Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Third Circuit Rules for Officials in Retaliatory Speech and Petition Case

The Third Circuit granted qualified immunity to local government officers against plaintiffs' First Amendment claims that the officers retaliated against them for exercising their speech and petition rights and directly violated their right to petition the government.

The ruling most likely ends this case.

The case arose when the Mirabellas, husband and wife who happen to be attorneys, got into a dispute with their neighbors over the neighbor's use of protected wetlands. The Mirabellas sought local government assistance in the dispute, but government officials sided with the neighbors. The Mirabellas then threatened to sue the neighbors and join the local government. So local government officials wrote to the Mirabellas that they were barred from communicating with the government or government officials (except the township attorney), and that government counsel should seek sanctions against the Mirabellas if they sued.

The Mirabellas did sue--but on First Amendment grounds, and not the underlying land-use dispute. They alleged that government officials retaliated against them for communicating with the government and directly violated their right to petition the government.

The Third Circuit ruled that the officials enjoyed qualified immunity and dismissed both claims. The court ruled that the officials did, in fact, retaliate against the Mirabellas for exercising their free speech and petition rights (based on the no-contact communication, but not on the communication threatening sanctions), but that the law wasn't clearly established at the time. In particular, the court said that "the right to be free from a retaliatory restriction on communication with one's government, when the plaintiff has threatened or engaged in litigation against the government" wasn't clearly established at the time.

The court similarly ruled that the officials violated the plaintiffs' right to petition the government, but that that right wasn't clearly established, either. The court said that "the right to be free from a restriction on communicating with one's government, when the plaintiff has threatened or engaged in litigation against the government" wasn't clearly established.

In defining the rights in this very specific way for purposes of the clearly-established prong of the qualified immunity test, the court said that Ashcroft v. al-Kidd prohibited it from "defin[ing] clearly established law at a high level of generality."

The court said that it wanted to address both prongs of the qualified immunity test--actual constitutional violation and clearly established--in order to provide some guidance on the actual contours of the rights at issue. (The court could have ruled the same way by addressing the clearly-established prong only, and punting on the actual constitutional violation prong.)

April 5, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 31, 2017

D.C. Circuit Rejects Media Claim to Guantanamo Force-Feeding Tapes

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in the long-running Dhiab case that media intervenors had no First Amendment right to access redacted and videotapes classified as "secret" of force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay. The ruling overturns the district court order releasing the tapes after government redaction and ensures that the tapes won't be released (at least unless the full D.C. Circuit or Supreme Court reverses). We last posted on the case here.

The court rejected the internors' First Amendment claim under Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court. The court distinguished that case, holding that it dealt with sealed testimony and exhibits in a murder case (not classified national security information, as here) and that it was a criminal prosecution (and not a habeas corpus case, as here). As to the former difference, the court noted that national security information is traditionally well protected, citing the State Secrets Privilege from Reynolds and Totten, the closed hearings in Guantanamo habeas cases, and the classified-material exception in FOIA. As to the latter difference, the court reviewed the history and concluded that "[i]n habeas corpus cases, there is no tradition of public access comparable to that recounted in Press-Enterprise II with respect to criminal trials."

The court went on to say that even if the intervenors had a First Amendment right of access to the tapes, the government's interests in protecting national security justified withholding them. In particular, the court said that the government provided sufficient evidence that the tapes could threaten security at Guantanamo Bay, incite violence against American troops abroad, and serve as propaganda to recruit fighters.

March 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seattle Sues Over Sanctuary Cities EO

Seattle sued the Trump Administration this week over President Trump's "sanctuary cities" executive order. Seattle's move follows San Francisco's earlier suit and AG Sessions's speech this week on how he intends to enforce the EO.

We posted earlier on the EO here, on San Francisco's suit here, and on Section 1373's constitutionality here.

Like San Francisco, Seattle alleges that it's already complying with Section 1373 (because that section doesn't "impose an affirmative obligation to collect the citizenship and immigration data of its residents, or to provide such data to federal officials"), and that Section 1373 is unconstitutional if it requires anything more.

As to the constitutionality of Section 1373, Seattle contends that it violates the anti-commandeering principle in violation of Printz, that it turns pressure into compulsion in violation of NFIB, and that it contains only vague conditions on federal spending, unrelated to the underlying federal program.

Seattle's suit assumes that the EO threatens all federal funding for failure to comply with Section 1373--an assumption that seems supported by the plain language of the EO. AG Sessions's speech this week did very little (if anything) to qualify that assumption and to clarify the EO's reach.

March 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tenth Circuit Upholds Prairie-Dog Protection Under Endangered Species Act Against Commerce Clause Challenge

The Tenth Circuit today rebuffed a challenge to the Endangered Species Act and ruled that Congress had authority to enact the Act under the Commerce Clause. The ruling in PETPO v. FWS upholds the Fish and Wildlife Service's regulation protecting Utah prairie dogs.

The ruling deals a(nother) blow to challengers of ESA regs that protect purely intra-state species and reaffirms federal authority to protect those species under the Commerce Clause. (Because the court held that the prairie-dog reg was authorized under the Commerce Clause, it did not separately address whether it's authorized under the Necessary and Proper Clause.)

We might keep an eye on this case and any others like it. If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, he could tilt the balance on the Court against ESA regs--and in favor of yet more restrictions on congressional authority under the Commerce Clause. (Remember that Justice Scalia concurred in Gonzales v. Raich, the basis for the Tenth Circuit's ruling. Judge Gorsuch might not agree, or might see this case through the Lopez- and Morrison-lenses of the plaintiffs. Judge Gorsuch was not on the Tenth Circuit panel in this case.)

The court applied the test from Gonzales v. Raich, which upheld the federal prohibition on home-grown marijuana for medical use because it was part of a larger regulatory scheme (the federal Controlled Substances Act), which itself was authorized under the Commerce Clause. At the same time, the court specifically rejected PETPO's argument that it should consider the prairie-dog regulation only in isolation (like the Gun-Free School Zones Act in U.S. v. Lopez or the individual cause of action in United States v. Morrison)--not as part of the larger ESA scheme. By analyzing the reg under Raich (and not under the provision-specific approach in Lopez and Morrison), the court aligned with other circuits that have ruled on the question.

The court summarized its test:

In short, the Commerce Clause authorizes regulation of noncommercial, purely intrastate activity that is an essential part of a broader regulatory scheme that, as a whole, substantially affects interstate commerce (i.e., has a substantial relation to interstate commerce). Therefore, to uphold the challenged regulation here, we need only conclude that Congress had a rational basis to believe that such a regulation constituted an essential part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme that, in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce.

The court rejected PETPO's contention that it shouldn't apply Raich, because PETPO lodged a facial challenge to the specific prairie-dog provision under Lopez and Morrison, and not "an application to a particular subset of activity, as in Raich." The court said,

the real crux of PETPO's challenge is not a challenge to any particular FWS regulation but to Congress's power to authorize regulation of the Utah prairie dog. Although PETPO is, in a sense, correct that the prohibition on take of the Utah prarie dog is "a particular challenged provision," this prohibition finds its place within the broader regulatory scheme of the ESA's protections of endangered and threatened species. More specifically, the prohibition at issue is an instance of Congress's broad authorization to use regulations to extend the take protections that endangered species enjoy to those listed as threatened.

The court said that "the Court in both Lopez and Raich looked past the larger enactment and characterized the Gun-Free School Zones Act as an independent statute."

The court also rejected PETPO's argument that the ESA "is a comprehensive scheme to provide for environmental conservation, not [to] regulate a market." The court said that this was based on too cramped a reading of Raich, which, the court said, doesn't require a "comprehensive economic scheme." Instead, Raich only required a "comprehensive regulatory scheme" that has a "substantial relation to commerce." The court said that the ESA prohibitions easily meet this standard, based on their plain economic effects (some of which PETPO itself raised as the harms that formed the basis of its suit).

The court went on to hold that Congress had a rational basis for thinking that the prairie-dog-protection reg constituted an essential part of the ESA, a comprehensive regulatory scheme, that, "in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce."

 

March 29, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fifth Circuit Says Medical Reimbursement Preemption Claim Can Move Forward

The Fifth Circuit ruled this week that a medical air-evacuation company has standing and that it sufficiently alleged that state defendants had "some connection" to the enforcement of state law against it to allow the company's preemption suit, including a request for injunctive relief, to move forward. The ruling remands the case to the district court for proceedings on the merits.

The case involves Texas's workers'-compensation scheme, which caps reimbursement to Air Evac's medi-vac air ambulances from an insurance company. Under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act, the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission sets reimbursements rates for insurers to pay health-care providers directly. The Act also prohibits health-care providers from billing a patient for any amount in excess of the set rate. The upshot is that "the initial bill goes to the insurer rather than the patient," at a set rate, here 125% of the Medicare rate for the same service.

Air Evac, along with other, similar health-care providers, challenged the rate through the state administrative-dispute system, arguing that it was preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act. They lost, and the lead plaintiff, PHI, appealed.

While the appeal was pending, Air Evac filed this case in federal court, seeking a declaration that the ADA preempted the TWCA and an injunction against TWCA enforcement (under Ex Parte Young). But the district court dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, because the state defendants weren't charged with enforcing the maximum-reimbursement scheme against Air Evac (because the rate "constraints the amount insurers can pay, rather than the amount air-ambulance companies can charge"), and because Air Evac "failed to show an enforcement proceeding concerning the balance-billing prohibition is imminent, threatened, or even intended."

The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that Air Evac had standing, because the maximum rate actually constrained the amount that Air Evac could receive, even though it operated directly on the third-party insurer (and not Air Evac). The court held that there was federal question jurisdiction, because Air Evac pleaded that the federal ADA preempted the TWCA. And the court ruled that the state defendants had "some connection" to enforcement of the maximum rate against Air Evac, again because the maximum rate actually constrained Air Evac's reimbursement, even if it operated on the insurer. The court declined to abstain while PHI's state appeal was pending, because the parties and claims were different.

The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits, the preemption claim.

 

March 23, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fourth Circuit: No First Amendment Protection for Fire Battallion Chief's Disruptive Facebook Posts

The Fourth Circuit today dismissed a fire department battalion chief's First Amendment retaliation claim for his Facebook activity in violation of the Department's Social Media and Code of Conduct policies. The court also dismissed his facial challenge against the policies as moot.

The case arose when Howard County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Services Battalion Chief Kevin Patrick Buker posted a series of statements and "likes" on his Facebook page. On January 20, 2013, Buker posted this while on duty (sics omitted):

My aide had an outstanding idea . . lets all kill someone with a liberal . . . then maybe we can get them outlawed too! Think of the satisfaction of beating a liberal to death with another liberal . . . its almost poetic . . .

He then "liked" a colleague's post that added ugly racial comments to this.

The assistant chief directed Buker to remove the posts pursuant to the Department's Social Media Policy. That Policy, relatively new at the time, prohibited employees from posting anything that "might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent when such statements, opinions or information, may place the Department in disrepute or negatively impact the ability of the Department in carrying out its mission."

Buker removed the posts, but then posted comments criticizing the Social Media Policy and the "liberals" who were behind it. The Department moved Buker out of field operations and into an administrative assignment and began an investigation.

About three weeks later, another colleague posted to his own Facebook page a picture of an elderly woman with her middle finger raised, with a caption saying that he'll post whatever he wants, and a note stating, "for you Chief." Buker "liked" it.

Shortly after that, Buker was fired for violating the Social Media Policy and the Code of Conduct. (The Code of Conduct banned "conduct unbecoming," that is, "any conduct that reflects poorly on an individual member, the Department, or County government, or that is detrimental to the public trust in the Department or that impairs the operation and efficiency of the Department.")

Buker sued, arguing that the Department fired him in retaliation for his speech, and that the Social Media Policy and Code of Conduct Policy were facially unconstitutional. The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

Applying Pickering, the court held that two of Buker's posts (the one about assaulting liberals, and the one criticizing the Social Media Policy) addressed matters of public concern. (The court assumed, without deciding, that Buker's Facebook activity constituted a "single expression of speech.") But the court said that the Department's interest in efficiency and preventing disruption outweighed Buker's interests:

  • Buker's Facebook activity "interfered with an impaired Department operations and discipline as well as working relationships within the Department.
  • The posts "significantly conflicted with [his] responsibilities as battalion chief," including "acting as an impartial decisionmaker and 'enforcing Departmental policies and taking appropriate action for violations of those policies.'"
  • Buker's "speech frustrated the Department's public safety mission and threatened 'community trust' in the Department, which is 'vitally important' to its function."
  • Buker's activity "expressly disrespect[ed] [his] superiors" after he had been reprimanded.
  • The posts "disregarded and upset the chain of command."

The court dismissed Buker's facial challenge to the Social Media Guidelines and Code of Conduct as moot. The court said that although the Department changed the policies to eliminate the earlier version's prohibitions on the private use of social media, the Chief and defendants' counsel both promised the court that the Department wouldn't re-implement the old guidelines (so as to make this a "voluntary cessation" case).

 

 

March 20, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Is Section 1373 Unconstitutional?

President Trump's EO on sanctuary cities says that "the Attorney General and the Secretary . . . shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdiction) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary."

The provision is almost certainly over-broad, in that it conditions apparently all "Federal grants" on compliance with Section 1373, running afoul of both the relatedness prong and the pressure-into-compulsion test for conditioned federal spending.

But is 1373 itself unconstitutional? In particular, does 1373 violate the non-commandeering principle?

Section 1373 reads:

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.

(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, no person or agency may prohibit, or in any way restrict, a Federal, State, or local government entity from doing any of the following with respect to information regarding the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, or any individual:

(1) Sending such information to, or requesting or receiving such information from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

(2) Maintaining such information.

(3) Exchanging such information with any other Federal, State, or local government entity.

(c) The Immigration and Naturalization Service shall respond to an inquiry by a Federal, State, or local government agency, seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within the jurisdiction of the agency for any purpose authorized by law, by providing the requested verification or status information.

The provision--which prohibits action (it prohibits prohibitions) by state and local governments, but doesn't require action--is a pretty transparent attempt to try to work around the anti-commandeering principle. (Doing the same thing directly--by requiring state and local officers to report--would obviously violate the anti-commandeering principle.) Does that save it from commandeering?

Jane Chong, in a thoughtful post over at Lawfare, says maybe--or at least "the answer is not as open-and-shut as the experts insist it is."

If she's right--and she makes a good argument--maybe the problem isn't with transparent work-arounds like 1373. Maybe, instead, the problem is with the anti-commandeering principle itself. In light of 1373 (and a similar provision in the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which Chong discusses), maybe "anti-commandeering" suffers from the same problem that another Tenth Amendment principle--"areas of traditional government functions"--suffered from between National League of Cities v. Usery and Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority: It's unworkable. And maybe the solution is the same as in Garcia: Abandon it, and leave the issue to the political process. (After all, there's nothing in the Tenth Amendment that says anything about commandeering.)

March 17, 2017 in Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

No Standing to Challenge BIA's Native American Land Lease Tax Reg

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the California Desert Water Agency lacks standing to challenge a new Bureau of Indian Affairs regulation concerning taxes on leases on Native American lands to third parties. The ruling ends DWA's challenge, although DWA could resurrect it, if BIA later halts DWA taxes under the reg.

The case centers around a BIA reg on state and local government taxation of leases by non-Native Americans on Native American lands. The relevant subsection says that "[s]ubject only to applicable Federal law, the leasehold or possessory interest is not subject to any fee, tax, assessment, levy, or other charge imposed by any State or political subdivision of a State. Leasehold or possessory interests may be subject to taxation by the Indian tribe with jurisdiction."

The DWA, which assess taxes on these leases, sued under the APA. But the Ninth Circuit ruled that it lacked standing.

The court said that the regulatory language "[s]ubject only to applicable Federal law," incorporated existing case law, in particular, White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker (1980), which held that courts must apply a fact-specific balancing test in order to determine whether federal law preempts any particular state effort to regulate non-Native American conduct on tribal lands. In other words, the reg, as understood incorporating the Bracker test, couldn't preempt and halt DWA taxation until a court, applying the Bracker test, said so. The reg by its own force doesn't preempt. And with no preemption of DWA taxation, DWA doesn't have a harm, and without a harm DWA lacks standing. (Indeed, after BIA issued the reg, DWA continued to collect taxes on these leases, with no direct threat of enforcement by the BIA.)

The court went on to reject DWA's argument that notwithstanding Bracker incorporation, it still suffered a harm, because the reg would encourage leaseholders not to pay their taxes. The court applied Linda R.S. v. Richard D. and Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org. in support of its conclusion that "a plaintiff in DWA's position lacks standing if, notwithstanding the relief sought, the third parties would retain discretion to continue their harmful behavior or, alternatively, if it is too speculative to conclude that they would modify their behavior in the way the plaintiff desires."

March 9, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 6, 2017

President Issues Revised "Travel Ban"

The President's revised Executive Order (March 6, 2017), entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," has substantial changes from the previous EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here.

This new EO, signed without the fanfare of the previous one, acknowledges that the previous EO "has been delayed by litigation" and does seek to remedy some of the problems with the EO.  For example, the scope is much narrower and the suspension of entry excludes "any lawful permanent resident" as well as some other categories. This will make the applicability of constitutional protections less clear.  While the Constitution protects non-citizens, it does not have global applicability.

The new EO avers that the previous EO was not a "Muslim Ban":

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion.  While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion.  That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities -- whoever they are and wherever they reside -- to avail themselves of the USRAP [US Refugee Admissions Program] in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

Nevertheless, this new EO does not mention otherwise religion. Of course, omitting references to "religion" or stating that an act is not motivated by animus does not end the inquiry.  Instead, there will most certainly be arguments that courts can consider the new EO as religiously-motivated under either First Amendment or Equal Protection Clause doctrine.

The new EO also changes the seven nations to six - - - omitting Iraq as a "special case."  This could also give rise to a national origin classification - - - is Iraq, with its "active combat zones" so different from Libya and Yemen which are described similarly?  The omission of Iraq is also problematical because the new EO recites as part of its justification this specific incident: "For example, in January 2013, two Iraqi nationals admitted to the United States as refugees in 2009 were sentenced to 40 years and to life in prison, respectively, for multiple terrorism-related offenses." 

That relatively brief paragraph, §1(h), ends by stating that "The Attorney General has reported to me that more than 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  Issues with the Attorney General and counterterrorism aside, the objections of other government officials regarding the efficacy of the travel ban would certainly figure in any judicial measurement of the fit between the travel ban and the government purposes.

In terms of litigation and constitutional challenges, the first order of business will be procedural questions regarding whether the new EO can be substituted for the previous EO through amended complaints and other pleadings or will there need to be new cases.

 

 

 

March 6, 2017 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Call for Papers: European Junior Faculty Forum

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 the web-site and call for papers. Submission deadline--including a CV, abstract, and draft article--is April 15, 2017.

February 23, 2017 in Conferences, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

ACLU's David Cole on Constitutional Change

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.

February 23, 2017 in Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fourth Circuit Upholds Maryland's Assault Weapon Ban

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.

February 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Court Leans Toward Agent in Cross-Border Shooting Case

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.

February 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Eleventh Circuit Strikes Florida's Ban on Doctors' Questions About Patients' Guns

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.

We previously posted on the case here.

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.

February 17, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Goldstein on Why Trump's Immigraton Hold Paints Muslims as Anti-Constitution

Sixth Circuit Tells Lower Court: Go Ahead and Rule on TN Campaign Finance Law

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.

February 16, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

February 14, 2017 in First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Groups Sue Over Trumps 2-for-1 Regulation Order

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).

February 8, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Obama-Era Regs on the Chopping Block

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.

February 7, 2017 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump Nominates Gorsuch

President Trump just nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit to fill Justice Scalia's vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

January 31, 2017 in News | Permalink | Comments (3)