Saturday, March 25, 2017

Virginia District Judge Upholds Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

In his opinion in Sarsour v. Trump, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia Anthony Trenga denied the Plaintiffs' motion for Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction.

At issue is the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0." 

Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," was enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump,; our backgrounder on the issues is here.  The President withdrew the initial EO and the Ninth Circuit denied the sua sponte motion for en banc review, but in a somewhat unusual step there was a substantive dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee.

Recall also that regarding the March 6, 2017 EO ("Muslim Travel Ban 2.0"), two other federal district judges issued injunctions before the EO became effective.  In Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson issued a TRO of sections 2 and 6 of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their Establishment Clause challenge.  In International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a preliminary injunction of section 2(e) of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their statutory claim under the Immigration and Nationality Act and their constitutional claim under the Establishment Clause.Judge Trenga disagrees with both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, although the opinion does not engage in a substantial dialogue with these opinions. 

Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour, plaintiff via

For example, on the statutory claim in Sarsour v. Trump, Judge Trenga concludes after reviewing "the text and structure of the INA as a whole, and specifically, the practical, operational relationships" of the provisions, that the nondiscrimination restrictions of §1152 do not "apply to the issuance or denial of non-immigrant visas or entry under §1182(f).  In a footnote, Judge Trenga acknowledges that the judge in IRAP v. Trump "attempted to reconcile these seemingly contradictory provisions," and simply adds, "There, the court concluded that Section 1152 bars the President from discriminating on the basis of nationality in the issuance of immigrant visas only." (footnote 12).  Judge Trenga characterized the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as a "legislative rabbit warren that is not easily navigated," but his ultimate conclusion seems to be based on a broad view of Executive authority. Judge Trenga writes that the he "also has substantial doubts that Section 1152 can be reasonably read to impose any restrictions on the President’s exercise of his authority under Sections 1182(f) or 1185(a)."

Similarly, on the Establishment Clause claim Judge Trenga accorded the Executive broad deference.  Unlike the judges in both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, Judge Trenga found that the facial neutrality of "EO-2" was determinative.  Judge Trenga held that past statements - - - or the EO-2 statements (described in a footnote as including the President's statement that EO-2 was a "watered-down version" of EO-1, and Presidential Advisor Stephen Miller's statements) - - - have not "effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority":

In other words, the substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that Plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose. To proceed otherwise would thrust this Court into the realm of “‘look[ing] behind’ the president’s national security judgments . . . result[ing] in a trial de novo of the president’s national security determinations,” Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at *8, and would require “a psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts,” all within the context of extending Establishment Clause jurisprudence to national security judgments in an unprecedented way.

Likewise, on the Equal Protection claim, Judge Trenga concluded that although the EO would have a differential impact on Muslims, it was facially neutral.  The Judge relied on an earlier Fourth Circuit case, Rajah v. Mukasy (2008) and articulated the standard as requiring merely a rational national security basis for an immigration measure to survive an Equal Protection Clause challenge.  And again, Judge Trenga accorded the Executive wide discretion: "These are judgments committed to the political branches - - - not to the courts."

In sum, Judge Trenga's opinion aligns with the Ninth Circuit dissent from en banc review by Judge Bybee and is in opposition to the other district judges who have rendered opinions on the second EO which have enjoined its enforcement.  

March 25, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing, Travel | 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)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ninth Circuit Declines En Banc Review in Washington v. Trump, Muslim Ban I . . . but with dissent

Recall the proceedings in Washington v. Trump in which a panel opinion upheld an injunction against the January 27, 2017 Executive Order by the President, now popularly known as Muslim Ban I.  Because the President withdrew the EO, replacing it with the March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" - - - enjoined today in Hawai'i v. Trump - - - proceedings in the Muslim Ban I became irrelevant and the United States dismissed the appeal.  Nevertheless, upon the request of a Ninth Circuit judge, a poll was taken to determine whether the Ninth Circuit should hear the case en banc and vacate the panel opinion.  Today, the order on this en banc request was rendered, and the "matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the active
judges in favor of en banc reconsideration." 

The order is accompanied by a paragraph concurring opining by Judge Reinhardt:

I concur in our court’s decision regarding President Trump’s first Executive Order – the ban on immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries. I also concur in our court’s determination to stand by that decision, despite the effort of a small number of our members to overturn or vacate it. Finally, I am proud to be a part of this court and a judicial system that is independent and courageous, and that vigorously protects the constitutional rights of all, regardless of the source of any efforts to weaken or diminish them.

BybeeThere is also a more than 20 page dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee (pictured) and joined by Judges Kozinski, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuta.

The dissenting opinion of Judge Bybee, controversial in many quarters for his expansive views of Executive power, argues that the President's EO was "well within the powers of the presidency."  Essentially, the dissent argues that the panel opinion did not sufficiently defer to the Executive and Congressional power over immigration.  "The appropriate test for judging executive and congressional action affecting aliens who are outside our borders and seeking admission is set forth in Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)."  The dissent faults the panel opinion because it "missed" the Court's 2015 opinion in Kerry v. Din, "in which Din (a U.S. citizen) claimed that the government’s refusal to grant her Afghani husband a visa violated her own constitutional right to live with her husband. A plurality held that Din had no such constitutional right." 

Judge Bybee's opinion seems to suggest that the panel misconstrued the law in service of the judge's own personal agendas, even as the opinion criticizes personal attacks on judges:

We are all acutely aware of the enormous controversy and chaos that attended the issuance of the Executive Order. People contested the extent of the national security interests at stake, and they debated the value that the Executive Order added to our security against the real suffering of potential emigres. As tempting as it is to use the judicial power to balance those competing interests as we see fit, we cannot let our personal inclinations get ahead of important, overarching principles about who gets to make decisions in our democracy. For better or worse, every four years we hold a contested presidential election. We have all found ourselves disappointed with the election results in one election cycle or another. But it is the best of American traditions that we also understand and respect the consequences of our elections. Even when we disagree with the judgment of the political branches—and perhaps especially when we disagree—we have to trust that the wisdom of the nation as a whole will prevail in the end.

Above all, in a democracy, we have the duty to preserve the liberty of the people by keeping the enormous powers of the national government separated. We are judges, not Platonic Guardians. It is our duty to say what the law is, and the meta-source of our law, the U.S. Constitution, commits the power to make foreign policy, including the decisions to permit or forbid entry into the United States, to the President and Congress. We will yet regret not having taken this case en banc to keep those lines of authority straight.     

Finally, I wish to comment on the public discourse that has surrounded these proceedings. The panel addressed the government’s request for a stay under the worst conditions imaginable, including extraordinarily compressed briefing and argument schedules and the most intense public scrutiny of our court that I can remember. Even as I dissent from our decision not to vacate the panel’s flawed opinion, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues. The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties. It does no credit to the arguments of the parties to impugn the motives or the competence of the members of this court; ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for effective advocacy. Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.

This dissenting opinion serves as a reminder that the question of the amount of deference to the Executive regarding a "Muslim ban" is a contentious one; this dissenting opinion may also serve as a roadmap to the arguments supporting broad executive power.

[Update: Federal District Judge Theodore Chuang finds the Mandel standard inapplicable in his opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump]. 

March 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hawai'i District Judge Issues TRO Against Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

United States District Judge Derrick Watson has issued a Temporary Restraining Order in Hawai'i v. Trump against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0."  Recall that the original 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.  Recall also that Judge Watson allowed Hawai'i to amend its original complaint challenging the previous EO. 

Judge Watson's more than 40 page opinion first engages in an explanation of the facts giving rise to the litigation.

HawaiiDetailedMapNext, Judge Watson concludes there is Article III standing.  He finds that Hawai'i has standing based on its proprietary interests (and thus there was no need to reach the parens patriae standing theory).  The first proprietary interest is the state's financial and intangible interests in its universities, very similar to the interests the Ninth Circuit found sufficient in Washington v. Trump, involving the previous EO.  The second proprietary interest was to the state's "main economic driver: tourism."  Additionally, Judge Watson concludes that Dr. Elshikh, added as a plaintiff in the amended complaint has standing, specifically addressing the Establishment Clause claim in which injury can be "particularly elusive." Moreover, his claim is ripe.

As to the likelihood of success on the merits prong of the TRO requirement, Judge Watson concluded that the plaintiffs "and Dr. Elshikh in particular" are likely to succeed on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim (and thus the court did not reach the other claims).

Judge Watson acknowledged that the EO does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion. There is no express reference, for instance, to any religion nor does the Executive Order—unlike its predecessor—contain any term or phrase that can be reasonably characterized as having a religious origin or connotation.

Nevertheless, the court can certainly look behind the EO's neutral text, despite the Government's argument to the contrary, to determine the purpose of the Government action.  Judge Watson stated that the record before the court was "unique," including "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation" of the EO and its "related predecessor."  Judge Watson then provided excerpts of several of Trump's statements, and rejected the Government's caution that courts should not look into the "veiled psyche" and "secret motives" of government decisionmakers:

The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.[]” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7, 2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive
 Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced
 it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a
commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8.
On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.

In a footnote, Judge Watson lists "many more" examples.

Moreover, Judge Watson engaged with the plaintiffs' arguments that the EO was contextual, including pointing out that the security rationales listed in the EO included an incident involving an Iraqi national when Iraq was no longer included in the EO; the delayed timing of the EO; and the focus on nationality rather than residence.  But Judge Watson noted that while such "assertions certainly call the motivations behind the Executive Order into greater question, they are not necessary to the Court's Establishment Clause determination."

Judge Watson does note that context could change and that the Executive is not forever barred, but as it stands the purpose of the EO is one that has a primary religious discriminatory purpose and will most likely not survive the Establishment Clause challenge.

Having found a likelihood of success on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Watson easily found there was irreparable harm and that a temporary restraining order was appropriate.

Judge Watson's injunction against Sections 2 and 6 of the EO applies "across the Nation."  Should an emergency appeal be sought, Judge Watson's order already denies a stay of the TRO, but does direct the parties to submit a briefing schedule for further proceedings.

March 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

DC Circuit Upholds Statute Prohibiting Speeches in Supreme Court Building

Reversing the district judge, the D.C. Circuit's opinion in United States v. Bronstein upheld the prohibition of certain speech in the United States Supreme Court against a challenge that it was unconstitutionally vague and thus violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

The statute, 40 U.S.C. § 6134, entitled “Firearms, fireworks, speeches, and objectionable language in the Supreme Court Building and grounds,” provides:

It is unlawful to discharge a firearm, firework or explosive, set fire to a combustible, make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds.

The district judge had found that “harangues” and “orations” are terms that “cannot be determined without reference to subjective perceptions and individual sensitivities," and thus the statute was not sufficiently precise. The unanimous D.C. Circuit panel found that the statute's

core meaning is delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the Court. In the context of the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, the terms’ core meaning proscribes determinable conduct.

 Moreover, the court found that "while “harangue” and “oration” may not roll off the average person’s tongue today," this "does not alter their possession of a settled meaning around public speeches."  The general sense is "making a speech to a public assembly," and based on the title of the statute, the sense is clear that this pertains to "noises" intended to "disrupt the court's operations." 

1998-134-4_new

In its application, the opinion by Judge Janice Rogers Brown somewhat oddly includes a cinematic reference:

Turning to the facts here, a person of ordinary intelligence could read this law and understand that, as a member of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audience, making disruptive public speeches is clearly proscribed behavior—even in staccato bursts, seriatim. And yet, in a coordinated fashion, each Appellee is alleged to have directed a variation of the same message to the Justices of the Supreme Court and the assembled audience. Their coordinated standing, facing the bench, and messaging indicate the Appellees were addressing the Court and gallery. Cf. MY COUSIN VINNY (20th Century Fox 1992) (Judge Chamberlain Haller: “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair! . . . When you’re addressing this court, you’ll rise and speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.”). Viewed objectively, these alleged acts could easily be considered speeches to a public assembly that tended to disrupt the Court’s operations—conduct covered by § 6134’s prohibition of “make a harangue or oration.”

 Earlier in the Bronstein opinion, joined by Judge Srinivasan and Senior Judge Williams, Judge Brown does provide more of the substance of the speeches which included objections to Citizens United and the legal construction of money as speech.  Judge Brown notes that the protest occurred on "April Fools Day of 2015;" the protest group describes the timing as being on the eve of the one year anniversary of McCutcheon v. FEC. (There were no arguments on April 2, the actual anniversary, or the day after). 

While a due process decision, Bronstein is consistent with judicial rejection of First Amendment challenges to statutes prohibiting expression in and around the United States Supreme Court.  We've previously discussed the "special status" of the United States Supreme Court building, the Supreme Court's efforts to ensure its regulations were constitutional, as well as the D.C. Circuit's opinion in Hodge v. Talkin (2015) which upheld the constitutionality of statutory prohibitions of assembly and display of flags or signs on the United States Supreme Court plaza, and the arrest of a person for wearing a jacket with the word "Occupy" on it.

 

 

March 5, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Court Decides Bethune-Hill on Racial Gerrymandering: New Equal Protection Standard on Remand

In its opinion in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.

Recall that the challenge was to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Virginia did consider race in the redistricting, but the question was whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court required an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race.

Va Districts

In the opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court clarified the relationship between traditional redistricting principles and unconstitutional racial gerrymandering:

The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit misshapen districts. It prohibits unjustified racial classifications.

More precisely, although there is a racial classification if "redistricting legislation that is so bizarre on its face that it is unexplainable on grounds other than race," as in Shaw v. Reno, (1993), this "inconsistency between the enacted plan and traditional redistricting criteria is not a threshold requirement or a mandatory precondition in order for a challenger to establish a claim of racial gerrymandering."  The Court admitted that "to date " it had not affirmed a racial predominance finding, or remanded a case for a determination of predominance, "without evi­dence that some district lines deviated from traditional principles." Nevertheless, "there may be cases where challengers will be able to establish racial predominance in the absence of an actual conflict by presenting direct evidence of the legislative purpose and intent or other compelling circumstantial evidence." 

Given this articulation of the standard, the three-judge court's analysis of whether there was racial gerrymandering applied only to the portions of the districts that deviated from traditional requirements was clearly problematical.  Indeed,

the basic unit of analysis for racial gerrymander­ing claims in general, and for the racial predominance inquiry in particular, is the district.

The ultimate object of the inquiry, however, is the legis­lature’s predominant motive for the design of the district as a whole. A court faced with a racial gerrymandering claim therefore must consider all of the lines of the district at issue; any explanation for a particular portion of the lines, moreover, must take account of the district wide context. Concentrating on particular portions in isolation may obscure the significance of relevant district wide evidence, such as stark splits in the racial composition of populations moved into and out of disparate parts of the district, or the use of an express racial target. A holistic analysis is necessary to give that kind of evidence its proper weight.

The Court declined the parties' request to apply this standard and remanded the matter of eleven districts. 

As to the twelfth district (district 75), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's finding that race predominated but also that the redistricting satisfied strict scrutiny.  The Court found that not violating §5 of the Voting Rights Act - - - operative then despite the VRA's subsequent erosion in Shelby County v. Holder - - - was a compelling government interest and that the district was narrowly tailored to serve that interest. In his partial dissent, Justice Thomas insisted that this very analysis "is fundamentally at odds with our “color-blind” Constitution, which “neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,” citing Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting). Justice Thomas then argued that this "contradiction illustrates the perversity of the Court’s jurisprudence in this area as well as the uncomfortable position in which the State might find itself."

Despite the articulation of a somewhat new standard, Bethune-Hill does not seem to be a major opinion and the Court states its "holding in this case is controlled by precedent." Interestingly, the Court did not issue its opinion on the other racial gerrymandering case, McCrory v. Harris, arising in North Carolina and argued on the same day.

[image via]

March 1, 2017 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

District Judge Finds School District's Exclusionary Bathroom Policy Likely Violates Equal Protection

In his well-reasoned and comprehensive 48 page opinion in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania has issued a preliminary injunction against a school policy that limits students to facilities that "correspond to their biological sex" or to "unisex facilities," finding that the policy likely violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The Pittsburgh-area school district passed Resolution 2 in 2016 by a close vote (5-4), after Resolution 1 which would have preserved the status quo failed to pass in a tied vote (4-4), after meetings and after some sporadic parental complaints.  The policy seemed focused on three transgender students, including the named plaintiff Juliet Evancho, the sister of Jackie Evancho who sang at the President's January inauguration.  As Judge Hornak relates, before 2016 "there were simply no issues or concerns" about the plaintiffs and everyone in the school district treated the students "consistently with their gender identities."  He added that the "most distinctive and illustrative evidence of this is that Juliet Evancho ran for Homecoming Queen in 2016, and she was elected by her peers to the “Homecoming Court” of finalists for that honor." 

Home2016
After extensively discussing the record, including the school district's privacy concerns, Judge Hornak found there was a indeed a classification being made, the plaintiffs being "distinguished by governmental action from those whose gender identities are congruent with their assigned sex" and the "only students who are not allowed to use the common restrooms consistent with their gender identities.” Later in the opinion, Judge Hornak discussed the unsatisfactory solution of the "safety valve" of unisex facilities:

the law does not impose on the Plaintiffs the obligation to use single-user facilities in order to “solve the problem.” In these circumstances, that would compel them to use only restrooms inconsistent with their gender identities or to use the “special” restrooms. That is a choice directed by official edict, and it is not a choice compelled of other students. It is no answer under the Equal Protection Clause that those impermissibly singled out for differential treatment can, and therefore must, themselves “solve the problem” by further separating themselves from their peers.

As to the Equal Protection standard to be applied, Judge Hornak first discussed rational basis but decided that the intermediate scrutiny standard of United States v. Virginia (VMI) for sex classifications was applicable.  The selection of standard rested on the conclusion that "transgender status" is the "epitome of gender noncomformity" and discrimination based on transgender status is "akin to discrimination based on sex."  Additionally, the opinion recited factors determining whether a "new" classification deserves heightened scrutiny.    

In applying the standard, Judge Hornak found that the record did not establish facts that demonstrated there was an important government interest or exceedingly persuasive justification that was substantially related to those interests:

First, such an application of Resolution 2 would not appear to be necessary to quell any actual or incipient threat, disturbance or other disruption of school activities by the Plaintiffs. There is no record of any such thing. ****

Second, Resolution 2 would appear to do little to address any actual privacy concern of any student that is not already well addressed by the physical layout of the bathrooms. The District has stated that Resolution 2 is necessary to protect the privacy of students (presumably including the Plaintiffs), by which the District has stated it means the sanctity of excretory functions. The record simply does not reveal any actual risk (or even an actual risk of a risk) in such regards. ****

Third, Resolution 2 would not appear to have been necessary in order to fill some gap in the District’s code of student conduct or the positive law of Pennsylvania in order to proscribe unlawful malicious “peeping Torn” activity by anyone pretending to be transgender.” There is no evidence of such a gap. The existing disciplinary rules of the District and the laws of Pennsylvania would address such matters. And as noted above, there is no record evidence of an actual or threatened outbreak of other students falsely or deceptively declaring themselves to be “transgender” for the purpose of engaging in untoward and maliciously improper activities in the High School restrooms.”

Fourth, such application of Resolution 2 also would not appear to be supported by any actual need for students to routinely use the comers of the restrooms for changing into athletic gear from street clothes. 

Interestingly, this last consideration seems to have arisen from a "hypothetical matching a personal experience from his own school days" asserted by counsel for the school district.  (Evidence and Professional Responsibility Professors might take note of this).  Judge Hornak opined that perhaps that "reported anecdotal evidence can be treated" as being a "plausible historical recitation of life events," but there was no "record evidence" that this was the situation in the district.

While Judge Hornak found that the plaintiffs would prevail on the Equal Protection Clause claim, the judge did not find a likelihood of success on the Title IX claim in light of the pending Supreme Court case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., oral argument scheduled later this month. Section IV of the Judge Hornak's opinion, about 10 pages, coupled with the preliminary footnote regarding the recent Department of Education activities, is an excellent overview of the GG litigation including the pertinent issues. 

Judge Hornak's opinion is also an excellent reminder that whatever might happen in GG at the Supreme Court, there are remaining equal protection issues.  Recall that although the Fourth Circuit in GG centered on Title IX and the administrative law issues, Count I of the original complaint in GG is an equal protection claim.  

 

video: from Lambda Legal representing Evancho

 

February 28, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Federal Judge Enjoins California AB1687 Prohibiting Publication of Entertainers' Ages

In a brief Order in IMBD v. Becerra, federal district judge Vince Chhabria enjoined California AB 1687, added as §1798.83.5, stating that "it's difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment."

The statute provides that a commercial online entertainment employment service provider, such as IMBD,

that enters into a contractual agreement to provide employment services to an individual for a subscription payment shall not, upon request by the subscriber, do either of the following:

(1) Publish or make public the subscriber’s date of birth or age information in an online profile of the subscriber.
(2) Share the subscriber’s date of birth or age information with any Internet Web sites for the purpose of publication.
The purpose stated in the statute is to "ensure that information obtained on an Internet Web site regarding an individual’s age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination."
 Judge Chhabria held that the statute which prohibits "IMDb from publishing factual information (information about the ages of people in the entertainment industry) on its website for public consumption" is clearly a content regulation.  Thus, "the burden is on the government to show that the restriction is "actually necessary" to serve a compelling government interest." 
Meryl-streepTo be sure, the government has identified a compelling goal – preventing age discrimination in Hollywood. But the government has not shown how AB 1687 is "necessary" to advance that goal. In fact, it's not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal antidiscrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end. For example, although the government asserts generically that age discrimination continues in Hollywood despite the long-time presence of antidiscrimination laws, the government fails to explain why more vigorous enforcement of those laws would not be at least as effective at combatting age discrimination as removing birthdates from a single website. Because the government has presented nothing to suggest that AB 1687 would actually combat age discrimination (much less that it's necessary to combat age discrimination), there is an exceedingly strong likelihood that IMDb will prevail in this lawsuit.
In sum, the judge rules that age discrimination in Hollywood may be a problem, but governmental efforts to conceal information about actors' ages is not the solution.
 

February 22, 2017 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sixth Circuit Finds County Commission Prayer Violates First Amendment

In its divided opinion in Bormuth v. County of Jackson (Michigan), a panel of the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the prayer practices of a county commission violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

The constitutionality of legislative prayer has most recently been before the United States Supreme Court in the sharply divided opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the practice of the town beginning its meetings with invited religious leaders providing prayers.  The Court essentially extended Marsh v. Chambers (1983), regarding legislative prayer in the Nebraska legislature, to town meetings despite their quasi-legislative and quasi-adjudicative function.  

The Sixth Circuit first held that the County of Jackson's Board of Commissioners’ practice strays from the traditional purpose and effect of legislative prayer:

A confluence of factors distinguishes the Jackson County practice from the practices upheld in Marsh and Town of Greece. These factors include the deliverance of the invocations by the Commissioners themselves in a local setting with constituent petitioners in the audience, as well as the Board’s intentional decision to exclude other prayer givers in order to control the content of the prayers.

A-6130305Additionally, the Sixth Circuit in Bormuth was troubled by the issue of coercion raised by the plaintiff.  The facts were not only that the Chair of the Jackson County Commission generally  "directs those in attendance to “rise” and “assume a reverent position" before a County Commissioner delivers a Christian prayer, but that a Commissioner "made faces" and "turned his chair around" when Bormuth expressed concern about the prayers.  One Commissioner later stated that Bormuth was attacking "my Lord and savior Jesus Christ," and another Commissioner remarked, “All this political correctness, after a while I get sick of it.”  As Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for the panel majority:

Admittedly, the precise role of coercion in an Establishment Clause inquiry is unclear, especially within the context of legislative prayer. In that sense, both Justice Kennedy’s and Justice Thomas’s opinions involve at least some departure from the state of the law as it existed before Town of Greece. However, given that there is controlling precedent supporting Justice Kennedy’s opinion and no controlling precedent supporting Justice Thomas’s concurrence, Justice Thomas’s concurrence is neither the “the least doctrinally far-reaching-common ground among the Justices in the majority,” nor the “opinion that offers the least change to the law.” [citation omitted]. What is more, when viewed within the context of the majority’s holding, Justice Kennedy’s opinion clearly represents the narrowest grounds. The majority’s holding was that there was no coercion. According to Justice Kennedy, this was because there was no coercion in the record. According to Justice Thomas, this was because there could never be coercion absent formal legal compulsion. Within the context of a ruling against the respondents, therefore, the narrower opinion is Justice Kennedy’s, not Justice Thomas’s. Accordingly, Justice Kennedy’s conception of coercion is the holding of the Court under binding Sixth Circuit precedent.

 In finding coercion in Bormuth,  Judge Moore noted that Town of Greece ruled that “[t]he analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity.”  Judge Moore then detailed the presence of all three of these criteria in Bormuth.

Judge Moore discussed Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina,  in which a divided Fourth Circuit held that the identity of the person leading a prayer opening the county Board of Commissioners meeting was irrelevant and upheld a prayer led by a Board member.  Dissenting Sixth Circuit Judge Griffin wrote at length and relied heavily on Lund.  For her part, Judge Moore specifically stated that Judge Wilkinson’s panel dissent in Lund is much more convincing than the majority opinion, and noted that because Lund has been granted a rehearing en banc, this view is one that "a significant number of Fourth Circuit judges presumably share."  Additionally, however, Judge Moore found that  there are "significant factual differences" between the practice at issue in the Fourth Circuit and the one before the court in the Sixth Circuit.

The issue of legislative prayer in the context of local government continues to vex the courts; there is almost sure to be a petition for rehearing en banc in the Sixth Circuit mirroring the successful one in the Fourth.

image: Bernardo Strozzi, St Francis in Prayer, circa 1620, via National Gallery of Art

 

February 20, 2017 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

Washington Supreme Court Denies Constitutional Claims of Florist in Same-Sex Wedding Refusal

In its unanimous opinion in State v. Arlene's Flowers, the Supreme Court of Washington upheld the Washington Law Against Discrimination including sexual orientation as applied to a business that refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding. 

The owner of Arlene's Flowers argued that the anti-discrimination statute was not applicable to her and if it did, it violated her constitutional rights of free speech, free exercise, and free association under the First Amendment as well as under the Washington state constitution.

On the First Amendment claims, the court found that Arlene's Flowers argument regarding compelled speech failed because the owner's flower arranging did not meet the threshold of expression.  The court relied on Rumsfeld v. FAIR to hold that the owner's

decision to either provide or refuse to provide flowers for a wedding does not inherently express a message about that wedding. As [she] acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism. [She] also testified that she has previously declined wedding business on "[m]ajor holidays, when we don't have the staff or if they want particular flowers that we can't get in the time frame they need."  Accordingly, an outside observer may be left to wonder whether a wedding was declined for one of at least three reasons: a religious objection, insufficient staff, or insufficient stock.

Roses_-_Vincent_van_GoghThe court rejected the applicability of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston (1985), as well as a litany of other United States Supreme Court cases regarding this threshold of expression.  In essence, the court emphasized that it was the sale of all flowers from her shop rather than any particular floral arrangement that was at issue in the case. 

On the Free Exercise claim, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument that the Washington ant-discrimination law was not a neutral one of general applicability and should therefore warrant strict scrutiny.  Instead, the court applied the rational basis standard of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, which the Washington anti-discrimination easily passed.

However, the analysis of free exercise under the Washington state constitution, article I §11 was not so simple because Washington has not always adopted the Smith standard when reviewing claims under its state constitution.  Nevertheless, the court found that even subjecting the Washington anti-discrimination law to strict scrutiny, the statute survives.  The court "emphatically" rejected the claim that there was no compelling interest of the state in flowers for weddings: the "case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches." 

Finally, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument regarding free association, noting that all of the cases upon which she relied were not businesses.  As to the business itself, the court also upheld a finding of personal liability of the owner, the person who had refused service.

The United States Supreme Court has denied petitions for writ of certiorari in similar cases, but it is highly likely that a petition for certiorari will follow, especially given the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Court.

 

February 16, 2017 in Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Virginia District Judge Enjoins Trump's EO "Muslim Ban"

The federal district judge in Aziz v. Trump, having previously granted the Motion of the State of Virginia to intervene, has granted a Preliminary Injunction against section 3(c) of the President's Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." The judge's order is  supported by a 22 page Memorandum Opinion.  Recall that the Ninth Circuit has also recently ruled on the matter (refusing to stay a district judge's injunction); our general explainer of the issues is here.

Judge Leonie Brinkema rested her opinion on the Establishment Clause, finding a likelihood of success on the merits on that claim, and thus not reaching the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause or statutory claims.

Judge Brinkema found that the case was justiciable and that Virginia as a state has standing to raise claims based on the injuries to its universities.  The judge rejected the contention that the President has unbridled power to issue the EO, stating that

Maximum power does not mean absolute power. Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress’ delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. It is a bedrock principle of this nation’s legal system that “the Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution.” The Federalist No. 81, at 481 (Alexander Hamilton) (Clinton Rossiter ed., 1999).     Defendants have cited no authority for the proposition that Congress can delegate to the president the power to violate the Constitution and its amendments and the Supreme Court has made it clear that even in the context of immigration law, congressional and executive power “is subject to important constitutional limitations.” Zadfldas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 695 (2001).

 As to whether or not the EO is a "Muslim ban," the judge relied on public statements by the President and his senior advisors, noting that although the Government disputes the relevancy of the statements, the government does not contest their accuracy. Among the statements the Judge found relevant are candidate Trump's campaign statements and Rudolph Guiliani's January 29, 2017 interview on Fox News.

Judge Brinkema's analysis of the Establishment Clause issue relies heavily on McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky in which the Court found unconstitutional the display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse based in large part of the motive of the state actors. The judge also rejected the argument that the EO could not be a "Muslim ban" because it did not ban all Muslims:

The argument has also been made that the Court cannot infer an anti-Muslim animus because the E0 does not affect all, or even most, Muslims. The major premise of that argument—that one can only demonstrate animus toward a group of people by targeting all of them at once—is flawed.      For example, it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court considered the displays of the Ten Commandments erected by the Kentucky counties in McCreary, which had a localized impact, to be targeted at all persons outside the Judeo-Christian traditions. Moreover, the Supreme Court has never reduced its Establishment Clause jurisprudence to a mathematical exercise. It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution. [citations omitted]

Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction of 3(c) of the EO against Virginia residents or those affiliated with Virginia's education institutions.

 

February 13, 2017 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Federal District Judge Enjoins "Muslim Ban" in Washington v. Trump

In a Temporary Restraining Order, United States District Judge James Robart enjoined the federal government from enforcing sections 3(c), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), and 5(e) of the Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." 

Judge Hobart's Order is brief and concludes that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, although it does not specify which of the claims is likely to succeed.  Washington State's complaint contains 7 counts claiming violations of constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, and Procedural Due Process, as well as statutory violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (2 counts), Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act, the Administrative Procedure Act (2 counts), and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).

A_morning_wandering_around_the_Base_of_the_Mt._Baker_Ski_Area_(at_Mt_Shuksan)_-_(28474738420)
Mt. Baker, Washington, by Murray Foubister via

The Judge's finding that Washington faces the "immediate and irreparable injury" requirement for preliminary relief might also be a comment on the merits of Washington's standing (which we first discussed here) to bring the suit, and would be pertinent to the standing of the state of Hawai'i, which has also sued. Judge Robart found:

The Executive Order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States by virtue of their roles as parens patriae of the residents living within their borders.  In addition, the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the States" operations, tax bases, and public funds.

Additionally, in the Order's one paragraph Conclusion, Judge Robart implicitly invokes the Marbury v. Madison aspects of the controversy.  Here is the entire last paragraph:

Fundamental to the work of this court is a vigilant recognition that it is but one of   three equal branches of our federal government. The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this   country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution. The narrow question the court is asked to consider today is whether it is appropriate to enter a TRO against certain actions taken by the Executive in the context of this specific lawsuit. Although the question is narrow, the court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents. The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government. Accordingly, the court concludes that entry of the above-described TRO is necessary, and the States’ motion (Dkt. ## 2, 19) is therefore GRANTED.

 The morning after the Judge's Order, the President from his vacation home "tweeted" his disapproval, maligning the judge but seemingly committed to pursue further judicial process.
 

February 4, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Race, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Seventh Circuit Shoots Down Chicago's Restrictions on Firing Ranges

The Seventh Circuit ruled yesterday that Chicago's restrictions on firing ranges violate the Second Amendment. The ruling means that the City can no longer enforce two of its zoning restrictions and an age regulation for firing ranges, and that Chicago will have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to zone or regulate.

The case has some history. Chicago previously banned all firing ranges from the City. But the Seventh Circuit struck that ban, ruling that it intruded on "the core individual right of armed defense[,] includ[ing] a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in firearm use through target practice at a range."

The City came back with a bevy of regulations, including three at issue here: (1) a zoning restriction that limits firing ranges only as special uses in manufacturing districts; (2) a zoning restriction that prohibits ranges within 100 feet of another range or within 500 feet of a residential district, school, place of worship, and multiple other uses; and (3) a provision barring anyone under age 18 from entering a shooting range.

The court applied the familiar two-part framework to Second Amendment challenges. It first asked whether the regulated activity fell within the scope of the Second Amendment. It next asked, if so, do the regulations meet the sliding scale of heightened scrutiny, where a regulation must more closely fit the government's objectives the most closely the regulations touch on the core of the Second Amendment?

Drawing on its earlier case and the "Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use via target practice at a range," the court said that the three regulations all fell within the scope of the Second Amendment. The court then held that the City failed to provide any evidentiary support for its claimed concerns to justify the regulations--firing range attract gun thieves, they cause airborne lead contamination, and they carry a risk of fire--and therefore they must fail.

Importantly, the court held that the two zoning restrictions had to be considered as a package, not separately. The court then noted that between the two, only about 2.2 percent of City area was available to firing ranges. Moreover, since the court's earlier ruling, no firing range had opened in the City.

Judge Rovner wrote a lengthy opinion dissenting on the distance-zoning regulation, but concurring on the other points. Judge Rovner argued that the court should have analyzed the two zoning regulations separately, and, if it had, it should have ruled that the City had sufficient interests in regulating the distance between a firing range and certain other sites. Judge Rovner also wrote that the City should have greater leeway in regulating "the limited rights of minors under the Second Amendment," citing a host of stories about injuries and deaths of youths at firing ranges. But ultimately she agreed with the majority that "the outright ban on all children under the age of eighteen entering a firing range is impermissible . . . ."

January 19, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

D.C. Circuit Rejects Free Speech Claim of Inauguration Protest Group

The D.C. Circuit rejected a claim today that the Park Service's set-aside of Freedom Plaza for the Inauguration Committee violated the free speech rights of a group that sought to protest in that space during President-Elect Trump's inauguration.

The ruling ends this challenge, and means that the group will have to find some other place to protest.

The case involves a 2008 Park Service regulation that authorizes a priority permit setting aside a portion of space along the Inaugural Parade route to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for ticketed spectator bleachers. (The set-aside amounts to about 13 percent of the space along the route. In total, about 30 percent of the space along the route is not open to the public; the other 70 percent is available on a first-come, first-served basis.) That area includes Freedom Plaza, a park along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The set-aside priority permit does not displace the regular permit process for protestor along the parade route. But it means that protestors can't use the area set aside for the Inaugural Committee.

That's where ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) comes in. ANSWER sought to protest on Freedom Plaza, but couldn't, because the space was reserved for the Inaugural Committee. ANSWER sued, arguing that the set-aside violated its free speech rights.

The D.C. Circuit rejected this claim. The court ruled that the Park Service set-aside was a content-neutral, time, place, manner regulation of speech in a public forum, that was narrowly tailored to achieve a significant government interest (celebrating the inauguration), and left open ample alternatives for speech.

The court rejected ANSWER's argument that the regulation was viewpoint based, because the group sought to protest against President-Elect Trump: "ANSWER's admittedly viewpoint-based reason for seeking access to the Plaza does not, however, make any rule that stands in its way content based."

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