Wednesday, January 31, 2018

D.C. Circuit OKs CFPB's Single-Director Independence

A sharply fractured and divided en banc D.C. Circuit today rejected a challenge to the independent single director at the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau. The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the CFPB's power structure. But this ruling almost certainly doesn't end the matter; instead, it likely only tees the case up for the Supreme Court, giving this Court a chance to put its gloss on independence within the Executive Branch.

We previously posted on the case here. (This case is not directly related to the litigation over who is the true acting head of the Bureau.)

Opponents of the CFPB power structure argued that Congress violated the Take Care Clause in creating the CFPB with an independent single director. They said that while the Supreme Court has approved independent agencies in the Executive Branch, these have all been boards, not single directors. And creating an independent single director put too much power in the hands of the CFPB director--and took too much power away from the President.

The court today rejected those claims. The multiple opinions run 250 pages, but the majority's approach came down to this:

The Supreme Court eighty years ago sustained the constitutionality of the independent Federal Trade Commission, a consumer-protection financial regulator with powers analogous to those of the CFPB. Humphrey's Executor v. United States. In doing so, the Court approved the very means of independence Congress used here: protection of agency leadership from at-will removal by the President. The Court has since reaffirmed and built on that precedent, and Congress has embraced and relief on it in designing independent agencies. We follow that precedent here to hold that the parallel provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act shielding the Director of the CFPB from removal without cause is consistent with Article II.

And this:

Congress's decision to provide the CFPB Director a degree of insulation reflects it permissible judgment that civil regulation of consumer financial protection should be kept one step removed from political winds and presidential will. We have no warrant here to invalidate such a time-tested course. No relevant consideration gives us reason to doubt the constitutionality of the independent CFPB's single-member structure. Congress made constitutionally permissible institutional design choices for the CFPB with which courts should hesitate to interfere. "While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government." Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.

January 31, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Justice Tightens the Screws on Sanctuary Cities

The Justice Department today sent letters to 23 sanctuary jurisdictions, requesting certain additional documents to show that they are not preventing their officers from sharing immigration information with the feds, in violation of 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373.

The letters say that Justice will subpoena the documents if a jurisdiction declines to share. The letter outlines other consequences, too:

Should the Department determine your jurisdiction is out of compliance with section 1373, the Department may, as detailed in your award documents, seek return of your FY 2016 grant funds, require additional conditions for receipt of any FY 2017 Byrne JAG funding for which you have applied, and/or deem you ineligible for FY 2017 Byrne JAG funds.

Justice's moves to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions have drawn lawsuits by many of those jurisdictions. They argue, among other things, that Section 1373 amounts to unconstitutional commandeering of local officers, that Justice's conditions on their grants fail the conditioned-spending test under South Dakota v. Dole, and that Justice has no authority to impose conditions on federal grants without Congress's say so. We last posted on the suits here.

January 24, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Berman on Election Rigging

Check out Ari Berman's piece in Rolling Stone, How the GOP Rigs Elections. (Spoiler alert: gerrymandering, voter-ID laws, and dark money.)

January 24, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Check it Out: Doughtery on Kennedy's Role in Preserving Political Order

Check out Michael Brendan Doughtery's piece in National Review on Justice Kennedy's pivotal role in "preventing the United States from political breakdown."

The Supreme Court's role in this scene, with Kennedy as the swing justice, has been to moderate and restrain the ambitions of each party. Kennedy deals out victories and defeats to each side--giving slightly more defeats to social conservatives. In effect, he constrains what each side can do to the other. His mercurial jurisprudence replicates and even gives the savor of legitimacy to a closely divided country.

January 23, 2018 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tenth Circuit Rejects First Amendment Retaliation Claims

The Tenth Circuit ruled last week that a former sheriff and undersheriff enjoyed qualified immunity against claims that they retaliated against employees for exercising free speech. The ruling means that the case is dismissed.

The case underscores the power of qualified immunity and the challenges that plaintiffs sometimes face in overcoming it, especially when circuit law hasn't addressed the plaintiffs' precise claims.

The case arose when former Sheriff Terry Maketa and Undersheriff Paula Presley took employment actions against employees for their speech in order to influence an upcoming election for sheriff. In particular, Maketa and Presley transferred plaintiff Lieutenant Peck to the midnight shift after Peck refused to deliver to the media a false story concocted by Maketa regarding a missing Internal Affairs document. They opened a criminal investigation against plaintiff Sergeant Stone and Stone's two children (who were also employees of the Sheriff's Office) after Stone expressed political support for the candidate opposed by Maketa and Presley. And they put a group of commanders on administrative leave; confiscated their phones, tablets, weapons, badges, and vehicles; and had them escorted out of the building after they lodged EEO complaints against Maketa and Presley.

The court didn't rule on the merits of the plaintiffs' free speech claims. Instead, it ruled that the defendants didn't violate any of the plaintiffs' clearly established rights under the Garcetti/Pickering test for public employee speech.

As to Peck, the court said that in communicating a message to the media against Maketa's orders, she wasn't clearly speaking as a private citizen (rather than a public employee), as required for a public employee's free speech claim. The court noted that "[i]n some circuits, Lt. Peck's disobedience might affect whether she was speaking as part of her official duties." But because the Tenth Circuit hadn't ruled on this yet, it wasn't clearly established.

As to Stone, the court said that the investigations didn't clearly constitute adverse employment actions as required for a public employee's retaliation claim. Again, the court noted that other circuits have ruled differently--that "[o]ther circuits disagree with one another on the issue" whether a retaliatory criminal investigation "entails a constitutional violation." But because the Tenth Circuit "has not settled the question," the right wasn't clearly established.

Finally, as to the commissioners, the court said that the defendants' actions weren't clearly adverse employment actions.

January 22, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Seventh Circuit Rules Against Territorial Plaintiffs in Absentee-Voting-Rights Case

The Seventh Circuit ruled that former Illinoisans who now live in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands lacked standing to challenge the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and lost on the merits in their claims against Illinois after the state rejected their requests for absentee-voter ballots.

The ruling means that former Illinoisans who reside in these territories won't receive an absentee-voter ballot from the state, unless Illinois changes its law.

The plaintiffs, former residents of Illinois but now residents of the territories, sued when Illinois denied them absentee-voter ballots for federal elections in Illinois. They claimed that the UOCAVA and Illinois law defined their territories as part of the United States and thus prohibited them from getting absentee ballots as overseas voters. They claimed that this violated equal protection and their right to travel.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs didn't even have standing to challenge the UOCAVA. That's because while the UOCAVA defines "the United States" to include these territories, it doesn't prohibit Illinois from providing absentee ballots to the plaintiffs. Illinois law does that. As a result, the court said that the plaintiffs couldn't challenge the federal law, although they could still challenge state law.

As to state law, the court said that Illinois's classification didn't violate equal protection and its denial of absentee ballots didn't violate the right to travel. The court said that the plaintiffs have no fundamental right to vote in federal elections--"absent a constitutional amendment, only residents of the 50 States have the right to vote in federal elections"--and no claim to heightened scrutiny. The court held that Illinois's distinction between Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands (on the one hand) and the Northern Marianas and American Samoa (on the other, where former Illinoisans can get an absentee ballot) passed rational basis review, because at the time that Illinois enacted the distinction, "these two territories were . . . more similar to foreign nations than were the incorporated territories where the plaintiffs reside." (The court said it was OK to look at the state's justification at the time of the distinction, in 1979, instead of now, because "even if . . . the Northern Marianas and American Samoa became more integrated into the United States, it would not help the plaintiffs [who are] injured specifically because Illinois defines their resident territories as within the United States.")

The court summarily rejected the plaintiffs' right-to-travel argument as "borderline frivolous."

January 18, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Out of State Claimant Has Standing, but no Ex Post Facto Claim for "Sexual Predator" Designation

The Seventh Circuit ruled that a Wisconsin claimant who was convicted of rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping in 1983 in Illinois had standing to challenge his designation under a 2011 Illinois law as a "sexual predator," but that the restrictions that went with his new designation didn't violate the Ex Post Facto Clause.

The case arose when Illinois amended its Sex Offender Registration Act to define "sexual predator" as a person who had been convicted of any felony offense after July 1, 2011, and had been required to register as a sex offender under a conviction that required registration for more than ten years. Under the amendment, sexual predators had increased reporting requirements and certain new restrictions. Anthony Johnson fell into the new classification, because he was convicted of rape in 1983 (and was required to register for ten years) and of felony theft in 2013. Johnson was therefore subject to the reporting requirements and restrictions.

When Johnson moved to Wisconsin, he discovered that he had to meet certain heightened registration requirements there, too--but only because he was designated a "sexual predator" in Illinois. In other words, Wisconsin piggy-backed on Illinois's sexual predator requirements for someone like Johnson. Without his designation as a sexual predator in Illinois, Johnson wouldn't have to meet these requirements in Wisconsin.

Johnson sued Illinois officials, arguing that the 2011 amendments violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of standing.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that Johnson had standing, but that the new requirements didn't violate the Ex Post Facto Clause.

As to standing, the court said that Johnson only had reporting requirements in Wisconsin because of his designation under Illinois law (and that he therefore demonstrated causation), and that if he won his case against Illinois officials, he'd no longer have to meet Wisconsin's requirements (and that he therefore demonstrated redressability).

As to the Ex Post Facto Clause, the court said that the new requirements under Illinois law were a function of his 2013 felony theft conviction, not his 1983 rape conviction: "Had Mr. Johnson not committed a felony after the Act went into effect, he wouldn't be classified as a sexual predator today. But he committed that later felony, and that conviction produced the sexual predator classification of which he complains."

Or, as Justice Jackson wrote in a similar enhanced-penalty case, nearly 70 years ago, Gryger v. Burke (and quoted by the Seventh Circuit):

The sentence as a fourth offender or habitual criminal is not to be viewed as either a new jeopardy or additional penalty for the earlier crimes. It is a stiffened penalty for the latest crime, which is considered to be an aggravated offense because it is a repetitive one.

January 18, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

New Case Tests Detention at Trump's Guantanamo

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court last week on behalf of eleven detainees challenging their continued, and, under President Trump, apparently indefinite, detention at Guantanamo Bay.

The petitioners have all been detained at Guantanamo without charge or trial, between ten and sixteen years. Two have been cleared for release.

The petitioners argue that their claim is different than prior Guantanamo habeas petitions--"as it has to be," given President Trump's position on Guantanamo:

The two prior presidential administrations released a total of nearly 750 men. They did so by making case-by-case determinations based on an individual detainee's circumstances in a manner that was purportedly tailored to the executive branch's interest in national security. President Trump, in contrast to his predecessors, has declared and is carrying out his intention to keep all remaining detainees in Guantanamo, regardless of their individual circumstances--presumably even those the executive branch previously determined need no longer be detained.

The petitioners argue that their detention violates due process and exceeds authority under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

As to due process, they argue that the Due Process Clause applies at Guantanamo for the same functional reason why the Suspension Clause applies there under Boumediene: "The Boumediene Court's functional analysis led to recognition of the applicability of the Suspension Clause in Guantanamo. Therefore, at least some measure of the Due Process Clause must also reach Guantanamo because there are no practical barriers that would apply to one provision but not the other." On the merits, they argue that their lengthy detention, without charge or trial, violates the Due Process Clause's durational limits on detention; that indefinite detention cannot be justified based on a loose and dated standard; and that two of them have already been cleared for release.

As to the AUMF, petitioners claim that it doesn't authorize indefinite, unreviewable detention; that the laws of war don't authorize this kind of detention; and that the AUMF itself has become stale.

January 17, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sorting Out Bannon's Claim of Executive Privilege

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon invoked a breathtakingly broad version of executive privilege on behalf of the President at yesterday's closed-door House Intelligence Committee hearing. But at the same time, he reportedly maintains (apparently along with the White House) that the same executive privilege won't prevent him from sharing information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has subpoenaed Bannon.

What gives? Neither Bannon nor the White House has said. But let's try to sort some of this out.

Start here: The Supreme Court, in its seminal case United States v. Nixon, said that certain communications between the President and his or her advisors may be privileged. While this "executive privilege" is nowhere in the Constitution, the Court said that it derives from the President's Article II powers and separation-of-powers principles.

But the privilege extends only to communications with the President. So any communications that Bannon had with Candidate Trump or President-Elect Trump are not covered under Nixon. Under Nixon, executive privilege simply does not apply.

Moreover, the privilege works against particular requests for information. It doesn't provide a broad shield against testifying generally. (As the courts have recognized, if it worked as a broad shield, the President could use it to frustrate the functions of the coordinate branches, in violation of the separation of powers.) Bannon can only assert the privilege on behalf of the President in response to a particular request, and not as a shield against testifying generally.

As to Bannon's communications with President Trump: Nixon says that the privilege is qualified (that is, not absolute) and subject to a balancing of interests. In particular, in determining whether executive privilege protects communications, the Court balances the need for the information against the need for confidentiality of the particular Presidential communication at issues.

[N]either the doctrine of separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances. The President's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the courts. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection with all the protections that a district court will be obliged to provide.

In Nixon, the Court held that the countervailing interests in the "fair administration of criminal justice"--in particular, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights of defendants and the basic functions of the courts--outweighed the President's "broad interest in confidentiality of communications."

So the question in the Bannon case is whether the balancing works the same way with a congressional inquiry. There's good reason to think that it does. As Judge Bates (D.D.C.) explained in the Harriet Miers case, Committee on Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives v. Miers, Congress's "power of inquiry" is every bit as important as the judiciary's power to administer justice:

[T]he Executive insists that this case is distinguishable because it does not involve a core function of another constituent branch but rather a peripheral exercise of Congress's power. That is mistaken. As discussed above, Congress's power of inquiry is as broad as its power to legislate and lies at the very heart of Congress's constitutional role. Indeed, the former is necessary to the proper exercise of the latter: according to the Supreme Court, the ability to compel testimony is "necessary to the effective functioning of courts and legislatures." Thus, Congress's use of (and need for vindication of) its subpoena power in this case is no less legitimate or important than was the grand jury's in United States v. Nixon. Both involve core functions of a co-equal branch of the federal government, and for the reasons identified in Nixon, the President may only be entitled to a presumptive, rather than an absolute, privilege here.

The Miers case was a little different--it involved an assertion of absolute privilege against congressional testimony on a slightly different theory than executive privilege--and the court used the quoted passage merely to support its conclusion that no such absolute privilege existed. Moreover, the passage glosses over the fact that the Nixon balancing considered important competing Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, absent or diminished in a congressional inquiry. Still, Congress's interests in fact-finding and oversight count for something important, even if slightly less than the judiciary's interests in Nixon, and they may well outweigh a "broad and undifferentiated" claim of privilege.

By claiming executive privilege before the House, but not before Mueller, Bannon and the White House are probably relying on a different balancing of interests under Nixon. In particular, the White House is probably claiming that the House's interests in the communications are less than Mueller's interests, and that the President's interest in confidential communications with Bannon outweigh the House's interests, but not Mueller's. Moreover, it's probably claiming that the communications are more secure if released to Mueller (like the in camera review in Nixon) and less secure if released to Congress (even if a closed-door hearing).

But we don't know for sure, because the White House hasn't said. And we don't know how the courts would rule on these theories, even if the President asserted them.

These disputes between the White House and Congress usually work themselves out informally, without involvement of the courts. But now that the Committee has issued a subpoena, if Bannon continues to decline to provide certain information, the case could go to the courts, and we could get the President's legal reasoning--and a court ruling on whether and how executive privilege applies.

UPDATE: It turns out that U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. O'Hara ruled last spring that executive privilege doesn't apply to communications with the President-Elect. (H/t to my co-blogger Ruthann Robson.) The case involved Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's attempt to invoke the privilege to protect a communication that he had with President-Elect Trump on the National Voter Registration Act. Judge O'Hara rejected Kobach's claim:

Secretary Kobach's communication was made to a president-elect, not to a sitting president. Although a president-elect by statute and policy may be accorded security briefings and other transitional prerogatives, he or she has no constitutional power to make any decisions on behalf of the Executive Branch. No court has recognized the applicability of the executive privilege to communications made before a president takes office. If that were the law, it would mean that potentially almost everything communicated to a president-elect by the hundreds of persons seeking appointments in the new administration would be shielded by privilege.

In Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, the Supreme Court did recognize that former presidents may assert privilege over certain communications made during their terms in office. But the reasoning given by the Court for its decision doesn't directly translate to communications with president-elects.

January 17, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

DOJ to Appeal DACA Ruling

The Justice Department announced today that it intends to petition for immediate Supreme Court review of Judge Alsup's ruling last week that put a temporary halt to the administration's DACA-repeal effort.

From the press release:

"It defies both law and common sense for DACA--an entirely discretionary non-enforcement policy that was implemented unilaterally by the last administration after Congress rejected similar legislative proposals and courts invalidated the similar DAPA policy--to somehow be mandated nationwide by a single district court in San Francisco," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

January 16, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Check it Out: Nationwide Injunctions

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Court Rules for Trump (Again) in CFPB Director Dispute

Judge Timothy J. Kelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied Leandra English's motion for a preliminary injunction against President Trump in the dispute over the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

We last posted, on Judge Kelly's denial of a temporary restraining order, here.

Recall that outgoing director Richard Cordray appointed English as deputy in late November. Under Dodd-Frank, this meant that English would become acting director upon Cordray's resignation. But at the same time, President Trump appointed OMB Director John Michael Mulvaney as acting director pursuant to his authority under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. As a result, both English and Mulvaney claimed title to acting director. English sued to get the courts to recognize her as the actual acting director.

Judge Kelly ruled that English was unlikely to succeed on the merits of her claim. According to the court, that's because Dodd-Frank and the FVRA can be read in harmony--in favor of the President's authority to appoint an acting director over Dodd-Frank's provision automatically assigning the post to the deputy:

The best reading of the two statutes is that Dodd-Frank requires that the Deputy Director "shall" serve as acting Director, but that under the FVRA the President "may" override that default rule. This reading is compelled by several considerations: the text of the FVRA, including its exclusivity provision, the text of Dodd-Frank, including its express-statement requirement and Deputy Director provision, and traditional principles of statutory construction.

The court said that constitutional avoidance principles confirmed this result. In particular,

English's interpretation of Dodd-Frank potentially impairs the President's ability to fulfill his obligations under the Take Care Clause. Under English's theory, because Cordray installed her as Deputy Director, she must remain acting Director--no matter whom the President would prefer in that role--until a new permanent Director is appointed. . . .

Under English's interpretation, however, Cordray could have named anyone the CFPB's Deputy Director, and the President would be virtually powerless to replace that person upon ascension to acting Director--no matter how unqualified that person might be. That alone threatens to undermine the President's ability to fulfill his Take Care Clause obligations. And this problem is compounded by another unique feature of the directorship of the CFPB: it is vested with unilateral, unchecked control over the CFPB's substantial regulatory and enforcement power.

The court said that nothing in Dodd-Frank prevented the President from appointing the acting OMB chief to simultaneously serve as CFPB Director.

The ruling is only on English's motion for a preliminary injunction--and doesn't finally settle the directorship dispute--but it foretells the ultimate result in this court.

January 11, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

District Court Halts DACA Repeal

Judge William Alsup (N.D. Cal.) yesterday issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Trump Administration "to maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis on the same terms and conditions as were in effect before the rescission on September 5, 2017."

The order requires the government to continue to administer DACA, including allowing DACA enrollees to renew their enrollments, despite the Administration's announcement last year that it would halt the program. The order also potentially complicates negotiations over a congressional fix.

We last posted on the case and other challenges to DACA rescission here.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge to President Trump's repeal of the DACA program. In short, the court ruled that DACA was legal when adopted; that the government's stated reason for repealing it (that DHS lacked authority to implement it) was wrong as a matter of law; and that the government's post-hoc rationalization for repeal (the "litigation risk" it faced in defending DACA) didn't count, and, in any event, was arbitrary and capricious.

This order holds that, in light of our own court of appeals' reasoning . . . and in light of the analysis of the Office of Legal Counsel of the United States Department of Justice, and the reasoning set forth above, our court of appeals will likely hold that DACA was and remains a lawful exercise of authority by DHS. Plaintiffs are therefore likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the rescission was based on a flawed legal premise and must be set aside as "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law."

Along the way, the court distinguished the DAPA program, ruled illegal by the Fifth Circuit and affirmed by an equally divided Supreme Court, and said that the reasons why DAPA exceeded DHS authority don't apply to DACA:

While at least some of the majority's reasons for holding DAPA illegal would apply to DACA, fairness requires saying that DACA and DAPA were different, as the panel opinion stated. An important criticism against DAPA would not apply against DACA, namely the fact that Congress had already established a pathway to lawful presence for alien parents of citizens (so that DAPA simply constituted a more lenient substitute route). DACA, by contrast, has no such analogue in the INA. And, there is a difference between 4.3 million [covered by DAPA] and 689,800 [covered by DACA]. Finally, the criticism that DACA has been mechanically administered without the exercise of discretion in individual cases, if true, could be fixed by simply insisting on exercise of discretion. In sum, the DAPA litigation was not a death knell for DACA.

The ruling will surely be appealed.

January 10, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sixth Circuit OKs Voting on Tennessee State Constitutional Abortion Amendment

The Sixth Circuit ruled today that voting rules on a proposed state constitutional amendment providing that the state constitution is not to be construed as protecting the right to abortion did not violate due process and equal protection. The ruling means that the state constitutional amendment can go into effect (although, given the federal right to abortion, it'll have no practical impact).

The case, George v. Hargett, arose when Tennessee voters approved an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution prohibiting construction of the state constitution to secure or protect the right to abortion or to require funding for abortion. Opponents of the measure sued, arguing that the voting rules for state constitutional amendments, found in Article XI, Section 3, of the state constitution, violated due process and equal protection.

Article XI, Section 3, provides:

if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the State voting for Governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.

The language is vague as to whether a vote must vote in both the gubernatorial election and on the amendment, or whether a voter could vote on the amendment without also voting in the gubernatorial election. (State practice said the latter.) So during the campaign, amendment supporters urged voters to vote for the proposed amendment, but not to vote in the gubernatorial election, in order to gain a numerical advantage. In contrast, amendment opponents urged voters to vote in both the gubernatorial election and on the amendment, in order to gain their own numerical advantage.

Tennessee voters voted in favor of the amendment. And for the first time in the state's history, the number of ballots cast on the amendment question exceeded the number of ballots in the gubernatorial election (reflecting the strength of the political campaign in favor of the amendment). This made the math easy: under Article XI, Section 3, the number of votes in favor of the amendment clearly exceeded half the number of total votes in the gubernatorial election.

Amendment opponents sued, arguing that Article XI, Section 3, under the prevailing interpretation, violated due process and equal protection. (They also argued for a different interpretation of Article XI, Section 3--that only those voters who also voted for governor could vote for the amendment--but the Sixth Circuit deferred to a final state court ruling that voters could vote on an amendment without also voting for governor.)

The Sixth Circuit rejected those claims. The court said that there was no due process violation, because no "voter's right to vote was burdened by government action." In short, the voting rules (set by the state court) allowed everyone to vote on the amendment, and counted all the votes on the amendment. The court said that there was no equal protection violation, because "[e]very vote cast--on the amendment and in the governor's race--was accorded the same weight."

The ruling ends the challenge and means that Tennessee's Constitution now contains a provision that prohibits an interpretation to secure or protect the right to abortion. But again: This'll have no practical effect on the right to abortion in the state, given the federal constitutional right to abortion.

January 9, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Says Group has Standing to Seek Powell E-Mails

Judge Trevor McFadden (D.D.C.) ruled today that Cause of Action Institute has standing to sue to seek former Secretary of State Colin Powell's work-related e-mails on his personal AOL account. The ruling means that the case can move forward.

Cause of Action Institute first sought the Powell e-mails through a FOIA request. But after the State Department said that the e-mails no longer exist, the organization sued under the Federal Records Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. State and the Archivist moved to dismiss, arguing that Cause's harm (not getting the e-mails) couldn't be redressed by a favorable court ruling, because, after all, the e-mails no longer exist. Without redressibility, there's no standing.

The court disagreed. Judge McFadden ruled, in short, that the government hadn't tried hard enough to obtain the missing e-mails, given its mandatory obligations to recover missing records under the FRA. The court followed the D.C. Circuit's lead in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Kerry, which held that a similar case seeking former Secretary Clinton's missing e-mails wasn't moot, and noted that further government investigation in that case led to the discovery of many of those e-mails. The same could be true here, the court reasoned, meaning that Cause could show that a court order for the government to investigate further could lead to the discovery of the e-mails--and that it therefore has standing.

Today's ruling--again, backed by the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Judicial Watch--means that Cause's case can move forward and seek a court order for the government to initiate action under the FRA through the Attorney General for recovery of the e-mails.

January 9, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Check it Out: WSJ on Trump DOJ's U-Turns

Check out this WSJ report on the Justice Department's reversals of positions in important cases under President Trump. Among the issues: union agency-fee and the First Amendment; Ohio's removal of nonvoters from the voting rolls; DACA; the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; federal subsidies for insurance companies on the exchanges; and prisoner rights.

January 8, 2018 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Daily Read: The Pentagon Papers Case, Prior Restraint, and Fire and Fury

Today brings the news that the President is contemplating litigation to halt the publication of Fire and Fury:Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.  This followed a reported cease and desist letter to former White House "chief strategist" and insider Steve Bannon for talking with Wolff in alleged violation of a nondisclosure agreement.

51AEI3isFiL._SX327_BO1 204 203 200_

The letter to the book's publisher is reportedly based on a claim of defamation:

“Actual malice (reckless disregard for the truth) can be proven by the fact that the Book admits in the Introduction that it contains untrue statements. Moreover, the Book appears to cite to no sources for many of its most damaging statements about Mr. Trump. Also, many of your so-called ‘sources’ have stated publicly that they never spoke to Mr. Wolff and/or never made the statements that are being attributed to them. Other alleged ‘sources’ of statements about Mr. Trump are believed to have no personal knowledge of the facts upon which they are making statements or are known to be unreliable and/or strongly biased against Mr. Trump.” 

But behind the obvious relevance of New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) which set the doctrine of actual malice for defamation under the First Amendment, lurks another case involving the New York Times: New York Times v. United States (1971), often called the "Pentagon Papers Case." 

It is the Pentagon Papers Case that solidified the disfavor for prior restraint. 

The brief per curiam opinion in the 6-3 decision stated that there is "a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity," and the government "thus carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the imposition of such a restraint."  While it is certainly the United States government that is a party to the Pentagon Papers Case, most commentators and scholars believe that it was President Nixon who was at the forefront of the attempt to stop publication of the papers. Arguably, the Pentagon Papers involved "state secrets," but President Trump, like Nixon, has been criticized as conflating his own interests with that of the government.

It's thus a good time to reconsider the continuing relevance of the case and its litigation. One perspective is available in the movie The Post involving the Pentagon Papers and starring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post.

Another good perspective is a recent conversation between James C. Goodale, author of Fighting for the Press: the Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles and Jeremy Scahill, one of the founders of The Intercept and author of Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which I moderated at CUNY School of Law. 

Here's the video:

 

 

January 4, 2018 in Books, Campaign Finance, Conferences, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, News, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Chief Justice Roberts' Year End Report Highlights Disasters and Harassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

D.C. Circuit Declines to Halt Election Integrity Commission Request for Voter Information for Lack of Standing

The D.C. Circuit ruled that the Electronic Privacy Information Center lacked standing to obtain an injunction halting a request by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for voter information from the states. The district court ruled earlier that EPIC had standing, but was unlikely to succeed on the merits, because the Commission wasn't an "agency" under the Administrative Procedure Act. The D.C. Circuit ruling has the same effect--denial of a preliminary injunction--but for a different reason: EPIC hasn't demonstrated a substantial likelihood of standing.

The ruling is only on EPIC's motion for a preliminary injunction. But EPIC's lack of standing at this preliminary stage may also mean that it (later) lacks standing to bring the claim at all. Based on the D.C. Circuit's ruling, it seems that only voters themselves, or an organization that represents voters, would have standing to bring this kind of claim.

EPIC initially brought the case to challenge the Commission's request for voter information without first conducting, and producing, a privacy impact assessment under the E-Government Act. EPIC argued that it was entitled to the assessment, and that its failure to receive it formed the basis of its standing.

The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court ruled that EPIC lacked both informational injury and organizational injury. As to the former, informational injury, the court said that EPIC "has not suffered the type of harm that section 208 of the E-Government Act seeks to prevent. Indeed, EPIC is not even the type of plaintiff that can suffer such harm." The court said that section 208 was designed to protect the privacy of individuals (here, voters), not an organization like EPIC, an organization that does not have members (much less voter members) and whose only interest is in "ensur[ing] public oversight of record systems."

As to organizational injury, the court said that, because the E-Government Act doesn't confer an informational interest on EPIC (as above), EPIC can't ground organizational injury on the Act. "It follows that any resources EPIC used to counteract the lack of a privacy impact assessment--an assessment in which it has no cognizable interest--were "a self-inflicted budgetary choice that cannot qualify as an injury in fact." Moreover, the Commission's request for voter information without an assessment didn't cause EPIC to take any particular measures.

Finally, the court said that halting the Commission's collection of voter data wouldn't likely redress any informational or organizational injury, anyway. That's because ordering the Commission to halt its collection of information--assuming the Commission is subject to the Act--"only negates the need (if any) to prepare an assessment, making it less likely that EPIC will obtain the information it says is essential to its mission of "focus[ing] public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues."

December 27, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

CREW's Emoluments Case Kicked for Lack of Standing

A federal judge ruled today that CREW and other plaintiffs lacked standing to sue President Trump for Emoluments Clause violations. We posted most recently on the case here.

The ruling ends the case, unless and until it's appealed.

The case arose when CREW and other plaintiffs (including hotel- and restaurant-owners who compete with Trump properties) sued the President for accepting gifts and emoluments from foreign and domestic sources without congressional approval, in violation of the Emoluments Clause. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

The government argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the case should be dismissed. Today Judge George B. Daniels (S.D.N.Y.) agreed.

The court said the "hospitality plaintiffs" lacked competitive standing, because they didn't sufficiently allege that President Trump's Emoluments Clause violations caused their injuries (lack of business due to competition with Trump properties) and that a successful suit would redress those injuries. The court explained:

Here, the Hospitality Plaintiffs argue that Defendant has adopted "policies and practices that powerfully incentivize government officials to patronize his properties in hopes of winning his affection." Yet . . . it is wholly speculative whether the Hospitality Plaintiffs' loss of business is fairly traceable to Defendant's "incentives" or instead results from government officials' independent desire to patronize Defendant's businesses. Even before Defendant took office, he had amassed wealth and fame and was competing against the Hospitality Plaintiffs in the restaurant and hotel business. It is only natural that interest in his properties has generally increased since he became President. As such, despite any alleged violation on Defendant's part, the Hospitality Plaintiffs may face a tougher competitive market overall. Aside from Defendant's public profile, there are a number of reasons why patrons may choose to visit Defendant's hotels and restaurants including service, quality, location, price and other factors related to individual preference. Therefore, the connection between the Hospitality Plaintiffs' alleged injury and Defendant's actions is too tenuous to satisfy Article III's causation requirement.

***

[Moreover,] Plaintiffs are likely facing an increase in competition in their respective markets for business from all types of customers--government and non-government customers alike--and there is no remedy this Court can fashion to level the playing field for Plaintiffs as it relates to overall competition. . . .  [T]he Emoluments Clauses prohibit Defendant from receiving gifts and emoluments. They do not prohibit Defendant's businesses from competing directly with the Hospitality Plaintiffs.

The court went on to hold that the Hospitality Plaintiffs weren't within the zone of interests protected by the Emoluments Clause.

The court also held that CREW lacked standing, because its alleged harm (diversion of resources to monitor and respond to the President's Emoluments Clause violations) wasn't sufficient. "Here, CREW fails to allege either that Defendant's actions have impeded its ability to perform a particular mission-related activity, or that it was forced to expend resources to counteract and remedy the adverse consequences or harmful effects of Defendant's conduct. CREW . . . may have diverted some of its resources to address conduct it may consider unconstitutional, but which has caused no legally cognizable adverse consequences, tangible or otherwise, necessitating the expenditure of organizational resources."

Finally, the court ruled that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question (because of the Emolument Clause's textual commitment to a coordinate branch of government, Congress) and that the case wasn't ripe (because "a conflict between two coordinate branches of government . . . has yet to mature").

December 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1)