no power to issue a moratorium, and because the reprieve is really only a moratorium, beyond the scope of gubernatorial power.

On January 13, 2015, former Governor Tom Corbett issues a warrant scheduling Terrance Williams's execution for March 4. (Defendant Williams was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy and sentenced to death.) Then on January 20, 2015, new Governor Tom Wolf, who said during his campaign that he'd issue a moratorium on the death penalty, did so. The moratorium runs "until the [bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission] has produced its recommendation and all concerns [with the death penalty] are addressed satisfactorily."

Pursuant to the moratorium, Wolf also issued a reprieve for Defendant Williams, again, "until I have received and reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, and any recommendations contained therein are satisfactorily addressed."

DA Williams then filed this emergency case in the state high court, arguing that Wolf's actions exceeded his authority and violated the Pennsylvania constitutional Take Care Clause.

Here's the state constitutional reprieve power, in Article IV, Sec. 9(a):

In all criminal cases except impeachment the Governor shall have the power to remit fines and forfeitures, to grant reprieves, commutation of sentences and pardons; but no pardon shall be granted, nor sentence commuted, except on the recommendation in writing of a majority of the Board of Pardons, and, in the case of a sentence of death or life imprisonment, on the unanimous recommendation in writing of the Board of Pardons, after full hearing in open session, upon due public notice.

Under this provision, Wolf's reprieve isn't subject to approval by the Board of Pardons. But DA Williams argues that it's not really a reprieve, because it's not temporary. (It ceases when the Commission issues its report and all concerns are addressed--maybe never.) Instead, DA Williams says it's a permanent moratorium, that the governor has no authority to issue a permanent moratorium, and that the actions violate the state constitutional Take Care Clause.

If DA Williams is successful, the suit could stop Wolf's moratorium, and even his reprieve, resetting Defendant Williams's execution for March 4. If he's not successful, however, this could  mark the beginning of the end of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

February 19, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Government to Comply with District Court DAPA Injunction

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that the government would comply with the  temporary injunction issued late yesterday by Judge Andrew S. Hanen (S.D. Tex.) halting implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, program. But the government will appeal.

Here's Judge Hanen's opinion.

Judge Hanen's ruling is based on the APA, and did not address the Take Care Clause argument. The first 60 pages is dedicated to standing. We previously posted on the case here.

February 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Marshals Immune in Shooting

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that deputy federal marshals enjoyed qualified immunity from a suit for damages after they shot a 16-year-old driver who hit another marshal as he drove out of an apartment parking lot.

The case, Fenwick v. Pudimott, arose after three deputy federal marshals observed Fenwick, a 16-year-old, struggling to park a car in the lot. Fenwick exited the vehicle, entered the apartment building, and came back to his car. As he backed up, the officers instructed him to halt. Instead, he drove forward toward the parking lot exit and clipped one of the officers. The other officers fired shots and struck Fenwick with four bullets. Fenwick recovered and sued.

The D.C. Circuit held that the officers enjoyed qualified immunity from suit, because, under the second prong of Saucier v. Katz, their use of deadly force didn't violate a clearly established constitutional right. The court noted that Fenwick "posed no immediate threat to either officers or bystanders when [the officers] opened fire," but also that the officers saw pedestrians and other vehicles in the vicinity just before the shooting, and that Fenwick hit one of the officers with the car. This was enough for the court to hold that the officer's use of deadly force wasn't clearly unconstitutional.

Still, the court saw it as a very close case. Given that, and undoubtedly conscious of recent instances of police abuses around the country, the court issued this caution:

[W]e emphasize that nothing in this opinion should be read to suggest that qualified immunity will shield from liability every law enforcement officer in this circuit who fires on a fleeing motorist out of asserted concern for other officers and bystanders. Outside the context of a "dangerous high-speed car chase," deadly force, as the Supreme Court made clear in Garner, ordinarily may not be used to apprehend a fleeing suspect who poses no immediate threat to others--whether or not the suspect is behind the wheel.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, who concurred, didn't see it as so close. Citing the Court's ruling last Term in Plumhoff v. Rickard (holding that officers' use of deadly force to stop a driver in a high-speed chase didn't violate the Fourth Amendment), she would have resolved the case on Saucier's first prong--that the use of deadly force didn't violate the Constitution.

February 13, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Fourth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Standing in King v. Burwell

There's no shortage of opinion on standing in King v. Burwell, the case testing whether the IRS had authority under the Affordable Care Act to grant tax credits to purchasers of health insurance through a federally-facilitated (not state-run) exchange. The Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones wrote about the standing problems first, but now there's coverage all around the internet. 

Still, neither the government nor the Court has said anything about it.

The Court can consider the plaintiffs' standing anytime, and on its own motion. If it rules that the plaintiffs in this case lack standing, surely there will be efforts to find new plaintiffs.

But remember: The parallel case in the D.C. Circuit--which first came down the same day as King--is still in abeyance pending the outcome of King. If the Court dismisses King for lack of standing, the D.C. Circuit would likely lift its case out of abeyance and put the issue back before the Supreme Court relatively quickly (or at least quicker than ACA opponents could scrounge up new plaintiffs and start all over).

February 13, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

White House Sends AUMF Against ISIS to Congress

The White House today sent its long-awaited authorization for use of military force against ISIS (or ISIL) to Congress. Here's the accompanying letter from the President.

The draft AUMF authorizes the President to use "necessary and appropriate" military force against "ISIL or associated persons or forces." (The draft defines "associated persons or forces" as "individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.") The draft has a three-year duration, and specifically excludes the use of U.S. troops in "enduring offensive ground operations," but it contains no geographic restriction on the use of force.

The draft would also revoke the 2002 AUMF against Iraq. However, it does not revoke (or otherwise address) the sweeping 2001 AUMF, although President Obama calls for refinement, and ultimately revocation, in his accompanying letter.

The draft acknowledges that "the United States has taken military action against ISIL" already, and cites "its inherent right of individual and collective self-defense" as authority for that prior action. Last fall, the President cited his Article II powers and the 2001 AUMF as authority for military action against ISIS and the Khorasan Group.

February 11, 2015 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Massachusetts Extends Right to Counsel in Private Guardianship

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a parent in a private guardianship proceeding is entitled to counsel as a matter of due process. (The court previously ruled that a parent in a private adoption proceeding enjoyed that same right.) The case provides a categorical right to counsel under Massachusetts law, and thus stands in contrast to the case-by-case approach to a parent's federal due process right to counsel in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services.

The case, Guardianship of V.V., involved a guardianship proceeding between a minor's mother and great-grandmother. The mother was not initially represented by counsel when the lower courts awarded guardianship to the great-grandmother, although the mother obtained a lawyer later in the proceedings.

By the time the Supreme Judicial Court had a chance to rule, the case had become moot. That's because the minor was back with the mother. (The court said that the case was not moot on account of the mother obtaining a lawyer later in the proceeding. The court said the point was that the mother didn't have an attorney at the initial guardianship proceeding.) Still, the court said that the issue was capable of repetition but evading review--that it was an issue sure to come up again, and, because of the quick turn-around in guardianship cases, likely to evade appellate review.

The court held that the weighty interests and due process considerations in guardianship proceedings meant that parties to a guardianship proceeding had a categorical right to counsel. The court also noted that the state, by statute, provided counsel to parties to a guardianship proceeding where the state is a party, and that the same interests are at stake in a private guardianship proceeding.

February 10, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Illinois Governor Lodges Full Frontal Assault on Public Sector Fair Share

Newly elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) late yesterday issued an executive order that halted enforcement of the fair share provisions in state union contracts with state employees. At the same time, he filed a preemptive federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that his EO was constitutional.

The pair of moves (especially the unusual lawsuit) can only be understood as a full frontal assault on whatever is left of public sector fair share under the First Amendment after last Term's ruling in Harris v. Quinn. (And there's not much left.) Indeed, the lawsuit seems specifically engineered only to put Abood, the 1977 case upholding public sector fair share requirements, before the Court again and to topple it once and for all.

"Fair share" fees are those fees charged to nonunion members in a union shop. They're designed to cover union expenses that benefit all employees (union or not), like collective bargaining. The Supreme Court ruled in Abood in 1977 that fair share fee requirements do not violate the First Amendment (as compelled speech and association), because they are justified in order to avoid free-riding by nonunion members (that is, nonunion members who benefit from the union's activities, but fail to pay union dues) and to promote labor peace. Without fair share fee requirements, public sector unions could be hard-pressed to gain membership or collect any fees. That's because without fair share requirements every individual employee might rationally think that he or she could duck out of union membership and fees and free-ride on the union's bargaining. If enough employees think this, the unions could disappear.

The Supreme Court in recent years has chipped away at Abood, first in Knox v. Service Employees (2012) and then in Harris v. Quinn (2013). Abood's definitely holding on by just a string, but the Court hasn't specifically overruled it.

Governor Rauner's actions seem designed to do just that. Rauner's EO, halting fair share enforcement, is based on his worry that "the collective bargaining agreements force some employees to subsidize and enable union activities that they do not support," and "Illinois state employee unions are using compelled "fair share" fees to fund inherently political activities to influence the outcome of core public sector issues."

But Illinois law permits the collection of fair share fees only for nonunion members' "proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment . . . ." 5 ILCS 315/6. It does not permit collection of fair share fees for other activities, like political advocacy. Thus, Illinois law is fully constitutional and comports with Abood. (Again, even if Abood is on its way out, it's still the law of the land.) Still, Governor Rauner's EO takes it head-on.

To punctuate the EO, Governor Rauner then filed a preemptive suit against the unions in federal court seeking declaratory relief that his EO is constitutional. This sounds like a nonjusticiable political question, or like Rauner lacks standing, or like the whole thing isn't yet ripe. (Shouldn't the unions be suing?) But Rauner has an answer for this (strange as it sounds): The EO renders null and void the fair share provisions in the state's collective bargaining agreements, thus creating a controversy between the Governor and unions.

The aggressive EO and the strangeness of the suit can only mean that Governor Rauner is taking on public sector fair share and Abood full force--that he's doing it because he wants his name on the case overturning Abood.

February 10, 2015 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Japan's Abe Plans to Revise Pacifist Constitution

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been making noises about revising the country's pacifist constitution--and this time not just in the interpretation. The talk comes in the wake of, and in apparent reaction to, the recent killings of two Japanese hostages by ISIS.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the pacifist provision, reads:

Renunciation of War. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Recall that PM Abe previously interpreted Article 9 to allow collective self-defense. This time, the buzz is that Abe will move to amend the text.

The Japan Times reports here.

February 5, 2015 in Comparative Constitutionalism, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Baude on the Supreme Court's Secret Decisions

Check out William Baude's (U. Chicago) NYT op-ed, The Supreme Court's Secret Decisions, on the many and important under-the-radar decisions that the Supreme Court makes in its orders docket and through summary reversals. Baude calls these the "shadow docket," and argues for more transparency.

Baude's op-ed is a condensed version of his recently posted Foreward: The Supreme Court's Shadow Docket, forthcoming in the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty.

February 3, 2015 in News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 2, 2015

D.C. Circuit Affirms Order for One Study, but not Two, for Ads with Health Claims

The D.C. Circuit on Friday affirmed an FTC order that required POM Wonderful, LLC, to support future ads with claims of health benefits with one scientific study. But at the same time, the court said that a Commission order requiring two studies went too far.

The case, POM Wonderful, LLC v. FTC, arose out of a Commission finding that POM Wonderful engaged in false, misleading, and unsubstantiated representations in its advertisements in violation of the FTC Act. In particular, the Commission found that POM Wonderful made unsubstantiated claims that regular consumption of POM products could treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.

The full Commission voted to hold POM Wonderful and associated parties liable for violating the FTC Act and order them to stop making misleading and inadequately supported health claims. The Commission's order also barred POM Wonderful from running future ads asserting that its products treat or prevent any disease unless it has at least two randomized, controlled human clinical trials demonstrating statistically significant results.

The D.C. Circuit ruled that POM Wonderful's ads weren't protected by the First Amendment (because they were false or misleading), and that the Commission therefore had authority to punish or prohibit them. The court also said that the First Amendment allowed the Commission to require one scientific study to support any future health-benefit claims:

Requiring RCT substantiation as a forward-looking remedy is perfectly commensurate with the Commission's assessment of liability for petitioners' past conduct: if past claims were deceptive in the absence of RCT substantiation, requiring RCTs for future claims is tightly tethered to the goal of preventing deception. To be sure, the liability determination concerned claims about three specific diseases whereas the remedial order encompasses claims about any disease. But that broadened scope is justified by petitioners' demonstrated propensity to make deceptive representations about the health benefits of their products, and also by the expert testimony supporting the necessity of RCTs to establish causation for disease-related claims generally. For purposes of Central Hudson scrutiny, then, the injunctive order's requirement of some RCT substantiation for disease claims directly advances, and is not more extensive than necessary to serve, the interest in preventing misleading commercial speech.

But the court rejected the order for two studies. That's because the Commission failed "adequately to justify a categorical floor of two RCTs for any and all disease claims."

The court rejected POM Wonderful's related statutory claims.

February 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Latest Challenge to Obamacare

Ohio AG Mike DeWine this week sued the federal government for levying an assessment against the state under the ACA's Transitional Reinsurance Program. DeWine argues that the federal assessment on the state violates the text of the ACA (which, he says, doesn't authorize the government to levy this assessment on the states), the Tenth Amendment, the anti-commandeering principle, and intergovernmental tax immunity.

Under the Transitional Reinsurance Program, the federal government collects a contribution from health insurers and self-insurers (or their administrators) in order to off-set the costs of high-risk individuals in the individual health insurance market and thus to stabilize premiums in the individual market. Part of the proceeds also goes to the general fund of the Treasury. The contributions are in effect from 2014 through 2016.

AG DeWine claims that the federal government wrongfully assessed his state $5.3 million. (Ohio self-insures its employees.) He claims that the ACA didn't authorize this, and that it violates various federalism principles in the Constitution:

71. Had Congress applied this tax directly against State and local governments, which it did not, such a tax would violate the "residuary and inviolable sovereignty" that the United States Constitution leaves to the several States in our federalism system . . . .

72. Especially here, where the tax is not imposed as a "user fee" on States or local governments and where the tax is specifically designed to raise more revenue for the federal government than will be allocated to the reinsurance program (with certain amounts of the tax revenues indeed designed as monies that "may not be used for the program established under this section," 42 U.S.C. Sec 18061(b)(4)), such a direct tax against the State and its instrumentalities would breach our federal Constitution's vertical separation of powers.

73. The federal government lacks authority under the United States Constitution to levy such broad-based, revenue-generating taxes against the States and their instrumentalities.

January 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Brennan Center on Citizens United and Campaign Spending

The Brennan Center's Daniel Weiner recently released Citizens United Five Years Later, the Center's latest in an outstanding series of reports on Citizens United, campaign spending, and the 2014 elections.

Weiner writes that the case's biggest impact hasn't been increased corporate spending (although corporate spending has increased). Instead, Citizens United and other cases have led to a huge increase in spending by super-wealthy mega-donors:

Perhaps most important, the singular focus on the decision's empowerment of for-profit corporations to spend in (and perhaps dominate) our elections may be misplaced. Although their influence has increased, for-profit corporations have not been the most visible beneficiaries of the Court's jurisprudence. Instead--thanks to super-PACs and a variety of other entities that can raise unlimited funds after Citizens United--the biggest money (that can be traced) has come from an elite club of wealthy mega-donors. These individuals--fewer than 200 people and their spouses--has bankrolled nearly 60 percent of all super-PAC spending since 2010.

And while spending by this wealthy club has exploded, we have seen neither the increased diversity of voices that the Citizens United majority imagined, nor a massive upsurge in total election spending. In fact, for the first time in decades, the total number of reported donors has begun to fall, as has the total contributed by small donors (giving $200 or less). In 2014, the top 100 donors to super-PACs spent almost as much as all 4.75 million small donors combined.

A sobering picture.

Weiner's "can be traced" parenthetical gets some attention in the report, too, where Weiner discusses dark money, "independent" groups, and reporting requirements (or the lack of reporting requirements)--all features of a post-Citizens United world.

Here's Weiner on Tweet the Press with Chuck Todd. And here's the Brennan Center's Ciara Torres-Spelliscy on what Congress should do about it.

January 26, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

No Remedy for Inmate when Authorities take Medical Settlement for Cost of Incarceration

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Shinault v. Hawks that a state has to provide pre-deprivation notice and hearing before it freezes funds in an inmate's trust account to recover the cost of his incarceration. But at the same time, the court said that this rule wasn't "clearly established" at the time, so the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity. The court also rejected the inmate's Eighth Amendment claim.

The upshot is that prison authorities took more than $60,000 of an inmate's money--money from a settlement for a medical liability claim--in violation of procedural due process. But according to the Ninth Circuit, the inmate has no recourse against the officers.

Lester Shinault received a $107,417.48 settlement from a medical claim against a drug manufacturer who products (prescribed while Shinault was not in custody) caused him to develop diabetes. Shinault's attorney deposited the money in his inmate trust account.

Prison authorities then ordered Shinault to pay $65,353.94 to cover the cost of his incarceration. On the same day that Shinault requested a hearing, authorities transferred this amount from his trust account into a "reserved miscellaneous" sub-account in Shinault's name, but which Shinault could not access. An ALJ ruled against Shinault (in a hearing where Shinault didn't have an attorney and struggled mightily to represent himself), and about a year later authorities withdrew $61,352.39.

Shinault sued, arguing that the withdraw violated procedural due process and the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment against him.

The Ninth Circuit held that authorities violated procedural due process under the Mathews v. Eldridge balancing test, because they failed to provide a pre-deprivation hearing prior to freezing the funds. But it also held that the violation wasn't "clearly established" at the time (because it couldn't find precedent directly on point, and because it said that procedural due process questions were fact specific, that is, not determined until a particular case is litigated), so the officials enjoyed qualified immunity.

In other words, the court said it wasn't "clearly established" that authorities had to provide a pre-deprivation hearing before freezing over $60,000.00 that Shinault obtained from a settlement with a drug company whose products caused him to develop diabetes. Because this wasn't "clearly established," the defendants enjoyed immunity, and Shinault has no claim against them for return of his money.

The court also held that authorities did not violate Shinault's Eighth Amendment rights, because "no authority supports the notion that freezing or withdrawing funds from an inmate account constitutes deliberate denial of care under the Eighth Amendment."

January 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)