Thursday, February 23, 2017
The WZB Berlin Social Science Center, the European University Institute, and the London School for Economics and Political Science invite submissions for the Inaugural Annual European Junior Faculty Forum for Public Law and Jurisprudence, to be held at WZB Berlin Social Science Center on June 28 and 29, 2017.
Authors may be invited to publish in Global Constitutionalism.
Check out Ben Wofford's interview at Politico with David Cole (Georgetown), the ACLU's recently appointed legal director. Cole talks about the ACLU agenda for the Trump presidency, and, drawing on his book, Engines of Liberty, and his essay in the NY Review of Books, how lawyers, academics, and citizens can hold a president accountable and make constitutional change.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
The en banc Fourth Circuit yesterday upheld Maryland's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines against a Second Amendment challenge. The ruling reverses an earlier panel decision and puts the circuit in line with other circuits that have ruled on the issue. (We posted on the earlier panel ruling here.)
The court said first that assault weapons aren't even protected by the Second Amendment. Quoting Heller, the majority wrote, "Because the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are 'like' 'M-16 rifles'--'weapons that are most useful in military service'--they are among those arms that the Second Amendment does not shield."
The court said next that even if the Second Amendment applied, the ban satisfied intermediate scrutiny. (The court applied intermediate scrutiny, not strict, because Maryland's ban "does not severely burden the core protection of the Second Amendment, i.e., the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms for self-defense in the home.") The court wrote that the ban is "reasonably adapted" to the state's "substantial" (indeed, compelling) interest in public safety, because assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are especially dangerous and are disproportionately used in crime and to kill law enforcement officers. The court also noted that the ban did not regulate the more typical weapon used in the home for self-defense (the core of the Second Amendment right, under Heller)--the handgun.
The court also ruled that the ban didn't violate equal protection by allowing retired police officers to possess assault weapons, because police officers are highly trained, and thus not situated similarly to civilians. Finally, the court held that the ban on "copies" of assault weapons wasn't unconstitutionally vague, because the term ("copy") is sufficiently clear under well established Maryland law.
The ruling drew a sharp dissent and several other opinions.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Hernandez v. Mesa, the case testing whether the family of a Mexican youth can sue a border patrol agent for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations for shooting and killing the youth while the agent was on the U.S. side of the border, but the youth was in the concrete border culvert, 60 feet into Mexico.
The parties briefed three issues--whether a formalist or functionalist approach governs the Fourth Amendment's application outside the U.S., whether the officer enjoyed qualified immunity for the Fifth Amendment violation, and whether Bivens provided a remedy--but only two were really on display today: the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment, and Bivens. And if the arguments are any prediction, it looks like a closely divided Court could rule for the agent. But the case could also be a good candidate for re-argument, when a ninth Justice joins the Court.
The plaintiffs' biggest problem was defining a workable test for the application of the Fourth Amendment. The formalist approach has the benefit of providing a bright-line for the application of the Fourth Amendment--the actual border. But the functional approach (or something like it) is more flexible in a situation like this, where the difference in a remedy could (absurdly, to some) be measured in the 60-foot distance between Hernandez and the U.S. border when he was shot.
Trying to walk a line between a rigid-border approach and a functional approach without any clear and determinate limits, the plaintiffs argued for a test that would apply the Fourth Amendment only in the culvert area straddling the border--an area that includes both U.S. and Mexican territory, but just barely. They justified this case-specific approach on the number of cross-border shootings that occurred of late: a particular problem demands a particular solution.
Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan seemed on board with this approach; Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito did not. If the Court splits 4-4 on the issue (as seems likely), the lower court ruling simply stays in place. That ruling said that neither the Fourth nor Fifth Amendment applied, and that Hernandez therefore had no federal constitutional remedy.
But whatever the Court says about the "extraterritorial" application of the Fourth Amendment, there's another issue--a threshold one: Bivens. Here, the Justices seemed to divide along conventional political lines. Justice Kennedy well outlined the conservatives' case when he asked the plaintiffs this:
Since 1988, this Court has not recognized a single Bivens action. We look for special considerations. You've indicated that there's a problem all along the border. Why doesn't that counsel us that this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs where the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be? It seems to me that this is an extraordinary case for us to say there's a Bivens action in light of what we've done since 1988 where we haven't created a single one.
The four conventional progressives pushed back, equally hard.
If the Court divides 4-4 on Bivens, as seems likely, it might not matter to the outcome, because a 4-4 split on extraterritoriality would hand the win to Mesa, the border agent. But a 4-4 split on Bivens would leave open a substantial question that the Court itself directed the parties to answer: does Bivens provide a remedy here? Because there's no lower-court ruling on Bivens (the en banc Fifth Circuit did not address the issue, and only reinstated the non-Bivens portions of the panel ruling), a 4-4 split would not even leave in a place a lower court ruling. Given that the Court itself added this question--suggesting that it would like an answer--a 4-4 split may mean that the Court holds this case over for re-argument with a ninth Justice.
Friday, February 17, 2017
The Eleventh Circuit ruled yesterday that Florida's law banning doctors from asking patients about gun ownership violated the First Amendment. The en banc court struck three key provisions of Florida's law, but upheld a fourth, banning discrimination against gun owners.
Florida's Firearms Owners' Privacy Act bans doctors from asking about guns in patients' homes, from keeping records on patient gun ownership, from "unnecessarily" harassing patients about gun ownership, and from discriminating against patients based on gun ownership. The legislature enacted the provisions after hearing about six instances involving doctors asking patients about gun ownership or discriminating against patients because of gun ownership.
Doctors sued, arguing that the provisions violated free speech. The court agreed (again, except for the anti-discrimination provision).
The court held that FOPA was a content-based restriction on speech, subject to the heightened-review standard in Sorrell v. IMS, and that FOPA failed to stand up. (Because FOPA failed under heightened review, the majority said that it didn't need to consider whether strict scrutiny applied. Judges Wilson and Martin would have applied strict scrutiny, however, arguing that FOPA is both content- and viewpoint-based. Judge Tjoflat dissented, taking issue with the majority's failure "to elucidate and apply a particularized standard of review," especially in wake of the "uncertainty" created by Reed v. Town of Gilbert.) In a separate majority opinion, the court said that the anti-unnecessary harassment provision was unconstitutionally vague.
Florida proffered four interests: protecting Second Amendment rights; protecting patient privacy; ensuring equal access to health care; and regulating the medical profession to protect the public. The court said that FOPA's wasn't necessary to achieve any of these.
As to the Second Amendment, the court said that doctors can't violate it, because they're not state actors, and because the Second Amendment doesn't protect against questions on gun ownership:
The first problem is that there was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients' firearms or otherwise infringed on patients' Second Amendment rights. This evidentiary void is not surprising because doctors and medical professionals, as private actors, do not have any authority (legal or otherwise) to restrict the ownership or possession of firearms by patients (or by anyone else for that matter). The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right.
As to the state's interest in protecting patient privacy, the court noted that the FOPA itself, in a provision not contested in this case, protects a patient's right not to answer questions about gun ownership. "So any patients who have privacy concerns about information concerning their firearm ownership can simply refuse to answer questions on this topic." Moreover, "Florida law already places significant limits on the disclosure of a patient's confidential medical records, and there is no evidence that doctors or medical professionals have been improperly disclosing patients' information about firearm ownership."
As to ensuring equal access to health care, the court noted that it upheld FOPA's anti-discrimination provision, and that the other challenged provisions in FOPA simply weren't narrowly tailored to promote that interest.
Finally, as to the state's interest in regulating the medical profession "in order to protect the public," the court said that this just "is not enough here." "There is no claim, much less any evidence, that routine questions to patients about the ownership of firearms are medically inappropriate, ethically problematic, or practically ineffective. Nor is there any contention (or, again, any evidence) that blanket questioning on the topic of firearm ownership is leading to bad, unsound, or dangerous medical advice."
Judge Marcus, in a separate majority opinion, added that the anti-unnecessary-harassment provision was unconstitutionally vague.
The court upheld the anti-discrimination provision, because it raised no First Amendment concerns as applied to non-expressive conduct such as "failing to return messages, charging more for the same services, declining reasonable appointment times, not providing test results on a timely basis, or delaying treatment because a patient (or a parent of a patient) owns firearms."
The court severed the record-keeping, inquiry, and anti-harassment provisions, so that other provisions of the FOPA stay on the books. These include a provision relating to firearm inquiries by emergency medical professionals, a provision allowing patients to decline to answer questions about firearm ownership, the anti-discrimination provision, a provision prohibiting insurers from discriminating against gun owners, and a provision stating that a violation of any of these constitutes grounds for disciplinary action.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Check out Jared Goldstein's (Roger Williams) piece in Slate, on How Trump's immigration ban explicitly smears Muslims as being potentially hostile to the Constitution.
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a lower court should go ahead and rule on a First Amendment challenge to Tennessee's Campaign Finance Disclosure Act, and not wait for the outcome of a state administrative proceeding in a different case. The court also hinted toward a likely outcome: the Act violates the First Amendment.
The decision overturns the lower court's invocation of Pullman abstention and orders the lower court to move ahead to the merits. But the Sixth Circuit still gave the lower court a chance to certify interpretation of the state law to the Tennessee Supreme Court (but suggested that this wouldn't really help).
The case arose when two parents of school-aged children formed an unincorporated group to advocate in an upcoming school board election. The group planned to spend less than $250 on independent expenditures, and not make any direct campaign contributions to candidates.
But group members learned that Tennessee law might regulate their activities. The Tennessee Campaign Financial Disclosure Act defines a "political campaign committee" as "a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political part governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure." The Act goes on to require committees to pay an annual registration fee, appoint a treasurer, maintain a separate bank account, file financial disclosure statements, and keep financial records--all things that the two members weren't prepared to do.
So they sued in federal court, arguing that the Act violated the First Amendment. But the district court punted, invoking Pullman abstention, and citing a pending state administrative proceeding involving the application of the Act to a different group.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court said that Pullman abstention wasn't appropriate here, because the state administrative proceeding dealt with different issues (and not the ones that the plaintiffs raised here), because the Act wasn't "so ambiguous as to necessitate abstention," and because the Act wasn't really susceptible to a limiting construction that would save it from a First Amendment challenge.
The court left open an option for the district court to certify a question on the construction of the Act to the Tennessee Supreme Court. But it also suggested that certification wouldn't do any good, because the Act says what it says.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Eighth Circuit Says Restrictions on University Trademark for Student NORML Group Violate Free Speech
The Eighth Circuit ruled yesterday that Iowa State University's restrictions on NORML's use of the school's trademark violates the First Amendment. The court said that the restrictions amounted to viewpoint-based discrimination in a limited public forum and enjoined the school from applying its trademark-use policy in a viewpoint-discriminatory way.
The case arose when the ISU student NORML group sought university permission to use the school's trademark on NORML t-shirts. (The school's trademark-use policy allows any student group, including NORML, to use the trademark upon request and permission.) The shirt design featured the words "NORML ISU" on the front with the "O" represented by Cy the Cardinal, the school's mascot. The back read, "Freedom is NORML at ISU" with a small cannabis leaf above "NORML."
The school initially approved the group's use of the school's trademark for the t-shirt. But then the Des Moines Register ran a story on marijuana legalization, with a picture of the shirt and a quote from NORML ISU's president saying that ISU has supported the group. The school received blowback, including calls from the state legislature and governor's office asking whether the school really approved the use of its trademark, and university officials backtracked. Officials denied the use of the trademark for a second run of the shirt; they required NORML (and NORML alone) to get additional administrative approval for any future trademark requests; and they changed their trademark policy to prohibit the use of the trademark in "designs that suggest promotion of . . . dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors . . . [or] drugs and drug paraphernalia that are illegal or unhealthful." Under the new policy, the school denied NORML's request to use the trademark for any design that included a cannabis leaf, but it approved use of the trademark for a design that simply stated the group's name (with no leaf).
Group members sued and won a permanent injunction in the district court, prohibiting the school from enforcing is trademark-use policy in a viewpoint-discriminatory way. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.
The court held that the university created a limited public forum in its trademark-use policy, and that the additional barriers to that policy that it erected for NORML constituted viewpoint-based discrimination of speech. The court also rejected the school's argument that NORML's use of the trademark constituted government speech under the three-part test for government speech in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Public Citizen, the NRDC, and the Communications Workers of America (AFL-CIO) sued the Trump administration today over President Trump's two-for-one administrative regulation executive order. That EO requires an agency to revoke two regulations for every new regulation it adopts.
The plaintiffs argue that the EO violates the separation of powers, the Take Care Clause, and the Administrative Procedure Act, among others. In short:
To repeal two regulations for the purpose of adopting one new one, based solely on a directive to impose zero net costs without any consideration of benefits, is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law, for at least three reasons. First, no governing statute authorizes any agency to withhold a regulation intended to address identified harms to public safety, health, or other statutory objectives on the basis of an arbitrary upper limit on total costs (for fiscal year 2017, a limit of $0) that regulations may impose on regulated entities or the economy. Second, the Executive Order forces agencies to repeal regulations that they have already determined, through notice-and-comment rulemaking, advance the purposes of the underlying statutes, and forces the agencies to do so for the sole purpose of eliminating costs that the underlying statutes do not direct be eliminated. Third, no governing statute authorizes an agency to base its actions on a decisionmaking criterion of zero net cost across multiple regulations.
The plaintiffs say that the EO violates the separation of powers, because "[b]y requiring agencies engaged in rulemaking to consider and take final action or to withhold final action based on factors that are impermissible and arbitrary under the governing statutes, the Executive Order purports to amend the statutes through which Congress has delegated rulemaking authority to federal agencies." They say it violates the Take Care Clause, because it "directs agencies to take action contrary to numerous laws passed by Congress." (The plaintiffs also bring claims under non-statutory review of ultra vires action, and the APA.)
The plaintiffs point to harms they'll incur under several statutes, if administrative agencies follow the two-for-one rule. Those include the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and Motor Carrier Safety Act, OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act, and several other environmental protection acts.
The plaintiffs point to harms (for standing purposes) throughout, including organizational harms (by requiring the plaintiffs to shift advocacy priorities) and member harms (because a lack of regulation, where a statute requires it, will harm individual members).
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
The White House and Congress are working at a very quick pace to strike late-promulgated Obama-era administrative regulations under the Congressional Review Act.
That Act allows Congress to pass, and the President to sign, a joint resolution of disapproval to revoke certain administrative regulations. The Congressional Research Service has a backgrounder here, with links to other CRS reports on the Congressional Review Act.
President Trump has issued statements telling Congress that he'll sign four joint resolutions now pending in Congress: (1) a Labor rule on drug testing of unemployment compensation applicants, (2) a BLM reg that establishes procedures to prepare, revise, or amend federal land-use plans, (3) an Ed. rule relating to accountability and state plans under the Elementary and Secondary Educational Act of 1965, an (4) Ed. rule related to teacher preparation.
Congress has considered several resolutions of disapproval since 1996, but overturned just one regulation, a 2000 OSHA rule related to workplace ergonomics standards. President Obama vetoed five resolutions of disapproval, and Congress failed to override the vetoes, so none passed.
With the Republican-controlled House and Senate likely to pass these disapproval resolutions--the Senate minority can't filibuster a CRA disapproval resolution--President Trump's anticipate four overrides will set a record.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
San Francisco filed suit today against President Trump over his executive order stripping sanctuary cities of federal grants.
San Francisco argues that the EO violates the anti-commandeering rule, that its funding provision turns persuasion into compulsion, and that the funding threat includes federal money that has nothing to do with immigration enforcement--all in violation of federalism principles in the Tenth Amendment.
Recall the EO's federal-funding-for-compliance provision:
the Attorney General and the Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1371 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.
8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373(a), in turn, prohibits local governments from "sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration officials] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status . . . of any individual."
As an initial matter, San Francisco argues that it actually complies with 1373, because it doesn't prohibit officials from communicating with the feds regarding "citizenship or immigration status," even though it restricts communications on other matters.
The City goes on to argue that 1373, taken together with the EO, commandeers state and local governments in violation of the anti-commandeering rule, because it regulates "States in their sovereign capacity," "limit[s] state authority to regulate internal affairs and determine the duties and responsibilities of state employees," and "ultimately forc[es] States to allow their employees to use state time and state resources to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes regulating private individuals." Moreover, the EO "commandeers state and local governments, violating the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, inter alia, compelling them to enforce a federal program by imprisoning individuals subject to removal at the request of the Federal government when those individuals would otherwise be released from custody."
As to preenforcement review, San Francisco argues that it "faces the imminent loss of federal funds and impending enforcement action if it does not capitulate to the President's demand that it help enforce federal immigration law. At least one jurisdiction has already succumbed to this presidential fiat." (The complaint also outlines the many other harms the city says it suffers, and will suffer, under the EO.)
Monday, January 30, 2017
Check out Marc Thiessen's piece in WaPo, arguing that Senate Republicans should use the nuclear option--destroy the filibuster--for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Washington State Attorney General Robert Ferguson has filed suit on behalf of the State in Western District of Washington, arguing that President Trump's immigration EO violates various constitutional provisions (including equal protection, due process, and establishment of religion). The State also moved for a nationwide temporary restraining order.
As to standing, the state argues that the EO interferes with its interests in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of residents (including about 7,280 non-citizen immigrants from the seven countries identified in the EO) and its interests in economic activity and growth. (The State points out that it's the home of Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks, among others, and that those companies rely on the H-1B visa program.)
Here's the NYT report on this unprecedented move.
President Trump fired Acting AG Yates for declining to defend his EO on immigration. The move is stunning, because the DOJ has by tradition enjoyed political independence from the White House. (The White House could have hired private counsel to defend the EO. Congress did just that to defend the DOMA in Windsor after DOJ declined.)
The White House released a statement that said Yates "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. . . . Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration."
The White House has maintained that the EO was cleared ("as to form and legality") by the Office of Legal Counsel at DOJ. So far, OLC hasn't posted anything.
President Trump issued an Executive Order today requiring agencies to dump two regs for every new reg they issue.
The two-for-one standard seems a little, er, blunt. But, if implemented, it will undoubtedly reduce total federal regulations, helping to fulfill a campaign promise.
In his most recent EO, President Trump wrote that "it is important that for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process." The EO requires that "any new incremental costs associated with new regulations shall, to the extent permitted by law, be offset by the elimination of existing costs associated with at least two prior regulations."
The EO also requires that "the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero, unless otherwise required by law or consistent with advice provided in writing by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget."
Politico reports that Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) plans to filibuster any Trump Supreme Court nominee who is not Merrick Garland.
Said Merkley: "This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat. We will use every lever in our power to stop this."
Is turnabout fair play for the Republicans' refusal to give Garland a hearing? Or is a Democratic filibuster (because Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing) different than a Republican refusal to give a hearing at all?
Check out Adam Liptak's piece on the likely impact (and not) of President Trump's Supreme Court pick on abortion, unions, and affirmative action, among others.
President Trump said he'll announce his pick on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
President Trump issued an EO this weekend reorganizing the National Security Council and for the first time adding a member of the President's political team to the Principals Committee. The changes have been all over the news (even if lost behind President Trump's EO on immigration); here's one of the better reports, from Kelly Magsamen at The Atlantic.
The National Security Council is established pursuant to the National Security Act of 1947, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 402. The Act names members of the Council and its committees, but also gives the President some flexibility in organizing it. Presidents have organized and used the NSC very differently, as explained in this Congressional Research Service report, but President Trump's move is the first time that a political operative gets a permanent seat at the table. Magsamen explained:
For the first time in history, a president's chief political strategist will be invited to attend any meeting of the National Security Council and will be a regular member of the highly-influential Principals Committee (PC). Now, politics finding its way into a president's national-security decision-making is nothing new. But it rarely (if ever) gets a seat in the White House Situation Room--for good reason. To place a purely political operative on the NSC--alongside actual Cabinet members with national-security responsibilities or expertise--is an unprecedented move with profound implications for how national-security policies are developed and executed. To be clear, that concern is not confined to Steve Bannon. This would be the case no matter who it was.
Under the EO, the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are off the Principals Committee. Instead, they "shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed."
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
President Trump's EO today threatening to revoke federal funding for sanctuary cities runs right up against NFIB v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts. In other words: It is unconstitutional.
Recall that the Court in NFIB ruled that Obamacare's Medicaid expansion violated federalism principles, because Obamacare threatened a state that declined to expand Medicaid with a potential loss of all federal Medicaid funding. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the provision was "a gun to the head" of states, and that the threatened loss of Medicaid funding "is economic dragooning that leaves the States with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion." The Court "saved" the provision, however, by ruling that the federal government could withhold the additional Obamacare funding for Medicaid expansion from any state that declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. It just couldn't withhold all Medicaid funding.
Enter Trump's policy on sanctuary cities. President Trump's EO says that it's the policy of Executive Branch to "[e]nsure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law." So far, so good, if NFIB is part of law, as it is.
But the EO goes on to say that "the Attorney General and the Secretary . . . shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary."
This goes much farther than Obamacare's Medicaid expansion: The EO threatens to revoke all federal funding to a jurisdiction, with just a small caveat, and with no overriding "except as mandated by law" clause.
If Obamacare was a "gun to the head," this is much more. (Maybe a nuclear bomb to the head?) Moreover, most of the federal funding at stake has nothing to do with immigration, pretty clearly violating the "germaneness" or "relatedness" requirement from South Dakota v. Dole.
Whatever one thinks about NFIB, or even the animating federalism principles that the Court applied, President Trump's EO goes much, much farther. And whatever one thinks about sanctuary cities, President Trump's approach is quite clearly out of constitutional bounds.