Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eighth Circuit Finds North Dakota's "Heartbeat" Abortion Prohibition Unconstitutional

A unanimous panel of the Eighth Circuit, affirming the district judge, found that North Dakota's abortion regulation based on a "detectable heartbeat" is unconstitutional in its opinion in MKB Management Corp. v. Stenehjem. 

North Dakota's 2013 House Bill 1456, codified at N.D. Cent. Code § 14-02.1, mandates physicians determine whether the "unborn child" has a "detectable heartbeat," and if so, makes it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion.  The medical evidence submitted was that a "detectable heartbeat" occurs when a woman is about six weeks pregnant.

LogoThe court held that a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability is binding United States Supreme Court precedent, quoting language from Gonzales v. Carhart (2007): "Before viability, a State 'may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy.'” 

However, the Eighth Circuit opinion noted that while it could not depart from the current state of protection of the right to abortion, the United States Supreme Court should reconsider the issue.  Essentially, the Eighth Circuit opinion argues that "developments in the unborn" should shift the balance to the ability of the states - - - and not the courts - - - to protect the unborn and assert the interest in "potential life."  The court's opinion also discussed the controversial findings that women who have had abortions suffer from emotional ills including regret, as well as repeating evidence that "some studies support a connection between abortion and breast cancer."  The court thus concludes, "the continued application of the Supreme Court’s viability standard discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children."

Nevertheless, the opinion clearly finds the North Dakota law unconstitutional.

July 22, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wisconsin Supremes End Walker Campaign Finance Investigation

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled this week that a special prosecutor's reading of Wisconsin's campaign finance rules in the investigation into illegal coordination between "independent" organizations and Governor Scott Walker's campaign violated the First Amendment. The ruling ends the investigation into the alleged coordination. It also opens the spigot for coordinated expenditures between outside organizations and campaigns on all but express advocacy for the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

The special prosecutor alleged that that the Walker campaign coordinated with outside organizations on issue advocacy in the recall elections related to Wisconsin Act 10, the bill that sharply curtailed public sector union rights in Wisconsin. In particular, the prosecutor alleged that the coordination was so extensive that the outside organizations became subcommittees of Walker's campaign under Wisconsin law, and that the outside organizations' coordinated issue advocacy amounted to a contribution to the Walker campaign--all in violation of Wisconsin law.

But all this turned on whether the advocacy was for "political purposes." Wisconsin law defines "political purposes" as an act

done for the purpose of influencing the election or nomination for election of any individual to state or local office, for the purpose of influencing the recall from or retention in office of an individual holding a state or local office, for the purpose of payment of expenses incurred as a result of a recount at an election, or for the purpose of influencing a particular vote at a referendum. . . .

(a) Acts which are done for "political purposes" include but are not limited to:

1. The making of a communication which expressly advocates the election, defeat, recall or retention of a clearly identified candidate or a particular vote at a referendum.

In short, the special prosecutor claimed that the coordination was for "political purposes," and therefore illegal.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the definition of "political purposes" (and, in particular, the phrase "influencing [an] election") was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, in that it potentially banned coordination on issue advocacy (and not just express advocacy for the election or defeat of a candidate). "The lack of clarity in [the definition], which the special prosecutor relies on, leads us to the unsettling conclusion that it is left to the government bureaucrats and/or individual prosecutors to determine how much coordination between campaign committees and independent groups is "too much" coordination." The court gave the definition a narrowing construction that limited the definition of "political purposes" to include only express advocacy for the election or defeat of a candidate (and not issue advocacy).

The opinion drew a sharp dissent, which argued that the ruling limited the state's campaign finance regulations beyond what the Supreme Court required and, in doing so, opened up a free-for-all on spending and coordination between "independent" groups and campaigns on issue advocacy.

According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, no opinion of the United States Supreme Court or a federal court of appeals has established that the First Amendment forbids regulation of, or inquiry into, coordination between a candidate's campaign committee and issue advocacy groups. In repeatedly and single-mindedly declaring a rule that federal case law has declined to adopt, the majority opinion betrays its results-oriented, agenda-driven approach.

July 18, 2015 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tenth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Contraception Mandate

The Tenth Circuit today rejected statutory and First Amendment challenges to HHS's religious accommodation to its contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. We most recently posted on the issue, in the Notre Dame case in the Seventh Circuit, here.

The plaintiffs in the case--Little Sisters of the Poor, Southern Nazarene, and Reaching Souls--argued that the HHS requirement that they notify their health insurance providers, third party insurers, or HHS (with a simple letter) in order to get out from under the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, free exercise and establishment of religion, and free speech.

The Tenth Circuit rejected the claims. In a lengthy opinion that comes with its own glossary and table of contents, the court ruled that it wasn't the plaintiffs' accommodation (the notification of their objection) that triggered the provision of contraceptions; it was the law. (Judge Posner arrived at the same conclusion with more colorful language in the Notre Dame case.) Given this, there was no substantial burden on religion under RFRA. Moreover, the court said that the accommodation met rational basis review under the Free Exercise Clause, that it didn't discriminate between religions and religious organizations in violation of the Establishment Clause, and that the accommodation didn't amount to compelled speech under the First Amendment.

July 14, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

No Remedy for Torture Victims, Court Reaffirms

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) yesterday reaffirmed that torture victims lack a remedy in the federal courts. Judge Huvelle applied circuit precedent and granted the government's motion to dismiss Mohammed Jawad's torture claims against government officials. The ruling ends Jawad's case, unless and until he appeals.

The case is not surprising, given the state of the law, but it is disturbing: it reaffirms (yet again) that torture victims lack a judicial remedy.

Jawad claimed that government officials authorized his torture at Guantanamo Bay, before and after designating him an "enemy combatant" and before releasing him as no longer "legally detainable" after over six years in detention. Jawad claimed that officials violated the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Torture Victims Protection Act, and the Fifth and Eighth Amendment.

Judge Huvelle rejected all these claims. Judge Huvelle denied Jawad's FTCA claims, because she said that government officials were acting within the scope of their employment--torture, evidently, is within the scope of employment to maintain order and discipline at Guantanamo--and because the government's waiver of immunity under the FTCA doesn't apply outside the United States. Judge Huvelle denied the TVPA claim, because U.S. officials weren't acting under the law of a foreign nation, as required by the TVPA. And she denied Jawad's constitutional claims, because she said that special factors counseled against extending a Bivens remedy.

Judge Huvelle also ruled that Jawad's claims are foreclosed by the Military Commissions Act, which bars non-habeas claims against the government or its agents related to "conditions of confinement of an alien . . . who was properly detained as an enemy combatant . . . ." Judge Huvelle said that the government never disavowed its classification of Jawad as an enemy combatant, even though the government later said that he was no longer legally detainable.

The ruling is hardly a surprise, given circuit precedent and the state of the law. But it is disturbing: It says (yet again) that torture victims don't have a judicial remedy.

July 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Second Circuit Holds Unwed Mother-Father Immigration Distinction Unconstitutional

In its opinion in Morales-Santana v. Lynch, a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit has held that the differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child violated equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment's protections. It creates a conflict in the circuits and sets up another trip to the United States Supreme Court on the issue, the last one having resulted in a 4-4 split as discussed below. 

The statutory scheme at issue, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1409(c), was the one in effect when Morales-Santana was born in 1962 outside the US to unwed parents.  His parents married each other in 1970 and he was admitted to the US as a lawful permanent resident in 1975.   In 2000, Morales-Santana was placed in removal proceedings after a conviction for various felonies and applied for withholding based on derivative citizenship from his father.

Derivative citizenship, which occurs at the moment of birth, is bestowed on a child born abroad to an unwed citizen mother and non‐citizen father has citizenship at birth so long as the mother was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of at least one year at some point prior to the child’s birth. By contrast, a child born abroad to an unwed citizen father and non‐citizen mother has citizenship at birth only if the father was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth for a period or periods totaling at least ten years, with at least five of those years occurring after the age of fourteen.  Morales-Santana's father, born in Puerto Rico in 1900, met the one year requirement but not the ten year requirement at the time of his son's birth.  Both parties agreed that had Morales‐Santana’s mother, rather than his father, been a citizen continuously present in Puerto Rico until 20 days prior to her nineteenth birthday, she would have satisfied the requirements to confer derivative citizenship on her child. It is this gender‐based difference in treatment that Morales‐Santana claims violated his father’s right to equal protection.

Carl_Schweninger_Mutterglück
image via

The Second Circuit's decision that the differential requirements for unwed fathers and mothers is unconstitutional must confront several United States Supreme Court decisions that point in a different direction on the equal protection issue in citizenship statutes, including two recent decisions.  First, the Court  in  Nguyen v. INS (2001) upheld gender discrimination regarding establishment of paternity.  The Second Circuit notes that Morales-Santana complied with the statutory provisions upheld in Nguyen: the child was "legitimated" and thus paternity "acknowledged" when his parents married in 1970.  Second, and more important, is the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" in Flores-Villar v. United States in 2011. The Ninth Circuit in Flores-Villar  had upheld the differential residency requirement. 

Judge Ray Lohier's for the Second Circuit subjects the statutory scheme to intermediate heightened scrutiny under United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), rejecting the government's argument that essentially all citizenship statutes should be subject to mere rational basis review. 

With regard to the government's proffered interests, the court acknowledged that ensuring a sufficient connection between the child and the United States is important, but then states that the differential treatments of mothers and fathers is unrelated to it:  the government

offers no reason, and we see no reason, that unwed fathers need more time than unwed mothers in the United States prior to their child’s birth in order to assimilate the values that the statute seeks to ensure are passed on to citizen children born abroad.

The Second Circuit then recognizes that its "determination conflicts with the decision of the Ninth Circuit in Flores‐Villar, which addressed the same statutory provisions and discussed the same governmental interest in ensuring a connection between child and country."

As to the government's second interest - - - preventing statelessness - - - the court again agrees that it is important, but concludes that this was not a genuine actual interest of the legislation.

Neither the congressional hearings nor the relevant congressional reports concerning the 1940 Act contain any reference to the problem of statelessness for children born abroad. The congressional hearings concerning the 1952 Act are similarly silent about statelessness as a driving concern.

Moreover, even if it had been the government's concern, gender-neutral alternatives - - - which the court notes had been proposed as "far back as 1933" - - - would serve this purpose.  Additionally, the ten year differential, which importantly cannot be cured since it attaches at the moment of birth, is substantial.  Again, this time in a footnote (n.17), the court acknowledges that its decision differs from that of the Ninth Circuit.

The court then finds the paternity provision unconstitutional and rejects the government's proposed remedy that all derivative citizenship be subject to the longer ten year period.

Presumably, the government will seek certiorari.  (And while this case involves a previous statute, the current statute maintains a gender differential).  A petition would have a good chance of being granted given the split in the circuits.  But the Court's 4-4 split in 2011 in Flores-Villar occurred because Justice Kagan was recused; this would not be the case this time.  And perhaps the Obama Administration will chose not to seek review. 

July 8, 2015 in Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

DC Circuit Upholds Federal Employment Application Limited to DC Area

As most law students learn, a state or locality cannot limit applicants for employment to its own residents because of a "right to travel."  But can the federal government limit applicants to those currently residing in the District of Columbia area?  In its opinion in Pollack v. Duff, the DC Court of Appeals has stated that the federal government can do so.

The case began with a 2009 job posting from the Administrative Office (AO) of the United States Courts for an attorney-advisor for a job in DC.  The posting provided that the AO would consider applications from any employee of the federal judiciary and from any other person who lived within the "Washington Metropolitan Area." 

Map_DC_metro_lgMalla Pollack, who represented herself in this litigation, is a former DC Court of Appeals clerk and accomplished legal scholar.  She applied for the position when she no longer worked for the judiciary and was living in Kentucky.  The  AO rejected her application because of her residency.  She protested based on residency, but was referred to the Fair Employment Practices System; she was then told that such complaints were limited to allegations of discrimination based on race, and other categories that did not include residency.  The DC Court of Appeals opinion notes that the AO's actions of referral and then dismissal essentially "played upon" Pollack.  The court might also have characterized the AO's argument of judicial review preclusion - - - because the Fair Employment Practices System is the exclusive means for deciding a claim of discrimination - - - as attempting to "play upon" the court.  Instead, the court merely gives the argument the brief discussion it merited.  

The court also notes that this is the second time the litigation reached the DC Court of Appeals.  In late 2012, the court reversed the dismissal of the complaint based on sovereign immunity, concluding that sovereign immunity does not bar a suit seeking specific relief for officers acting outside the bounds of constitutional authority.

On the merits of the right to travel argument, the court's opinion - - - authored by Senior Judge Douglas Ginsburg - - - untangles the various strands of the constitutional right to travel as might be applied to actions by the federal government.  The court first looks at Article IV §2, the privileges and immunities clause, but finds it protects state citizens against actions by other states, not by the federal government.  The court engages with the erudite originalist argument centered on James Iredell but nevertheless rejects it, noting that although the historical record is not "pellucid," reasoning in part that the

location of the Privileges and Immunities Clause in § 2 of Article IV supports the conclusion that it is directed at the states and not at the national government. Article IV is the “so-called States’ Relations Article.”  Section 2 of Article IV, in addition to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, included the Interstate Rendition Clause and the Fugitive Slave Clause, both of which were concerned with comity among the states.

The court's rejection of the equal protection claim does not rest on its inapplicability to the federal government, which "indisputably" applies to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment, including in its right to travel aspects.  Instead, the court essentially finds Pollack's claimed right too speculative:

If the AO had reviewed her application, then it might have offered her a job, which might have prompted her to move to the Washington area. Thus, Pollack might have been marginally more likely to travel to the Washington area but for the geographical limitation she is challenging. This effect upon Pollack’s willingness to travel, i.e., to exercise her right to travel, is “negligible” and does not warrant scrutiny under the Constitution.

Additionally, and more remarkably, the court rejects the argument that the AO created a classification that serves to penalize the right to travel by reasoning that the AO classification actually incentivizes the right to travel.  Distinguishing the AO classification from the durational residency requirement at issue in the landmark right to travel case of  Shapiro v. Thompson (1969), the court reasoned:

The AO’s geographical limitation is quite different, however, because it would not penalize Pollack if she decided to travel from Kentucky to the Washington area. To the contrary, the geographical limitation gives Pollack an incentive to travel to Washington in order to apply for a job with the AO that is open only to residents of the area. In other words, the geographical limitation burdens only Pollack’s decision not to travel interstate.

[emphasis in original].  The court thus did not consider what level of scrutiny should apply or whether any level would be satisfied, but simply held that the classification did not actually implicate the right to travel.  On the court's read, Pollack's only viable claim would be if she had been in DC and discouraged from leaving because she wanted to apply for the AO position; a claim the court notes that she did not make and would not have standing to raise on behalf of another person.

After a brief consideration of structural arguments, the court concludes by questioning the wisdom of the AO policy:

We agree with Pollack that it is difficult to comprehend why the AO refused to consider applicants who did not live in the Washington area but were willing to move there if they received an offer of employment. The AO points out that it receives applications from many qualified attorneys and it must limit the total number of applicants for certain positions so that it may focus upon those it is most interested in hiring. It is unclear, however, why the agency would use a geographical limitation to control the size of its applicant pool rather than criteria that are likely to be more closely correlated with job performance.

But the court decides that the AO did not violate Pollack's constitutional rights.  And given this decision - - - and the AO's protracted litigation on the issue - - - one can only assume that the AO will limit applicants by geography in future job postings.

July 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ninth Circuit Finds Constitutional Problems with Arizona's Anti-Ethnic Studies Law

In its opinion in Arce v. Douglas, a panel of the Ninth Circuit has found that Arizona's so-called anti-ethnic studies statute suffers from constitutional infirmities.

Recall that Arizona's HB 2281, which we noted when it was passed in 2010, codified as Arizona Revised Statute §15-112, provides:

A.  A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

 In 2013, Judge Wallace  Tashima, who was sitting by designation as district judge, ruled on the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to the statute, substantially upholding the statute but finding subsection (3) was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but severable from the remainder of the statute.

800px-Gerardo_Murillo_(Dr._Atl)_-_Paisaje_con_el_Iztaccíhuatl_,_1932
image: Paisaje con el Iztaccíhuatl — obra de Gerardo Murillo, 1932, via

Today's Ninth Circuit opinion - - - authored by New York District Judge Jed Rakoff sitting by designation, and joined in full by Judge Noonan, with a partial concurrence and dissent by Judge Richard Clifton - - - affirmed the district court’s rulings that § 15- 112(A)(3) is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment but severable from the rest of the statute; that §§ 15-112(A)(2) and (A)(4) are not overbroad in violation of the First Amendment; and that §§ 15-112(A)(2) and (A)(4) are not vague in violation of the Due Process Clause.  However, the appellate panel found fault with the sua sponte grants of summary judgment - - - both on the equal protection claim and on a First Amendment viewpoint discrimination claim.

As to the equal protection claim, the Ninth Circuit concluded that subsections (3) and (4), while not facially discriminatory, raised constitutional issues because of evidence of their discriminatory purpose in enactment or enforcement.  The Ninth Circuit remanded the issue to be considered by the district court in light of the Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) factors:

  • (1) the impact of the official action and whether it bears more heavily on one race than another;
  • (2) the historical background of the decision;
  • (3) the specific sequence of events leading to the challenged action;
  • (4) the defendant’s departures from normal procedures or substantive conclusions; and
  • (5) the relevant legislative or administrative history.

The majority discussed the factors and the evidence, finding that there was sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact.  Judge Clifton dissented on the procedural posture of the remand, arguing that the district court should be able to fully consider summary judgment.

On the other remanded issue - - - the First Amendment viewpoint discrimination claim - - - the Ninth Circuit did not preclude summary judgment, noting that the district judge "did not even review the evidence" on this issue.

As to the unconstitutionality of subsection (3) as violative of the First Amendment,  the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court.  Interestingly, the Ninth Circuit stated:

The very danger we perceive was corroborated, at oral argument, when we asked counsel for defendants whether the statute could be found to prohibit a public school course in San Francisco on the topic of Chinese history that was open to all students but was designed in consideration of the substantial Chinese and Chinese American student population there that might benefit from a greater understanding of its history. Defendants asserted that the course could be found in violation. As indicated by this example, subsection (A)(3) threatens to chill the teaching of ethnic studies courses that may offer great value to students— yet it does so without furthering the legitimate pedagogical purpose of reducing racism.

However, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that the other sections of the statute survived the First Amendment challenges rooted in curricular decisions.

Thus, on remand, the state will need to show that its so-called anti-ethnic studies statute was not actually anti-people of certain ethnic identities.

July 7, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

D.C. Circuit Upholds Ban on Contractor Political Contributions

The full D.C. Circuit today upheld the federal ban on government contractor political contributions to candidates and parties. The ruling is a significant victory for campaign finance regulation, and rebuffs a direct challenge to the core of the Court's First Amendment rule on political contributions. At the same time, the case also sets up a challenge to that core for potential Supreme Court review. (We posted previously on the case here.)

The case, Wagner v. FEC, involves a narrow issue: whether the federal ban on contributions to a candidate or a political party by an individual federal contractor violates the First Amendment. The en banc D.C. Circuit unanimously said no. The court applied the familiar "lesser but still 'rigorous standard of review'" that governs restrictions on contributions, and held that the government's interests in (1) avoiding corruption and the appearance of corruption and (2) protection against interference with merit-based public administration supported the ban. The court also ruled that the ban was sufficiently well tailored, and neither unconstitutionally over-inclusive nor under-inclusive, with respect to the two government interests.

The court's lengthy opinion detailed the history of pay-to-play, government responses to the problem of contractor corruption, and current problems with corruption. The self-consciously thorough ruling appears written to insulate it as much as possible from reversal at the Supreme Court and thus underscores the importance of the case.

The plaintiffs framed the case narrowly to directly take on the current lower-level test for political contributions (as opposed to independent political expenditures), and set up a test case to overturn that portion of Buckley v. Valeo that says that government must justify restrictions on contributions at only a lower level of scrutiny under the First Amendment. While today's ruling rebuffed that effort, this is almost surely just a bump in the road for the plaintiffs on the way to the Supreme Court--and their effort to get the Court itself to disavow the lower level of scrutiny (and apply strict scrutiny to contractor contributions), or at least rule that the government's ban on contractor contributions is too sloppy to withstand a lower level of review. Either way, if the Court bites, this could represent a serious challenge to government regulation of political contributions.

July 7, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Judge Posner Explains Why Contraception Mandate Accommodation Doesn't Violate RFRA (Again)

Judge Posner explained (yet again) last week why HHS's contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act doesn't violate religious freedom, in particular, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. His previous explanation in the Notre Dame case is perhaps the best statement why the accommodation to the mandate doesn't violate religious freedom; his ruling in the continuing, and up-and-down, Wheaton College case is next best.

Wheaton College, a nondenominational evangelical college in Wheaton, Illinois, challenged HHS's accommodation to its requirement that colleges provide contraception as part of their health-insurance policies. Wheaton College doesn't object to all the contraception required under the mandate, only those that it considers abortifacients.Still, the College apparently wasn't satisfied with the Supreme Court's instruction to simply inform the government of its objections (at which point the government would tell the insurers to provide the contraception to Wheaton students and employees free of charge, reimbursed by the government)--a religious accommodation. The College argued that this accommodation itself meant that the government would take over its insurance plan, interfere with its contractual relationship with its insurer, and force it to be complicit in its insurer's provision of contraception. The College sought a preliminary injunction. But the Seventh Circuit rejected the motion.

Judge Posner explained why the accommodation (the requirement to tell the government of its religious objections to contraception) didn't violate RFRA:

Wheaton's antipathy is to having any contractual relations with insurers who provide emergency contraception to members of the Wheaton College community. Because they are "its" insurers, someone not in the know might think it "complicit" in the insurers' provision of a type of coverage that offends Wheaton's religious views. But where's the complicity?

***

In any event, termination of the [insurance] contracts would give Wheaton only temporary relief, since the government would notify any new insurers hired by Wheaton of their legal obligation to provide emergency-contraceptive coverage.

In short: It's the government, not Wheaton College, that mandates contraception coverage; and the accommodation only requires Wheaton to inform the government of its objection. How can you get an accommodation if you can't inform the government of your objection?

July 6, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oklahoma Supreme Court Declares Ten Commandments Monument at State Capitol Unconstitutional Under State Constitution

In a relatively brief opinion today in Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, Oklahoma's highest court found that a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds violated the state constitution, Article 2, Section 5, which provides:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

  While the monument was a gift and no public funds were expended to acquire the monument, the court agreed that its placement on the Capitol grounds constituted the use of public property for the benefit of religion, emphasizing that the constitutional provision included the words “directly or indirectly.”

The court noted that the Legislature and Governor authorized the monument relying on the United States Supreme Court’s decision Van Orden v. Perry (2005), but noted that Van Orden was decided under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  Here, the Oklahoma Supreme Court interpreted the broader and more precise language of the Oklahoma state constitution.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s opinion contained the requisite language insulating it from United States Supreme Court review under the adequate and independent state grounds doctrine so important to federalism:

“Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. See Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1040-41 (1983).”

Two justices dissented, without opinion. 

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image Ten Commandments Austin, Texas, via

 

June 30, 2015 in Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Court Hands Victory to the People in Redistricting

The Supreme Court ruled in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that federal law and the Elections Clause permit the people of Arizona to create, by referendum, an independent redistricting commission and vest it with authority to redraw congressional districts.

Arizona voters designed the Commission to take redistricting authority away from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent authority. In validating the Commission, the Court handed a significant victory to the voters--the People themselves--as against the state legislature and its partisan gerrymandering. The ruling means that Arizona's independent commission stays in place and can continue its work redrawing congressional districts.

Here's our oral argument review.

The key dispute between the majority and dissent is how to cast the exercise of redistricting power through referendum: the majority says that the people themselves hold government power, and therefore hold "legislative" power under the Elections Clause to create an independent redistricting commission; the dissent says that only the legislature holds redistricting power under the Elections Clause.

Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She wrote that 2 U.S.C. Sec. 2a(c)--which provides that "[u]ntil a State is redistricted in the manner provided by the law thereof after any apportionment," it must follow federally prescribed redistricting procedures--permits redistricting by an independent commission created by voter referendum. She also wrote that the Elections Clause permits this. "The history and purpose of the Clause weigh heavily against [preclusion of the right of the people to create an independent redistricting commission], as does the animating principle of our Constitution that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government."

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. He wrote that the text, structure, and history of the Elections Clause say that only "the legislature" can prescribe "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives."

Justices Scalia and Thomas each wrote their own dissents, each joined by the other.

June 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Court Rejects Challenge to OK Lethal Injection

The Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross rejected an Eighth Amendment challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection cocktail. The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the death penalty and leaves in place a protocol that's resulted in a spate of gruesome and botched executions. It also means that the plaintiffs' executions will move forward under Oklahoma's protocol.

The case was important, because victory for the challengers would have left states with few, if any, viable and sustainable options for administering lethal injection--and may have marked the de facto beginning of the end of the death penalty. (That's why some states have explored other methods of execution recently.) But there was no victory for the challengers, so the ruling allows states to move forward with a popular, but deeply flawed, cocktail.

If the past is any indicator, opponents of the death penalty will now work outside the courts to get suppliers of Oklahoma's new drug to stop providing it to states that use it for lethal injections--the same strategy they used to force Oklahoma to turn to a new protocol in the first place. And if the past is any indicator, they'll be successful, which might, in turn, lead to the next protocol and the next challenge.

We posted on the oral arguments here.

Challengers argued that Oklahoma's use of the sedative midazolam as the first drug did not reliably induce and maintain a deep, coma-like unconsciousness that would render a person insensate to the excruciating pain caused by the second and third drugs (which paralyze and cause cardiac arrest, respectively). Oklahoma turned to midazolam after suppliers for the state's previous first drugs dried up.

Justice Alito wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas. Justice Alito wrote that the challengers didn't show that the state's use of midazolam created a demonstrated risk of severe pain, substantial compared to alternatives, and that they didn't identify a viable alternative. Justice Alito credited the district court's factual findings as to midazolam's ability to stop pain, and wrote that the district court didn't clearly err in finding that alternative drugs (the state's old drugs) were unavailable.

Justice Sotomayor wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. She argued that the district court erred in crediting the state's expert and in putting the burden on the challengers to identify a viable alternative to the state's use of midazolam.

Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and argued that the Court should entirely reevaluate the constitutionality of the death penalty. Justices Scalia and Thomas each wrote concurrences addressing Justice Breyer's points.

June 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Court Decides Fourteenth Amendment Requires States to License Same-Sex Marriage

In a closely-divided opinion, with the majority written by Justice Kennedy, the Court has decided that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages in Obergefell v. Hodges.   The opinion rests on both due process and equal protection grounds.  The majority opinion joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan - - - there are no concurring opinions - - - is less than 30 pages, plus 2 appendices including the citations of same-sex marriage opinions.  Each of the four dissenting Justices - - - Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito - - - wrote a separate dissenting opinion, with some joinders by other Justices. 

The decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages renders the second certified question regarding recognition irrelevant, as the discussion during oral arguments made clear.

Recall that the consolidated cases of Obergefell v. Hodges on certiorari from the Sixth Circuit opinion which had created a split in the circuits on the issue of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.   There have been a record number of amicus briefs filed in the cases highlighting the interest in the case.

 

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[image Donkey Hotey]

On the due process issue, Kennedy's opinion for the Court concludes that the right to marry is fundamental because:

  • the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, relying on Loving and Lawrence;
  • it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals, relying on Grsiwold, Rurner v. Safely, and Lawrence;
  • to safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education, relying on Pierce v. Society of Sisters and Windsor;
  • Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order, relying on Maynard v. Hill (1888).
Regarding equal protection, The Court does not articulate a standard for sexual orientation, but discusses the interlocking nature of the constitutional safeguards, relying on Loving, Zablocki v. Redhail, as well as the Lawrence.
 
The Court's opinion does address the "religious liberty" conflict of rights argument:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same- sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.

In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts - - - who some thought might join the majority and in a rare performance read from his dissent on the bench - - - emphasized that limited nature of judicial review and the power of the Court, concluding that the majority's opinion is an "extraordinary step" and predicting that because it is a decision of "five lawyers" this will make the "dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."
 
The majority bases its conclusion that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right on "four principles and traditions": (1) right to person choice in marriage is "inherent in the concept of individual autonomy"; (2) "two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals"; (3) marriage safeguards children and families; (4) marriage is a keystone to our social order. - See more at: http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_of_opinions__June_26_2015#sthash.OLg4SIRd.dpuf

June 26, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Court Rebuffs Attack on Obamacare Subsidies

The Supreme Court ruled today that the Affordable Care Act means exactly what Congress thought it meant in the first place: everybody should get--and be able to get--health insurance.

The Court ruled in King v. Burwell that the ACA authorizes federal tax subsidies for qualified purchasers of health insurance on federally-subsidized exchanges. The ruling means that qualified purchasers will continue to receive federal tax subsidies for their health insurance, that they won't go without insurance (at least not for a lack of subsidies), and that Obamacare remains intact.

Opponents attacked the subsidies, arguing that the ACA authorized subsidies only for purchasers on state exchanges, not federally-facilitated exchanges, and that the IRS had to stop extending subsidies to purchasers on federally-facilitated exchanges. Their argument turned on a single phrase in the Act, that subsidies extend to "an Exchange established by the State," despite the overwhelming evidence that the Act, as a whole, was designed to provide universal coverage. Our oral argument preview is here.

The Court today rejected the opponents' arguments. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. He wrote that the phrase "an Exchange established by the State" was ambiguous, given the way the rest of the Act hung together, and that the Court therefore should give the phrase a reading that harmonizes with the rest of the Act, including the Act's clear purpose to provide universal coverage. That reading, he wrote, meant that tax subsidies extend to purchasers on both state-created and federally-facilitated exchanges.

Chief Justice Roberts's opinion is notable for its recognition of the several key components of Obamacare (guaranteed issue, community rating, individual mandate, and tax subsidies) and how they are designed to operate together to ensure universal (or close to universal) coverage. The majority opinion also discussed in some detail how these components evolved and ended up in the ACA and the health-care and health-insurance problems they were designed to solve (including the death spiral).

But Chief Justice Roberts also took the opportunity make a dig on process--how the legislative road to the ACA was hurried and lacked transparency.

Justice Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito. The dissent was predictably colorful, but comes down to this:

The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says "Exchange established by the State" it means "Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government." This is of course quite absurd, and the Court's 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.

June 25, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Constitutional Concerns in the Supreme Court's Fair Housing Act Case

The Court's closely divided opinion in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs  v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., centers on the issue of whether the Fair Housing Act, 42 U. S. C. §3601 et seq., authorizes disparate impact (as distinguished from disparate treatment) claims.  Writing for the Court, Justice Kennedy held that it does.  Kennedy's statutory construction largely rests on interpretations of two precursor discriminatory statutes: Title VII (regarding employment) and the ADEA (prohibiting age discrimination).  It also rests on Congress's 1988 amendments to the FHA which seemingly ratified the availability of disparate-impact liability. 

751px-Fair_housing_protest,_Seattle,_1964Dissenting, Justice Thomas argued that the recognition of disparate-impact in Title VII by the Court in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971), was incorrect then and that error should not be repeated.  In the primary dissent, by Justice Alito, and joined by Thomas, Scalia, and Chief Justice Roberts, the Court's opinion in Griggs is less disparaged.  Instead, Alito argues that Griggs does not support the disparate impact interpretation of FHA, and that nothing in the FHA itself supports such an interpretation.  Moreover, the dissent argues that disparate impact liability will have "unfortunate consequences" of increasing liability, echoing the dissent's graphic opening "No one wants to live in a rat's nest." 

While a statutory interpretation question, Kennedy's opinion for the Court contains two important constitutional law matters.

First, the Court states that disparate-impact liability "has always been properly limited in key respects that avoid the serious constitutional questions that might arise under the FHA, for instance, if such liability were imposed based solely on a showing of a statistical disparity."  Statistics are insufficient because there may be valid interests being served by the housing developers "analogous to the business necessity standard under Title VII" and thus "a defense against disparate-impact liability."  Additionally, there must be a "robust causality requirement": "racial imbalance" without a specific link to the defendant's policy or policies causing the disparity cannot be sufficient.  These "safeguards" are necessary lest FHA enforcement "set our Nation back in its quest to reduce the salience of race in our social and economic system."

Second, should a court find a disparate-impact violation of FHA, the remedies a court can order must be constitutional:

Remedial orders in disparate-impact cases should concentrate on the elimination of the offending practice that “arbitrar[ily] . . . operate[s] invidiously to discriminate on the basis of rac[e].” Ibid. If additional measures are adopted, courts should strive to design them to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means. See Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U. S. 469, 510 (1989) (plurality opinion) (“[T]he city has at its disposal a whole array of race- neutral devices to increase the accessibility of city contracting opportunities to small entrepreneurs of all races”). Remedial orders that impose racial targets or quotas might raise more difficult constitutional questions.

While the automatic or pervasive injection of race into public and private transactions covered by the FHA has special dangers, it is also true that race may be considered in certain circumstances and in a proper fashion. Cf. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 551 U. S. 701, 789 (2007) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (“School boards may pursue the goal of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds and races through other means, including strategic site selection of new schools; [and] drawing attendance zones with general recognition of the demographics of neighborhoods”). Just as this Court has not “question[ed] an employer’s affirmative efforts to ensure that all groups have a fair opportunity to apply for promotions and to participate in the [promotion] process,” Ricci, 557 U. S., at 585, it likewise does not impugn housing authorities’ race-neutral efforts to encourage revitalization of communities that have long suffered the harsh consequences of segregated housing patterns. When setting their larger goals, local housing authorities may choose to foster diversity and combat racial isolation with race-neutral tools, and mere awareness of race in attempting to solve the problems facing inner cities does not doom that endeavor at the outset.

[ellipses in original].

Thus, Kennedy for the Court reiterates the so-called "affirmative action" cases that would be used to measure any remedies ordered for a finding of racial discrimination.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, who joined Kennedy's opinion here, might not subscribe entirely to those views given their other opinions on race and equal protection.  

[image: Fair Housing Protest, Seattle 1964, via]

June 25, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Supreme Court Decides Raisin USDA Program is an Unconstitutional Taking

The United States Supreme Court's opinion in Horne v. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
decisively declares the USDA's "California Raisin Marketing Order," under which a percentage of a grower's crop must be "put in reserve" is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. 

This regulatory program, under the authority of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act (AMAA) of 1937, as amended, 7 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., regarding raisins, is similar to other USDA programs and thus could have wide application. 

Sunmaid-recipe-booksBy resisting the program on behalf of "farmers," the Hornes have become "outlaws" or heroes of sorts. This is the second time that the Hornes have been to the Supreme Court: Recall that in a brief opinion in June 2013, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that the Hornes did state a claim for a taking. 

Today, again reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Court held that a taking did occur and that the Hornes were entitled to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.  Only Justice Sotomayor dissented from this conclusion, but Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan did not join Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court regarding the determination of "just compensation."

Relying on a Magna Carta provision regarding corn as well as on colonial history, Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court concludes that the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause applies with equal force to personal property as to real property.  Any distinction between real and personal property might be relevant in a regulatory takings case, but the Court stressed that this is a "clear physical taking": "Actual raisins are transferred from the growers to the Government."  (Whether this happens in a physical seizure was debated in the contentious oral argument and made another appearance in a to-and-fro between the Court's opinion and Sotomayor's dissent).  For the Court, growers thus lose "the entire 'bundle' of property rights in the appropriated raisins."  Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor disagrees that it is the entire bundle and thus disputes this conclusion.  Given this physicality, it is irrelevant for the Court that the USDA could achieve the same ends through a regulatory taking (such as prohibiting the sale):

A physi­cal taking of raisins and a regulatory limit on production may have the same economic impact on a grower. The Constitution, however, is concerned with means as well as ends. The Government has broad powers, but the means it uses to achieve its ends must be “consist[ent] with the letter and spirit of the constitution.” McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 421 (1819).

The Court also rejected the notion that because the USDA program reserved a contingent interest in the raisins for the growers that this relieved the government duty to pay just compensation. 

The Court also found that the USDA mandate to reserve raisins as a "condition" for engaging in interstate commerce effected a per se taking.  In reaching this conclusion, the Court rejected the Ninth Circuit's observation that the growers could grow other crops or use the grapes differently - - -

“Let them sell wine” is probably not much more comfort­ing to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history.

The Court also reached this conclusion by distinguishing other takings cases and other products. Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., 467 U. S. 986 (1984) is inapplicable because "raisins are not dangerous pesticides; they are a healthy snack."  Leonard & Leonard v. Earle, 279 U. S. 392 (1929) is likewise inapposite because "Raisins are not like oysters: they are private property— the fruit of the growers’ labor—not “public things" such as oysters that belonged to the state under state law.

The majority [corrected] of the Court determined that the "just compensation" owed to the Hornes is the fair market value of the raisins, the subject of the fine imposed by the USDA: $483,843.53.   Justice Breyer (and Ginsburg and Kagan), disagreeing with this conclusion, would remand the matter for a determination.  It is not that Justice Breyer disagrees that this was the amount of the fine, but that he disputes that this is the actual fair market value absent the taking.  In other words, the raisin reserve program operated to increase the cost of raisins.  Thus, without the program benefit, the raisins in reserve may have been worth much less that the amount fined, or even, Justice Breyer suggests, nothing at all.  He contends that the question of evaluation was not properly briefed before the Court.  For the Chief Justice, however, "This case, in litigation for more than a decade, has gone on long enough."

[image: 1916 California Sun Maid Raisin Recipe Book via]

June 22, 2015 in Fifth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US), Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (2)

Court Strikes Warrantless Hotel Registry Searches

The Supreme Court today struck a Los Angeles city ordinance that required hotels to make available their guest records "to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection . . . ." But at the same time the ruling specifically allows the city to require hotel owners to keep and retain a guest registry and says that officers can search it if they only get a warrant (even just an ex parte administrative warrant), or satisfy an established exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

In short, the ruling in Los Angeles v. Patel only requires officers to jump through a hoop--an important hoop, to be sure, but perhaps only a minimally challenging hoop--before reviewing hotel records.

Still, the sharply divided ruling is a clear victory for Fourth Amendment enthusiasts for two reasons. For one, the ruling requires precompliance review of some sort in the ordinary case. This means that in most cases a neutral decisionmaker would review an officer's request to search the records before the search. For another the ruling underscores the fact that challengers can bring a facial case under the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Sotomayor wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the LA ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment on its face. In particular, she said that ordinance authorized an extra-judicial administrative search (with no prior judicial approval and no probable cause requirement), and that kind of search requires the subject to "be afforded an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker." The Court explained why that's important:

Absent an opportunity for precompliance review, the ordinance creates an intolerable risk that searches authorized by it will exceed statutory limits, or be used as a pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests.

Although the Court recognized that it never really defined "precompliance review," the ordinance allowed no review and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment on its face. The Court said that the ordinance has to provide a hotel owner at least an opportunity for precompliance review; but because it didn't, it violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Court emphasized "the narrow  nature of our holding," saying that nothing in today's ruling prevents the city from requiring hotel owners from maintaining a guest registry with certain information, or authorizing the police to access that registry with appropriate Fourth Amendment protections, or under established Fourth Amendment exceptions.

Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Justice Scalia argued that a warrantless hotel records search was not unreasonable in every application (as required for a facial challenge), because hotels are closely regulated and therefore the government has more leeway in conducting warrantless administrative searches under New York v. Burger.

Justice Alito also dissented, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Alito argued that the Court overreached with its facial ruling, that there are (at least) five applications of the ordinance that satisfy the Fourth Amendment, and that the Court's ruling means that LA can never enforce its "116-year-old requirement that hotels make their registers available to police officers."

June 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Sets Objective Standard for Pretrial Detainee Civil Rights Action

The Supreme Court ruled today in Kingsley v. Hendrickson that a pretrial detainee need only show that an officer's use of force was objectively unreasonable--and not subjectively unreasonable, a higher standard--in order to prevail on an excessive force claim. The ruling reverses the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed a trial judge's jury instruction that set the bar at the higher subjective standard, and remands the case for an application of the lower objective standard.

The ruling means that a pretrial detainee's burden in an excessive force claim is lower than the standard upheld by the Seventh Circuit. That's good news for pretrial detainees who bring civil rights claims. But the Court was quick to say that a detainee still has other hurdles to jump--including qualified immunity.

Justice Breyer wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Breyer wrote that the trial court's jury instruction based on a subjective standard--that "[e]xcessive force means force applied recklessly that is unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances [and]  [d]efendants knew that using force presented a risk of harm to plaintiff, but they recklessly disregarded plaintiff's safety . . . ."--should have been been based on an objective standard--that "the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable."

Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent for himself, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Thomas. Justice Alito also dissented, arguing that the case should be dismissed as improvidently granted.

June 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sign Ordinance Violates First Amendment: Court Decides Reed v. Town of Gilbert

A unanimous Court, albeit with separate opinions, concluded that the extensive municipal signage regulations violated the First Amendment in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

Recall from oral arguments that the town's regulations generally required a permit to erect a sign, with nineteen different exemptions including “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to Qualifying Event.”  The exemption for these temporary directional signs further specifies that such signs "shall be no greater than 6 feet in height and 6 square feet in area,”and “shall only be displayed up to 12 hours before, during and 1 hour after the qualifying event ends.” Although the challenge involves a church sign, this was largely irrelevant. Instead the content at issue is the sign’s directional nature, if indeed "directions" is a matter of content. In a divided opinion the Ninth Circuit upheld the town Gilbert signregulation as content neutral.

Reversing the Ninth Circuit, Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, concluded that the Sign Code was content-based and did not survive strict scrutiny.  The Sign Code provision is content-based because, simply put, to determine if a sign is a "Temporary Directional Sign" one must determine whether the sign "conveys the message of directing the public" to an event.  It does not matter, Thomas writes for the Court, that the content may seem neutral:

A law that is content based on its face is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of the government’s benign motive, content-neutral justification, or lack of “animus toward the ideas contained” in the regulated speech. *** In other words, an innocuous justification cannot transform a facially content- based law into one that is content neutral.

Once the Court decided there the regulation was subject to strict scrutiny, there was little doubt that the town would not be able to satisfy the standard.  Thomas assumed that the proffered governments interests of aesthetics and traffic safety were compelling, but quickly determined that that the manner in which they were being served was far from narrowly tailored. Instead, the regulations were "hopelessly underinclusive."

The concurring opinions take on the issue raised in oral argument about the constitutionality of any town's attempt to regulate signage.  Justice Kagan's concurring opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg and by Breyer (who also has a separate concurring opinion) - - - but not by Justice Alito, who has his own brief concurrence, joined by Kennedy and Sotomayor (who also join the Thomas's opinion for the Court)- - - argues that strict scrutiny is not appropriate for all sign ordinances.  Kagan states:

Although the majority insists that applying strict scrutiny to all such ordinances is “essential” to protecting First Amendment freedoms,  I find it challenging to understand why that is so. This Court’s decisions articulate two important and related reasons for subjecting content-based speech regulations to the most exacting standard of review. The first is “to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.” McCullen v. Coakley. The second is to ensure that the government has not regulated speech “based on hostility—or favoritism— towards the underlying message expressed.” R. A. V. v. St. Paul (1992). Yet the subject-matter exemptions included in many sign ordinances do not implicate those concerns. Allowing residents, say, to install a light bulb over “name and address” signs but no others does not distort the marketplace of ideas. Nor does that different treatment give rise to an inference of impermissible government motive.

She instead argues that the "we may do well to relax our guard so that 'entirely reasonable' laws imperiled by strict scrutiny can survive."  But it was evident that even the concurring Justices  did not view the Town of Gilbert's signage regulations as entirely reasonable.

June 18, 2015 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Decides Specialty License Plate is Government Speech in Sons of Confederate Veterans License Plate

In a closely - - - and interestingly - - - divided opinion today in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Court's majority decided that Texas's specialty license plate program is government speech and therefore rejected the First Amendment challenge to the denial of a specialty license plate requested by the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Justice Breyer delivered the Court's opinion, joined by four Justices, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and - - - Thomas.  The dissenting opinion by Justice Alito was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, and Kennedy.  And while Justice Breyer has become known for his appendices, this opinion has a simple one: the image of the rejected Sons of Confederate Veterans plate.  Meanwhile, Alito's dissenting opinion has a more extensive appendix; it includes the images of 58 specialty plates that Texas has approved.

No-pix-license-plate-021413As was evident in the oral arguments, and is frequently the case in First Amendment speech controversies, there was a definite choice of doctrine at stake.  Recall that the Fifth Circuit's divided opinion, reversing the district judge, found that the denial violated the First Amendment as impermissible viewpoint and content discrimination.  The Court today not only rejected that view, but it rejected the applicability of any forum analysis.  Instead, the Court applied the doctrine of government speech articulated in the Court's unanimous Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2009) finding that there is no meaningful distinction between the privately placed monuments in Summum and the license plates in Texas.  This was raised at numerous points in the oral arguments and echoes the opinion of Judge Jerry Smith who had dissented in the Fifth Circuit's divided opinion.  Breyer did note that there were some aspects of Summum that were not exactly parallel, such as the permanence of the monuments in Summun, the opinion states that this was important because the public parks in Summun are traditional public forums, which is not the case for license plates.

And as for that other and most famous license plate case, Wooley v. Maynard (1977), the Court's majority opinion distinguished Walker because "compelled private speech is not at issue."  And indeed, if there is any compulsion of conveying ideological messages to be protected against here, it is that of the state being compelled to "include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates."

Justice Alito's dissenting opinion has at its base a common-sense disagreement.  Noting the proliferation of specialty plates, supported by his Appendix, he asks:

As you sat there watching these plates speed by, would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars? If a car with a plate that says “Rather Be Golfing” passed by at 8:30 am on a Monday morning, would you think: “This is the official policy of the State—better to golf than to work?” If you did your viewing at the start of the college football season and you saw Texas plates with the names of the University of Texas’s out-of-state competitors in upcoming games— Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, the University of Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State—would you assume that the State of Texas was officially (and perhaps treasonously) rooting for the Longhorns’ opponents? And when a car zipped by with a plate that reads “NASCAR – 24 Jeff Gordon,” would you think that Gordon (born in California, raised in Indiana, resides in North Carolina) is the official favorite of the State government?

Thus, he argues that what Texas has done by selling space on its license plates is to create a "limited public forum."

Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans could have wide-ranging effect. Does it give unfettered discretion to governments to decide license plate matters given that it is now government speech?  Consider that the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; that the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; and that a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld. 

Additionally, recent controversies about advertising on public transport, as in New York, the Sixth Circuit and Ninth Circuit,  could be reconceptualized after Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans.

June 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2)